Jane is a 40-year-old receptionist at a doctor’s office. She has been overweight most of her adult life, but tries to be active by walking a mile three days a week. Lately, her knees have been bothering her so much that she’s had to stop walking. Even moving around the office is painful. She has been using an over-the-counter painkiller, but it does little to dull the pain. She visits her doctor, who diagnoses her with osteoarthritis. Jane will need knee replacements as her joints worsen.
Does 40 seem young to be needing knee replacements? Jane’s story is all too common. If you haven’t had a knee replacement, chances are you know someone who has. In fact, the number of knee replacements performed annually has doubled in the last decade. The number performed on patients younger than 65 has almost tripled. Doctors once blamed the sharp increase on Baby Boomers’ “weekend warrior” lifestyle and its attendant injuries. Others thought it was because of aggressive marketing of new procedures. New studies are now challenging those schools of thought.
Figures from a new database of knee replacement patients strongly suggest that obesity is the most likely reason for these procedures in younger patients. Jane was 6’6” and 195 pounds before her surgery. Her obesity turned out to be the most likely cause of her osteoarthritis.
Researchers were not surprised that most people receiving knee replacements were overweight or obese. But they were surprised to find that the younger patients weren’t healthier than older patients. People who are overweight or obese are more likely to have obesity-related conditions, such as:
- Pulmonary disease
- Poor circulation
Researchers found that these younger patients have severe limitations in their daily lives, and are in a great deal of pain. It’s not a weekend warrior lifestyle leading to surgery. Younger knee replacement patients are heavier and sicker than their older counterparts. Because of that, they have a higher risk of complications during or after surgery. Knee replacements last about 20 years, so younger patients may also need to have surgery again in the future.
Prior research has already proven a link between excess weight and osteoarthritis. Having extra weight puts stress on joints, causing them to break down sooner. Inflammation associated with obesity can make it worse. Weight loss usually reduces knee pain in those diagnosed with osteoarthritis.
The good news is that obesity is a modifiable risk factor for knee surgery. It’s never too late to start losing weight, either! Start by making small, reasonable changes, like swapping your morning lemon poppy seed muffin for some low-fat yogurt and fruit, or scrambled eggs with whole-grain toast. Take a 10-minute walk during lunch or as soon as you get home from work. Once you feel comfortable with that, decide what change is realistic to make next. Progress is the name of the game!
Call a lifestyle health coach for additional support and suggestions at 1-800-807-0751.
What small change will you make today?