Knee pain is one of the most common complications of being overweight or obese. If you’re among the millions of people who experience chronic knee pain, even a small weight loss can help reduce pain and lower the risk of osteoarthritis (OA).

According to a 2011 report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM), of the roughly 100 million American adults who experience common chronic pain, nearly 20 percent, or 20 million people, have knee pain. This is second only to the number of people with lower back pain.

More than two-thirds of people in the United States are either overweight (with a BMI between 25 and 29.9) or obese (with a BMI of 30 or higher).

Those extra pounds increase the stress on your knees. That stress can cause chronic pain and lead to other complications such as OA.

Maintaining a healthy weight has many health benefits, including reduced risk of a number of diseases that include:

Losing weight benefits knee pain in two ways.

Decreases weight-bearing pressure on the knees

Each pound of weight loss can reduce the load on the knee joint by 4 pounds. Lose 10 pounds, and that’s 40 fewer pounds per step that your knees must support. And the results add up quickly. Less pressure means less wear and tear on the knees. This lowers the risk of OA.

Reduces inflammation in the body

For years, OA was considered a wear and tear disease caused by prolonged excess pressure on the joints, particularly the knees, which, in turn, caused inflammation.

But recent research suggests that inflammation is a key OA risk factor, rather than a consequence of OA.

Being overweight may increase inflammation in the body that can lead to joint pain. Losing weight can reduce this inflammatory response.

One study suggests that just a 10 percent reduction in weight can significantly lower inflammation in the body.

Another study found that even simply overeating triggers the body’s immune response, which increases inflammation.

Being overweight or obese significantly increases a person’s risk for developing OA.

According to John Hopkins Medicine, women who are overweight are four times more likely to develop OA than women who are a healthy weight. And men who are overweight are five times more likely to develop OA than men who are a healthy weight.

But losing even a small amount of weight can be beneficial. For women who are overweight, every 11 pounds of weight loss can reduce the risk of knee OA by more than 50 percent.

Men who drop into the overweight category (BMI below 30) and men who drop into the normal weight category (BMI below 26) can reduce their risk of knee OA by 21.5 percent.

There are steps you can take to start shedding pounds, including:

  • reduce portion sizes
  • add one vegetable to your plate
  • go for a walk after a meal
  • take the stairs rather than the escalator or elevator
  • pack your own lunch instead of eating out
  • use a pedometer

Taking the necessary steps to manage your weight can help protect your knees from joint pain and reduce your risk of OA.