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Arthritis Health Center

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10% Weight Loss May Relieve Arthritic Knee Pain

Biggest improvement seen with diet-exercise combo in 18-month study of older, overweight adults


About 88 percent of participants completed the 18-month study. Researchers saw the following results:

  • People who undertook a combined diet-and-exercise regimen lost more weight on average than folks who either dieted or exercised.
  • The diet-and-exercise group had less knee pain, better function, faster walking speed, and better quality of life related to physical health than the exercise-only group.
  • The groups that dieted or combined diet with exercise experienced reduced inflammation compared to the exercise-only group.
  • People in the diet-only group enjoyed a significantly improved reduction in the amount of joint load placed on their knees compared to the exercise-only group.

The researchers also noted that there was a dose response to weight loss -- the more pounds a person dropped, the better they felt, Messier said.

"Clearly, the group that lost greater than 10 percent of their weight had significantly less pain, better function, lower joint load and less inflammation," he said. "When a physician is saying you should lose some weight, 10 percent should be the goal."

Arthritis Foundation spokeswoman Dr. Patience White said the study's findings should be encouraging to overweight people who suffer knee pain.

"We're not talking about people getting down to ideal body weight," said White, the foundation's vice president of public policy and advocacy. "They just have to lose 10 percent of their total weight. Someone who is 300 pounds only needs to lose 30 pounds. I think that's within reach for people."

However, she encouraged arthritis sufferers to check with their doctors before starting a diet-and-exercise program. "If people want to become physically active, they need to do it in a way that doesn't hurt their joints," White said.

Study author Messier also warned that people who want results need to stick with the program through the long haul.

"I think without the long-term nature of the study we wouldn't have seen some of the results. After six months, all three groups had the same amount of decreased pain. We only started seeing significant differences after 18 months," he said. "We want to help people change their behavior long-term, so that they do this for the rest of their lives."

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