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Will My Obesity Cause Arthritis?

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Updated May 26, 2010

Question: Will My Obesity Cause Arthritis?

There's no doubt that obesity contributes to the development of osteoarthritis (OA), a very common form of arthritis in the spine. In a special report on obesity, the American Academy of Neurosurgeons states that obese people are 4 to 5 times more likely to be diagnosed with arthritis. Further, the Academy states that 66% of arthritis patients are either overweight or obese.

Answer:

According to Dr. Neil Vance, a chiropractor from Gastonia, NC who regularly treats obese patients, it's the extra load placed on the spine that increases arthritis. The entire low back is affected, but in particular the lumbosacral joint, located between the lumbar spine and the sacrum, really gets pounded. If you feel stiffness, muscle spasm, pain or a dull ache in that area, it's a sign that something is not right, he says. Vance notes that arthritis sets in because loaded joints tend to lose their range of motion. "This causes them to wear out more quickly, and to contribute to flare ups," he adds.

Even children (or their parents) need to be concerned. Obesity changes the mechanics of the legs and spine in youth, which, in turn, affects the joints.

Symptoms of spinal arthritis include pain and stiffness that comes and goes, weakness in arms or legs, limited joint flexibility and/or difficulty in performing basic daily activities. The pain may radiate down your leg. There are over 100 types of arthritis, so symptoms will vary. If you experience arthritis symptoms, losing weight may help you reduce or eliminate them. One study showed that 89% of patients who had weight loss surgery subsequently experienced complete relief of pain caused by OA in at least one of their joints.

Sources:

Benzil, D.L. MD. Obesity: What are the Complications for Your Patient? AANS Neurosurgeon: Information and Analysis for Contemporary Neurosurgical Practice. Vol 17 No 2 Summer 2008

de Sá Pinto AL, de Barros Holanda PM, Radu AS, Villares SM, Lima FR.Musculoskeletal findings in obese children.

Telephone interview. Dr. Neil Vance, DC, Gastonia, NC. Oct 2008.

Lementowski PW, Zelicof SB. Obesity and osteoarthritis. Am. J. Orthop. March 2008.

Peytremann-Bridevaux I, Santos-Eggimann B. Health correlates of overweight and obesity in adults aged 50 years and over: results from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE). Obesity and health in Europeans aged > or = 50 years. Swiss Med Wkly. May 2008.

Suzanne G. Leveille, PhD, Christina C. Wee, MD, MPH, and Lisa I. Iezzoni, MD, MSc.Trends in Obesity and Arthritis Among Baby Boomers and Their Predecessors, 1971–2002. September 2005, Vol 95, No. 9 | American Journal of Public Health. Research and Practice. Draft: 2nd Proof.

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