Does Weight Loss Help Symptoms of Arthritis and Joint Pain?

exercise pain joints
Exercise may reduce joint pain.. Steve Cole / Getty Images

Arthritis is a common problem that is only becoming more and more frequently diagnosed. Not only are people living longer, and have more active lifestyles, but out society is becoming heavier. As body weight increases, so does the burden on our joints, particularly hips and knees. Carrying around excess weight places more strain on the joints, and can lead to a higher chance of developing arthritis.

People with a higher body weight have more severe arthritis, and are diagnosed with arthritis at an earlier age.

The question is: will losing weight help with the pain of arthritis, or is it too late if you have already been diagnosed with arthritis? The scientific data are very clear: even modest reductions in body weight can significantly reduce the symptoms of joint pain. Research has shown us that a 5% to 10% reduction of body weight can dramatically reduce joint pain and improve exercise tolerance. That's great news if you are overweight!

While no one is suggesting that losing weight is easy, this does provide optimism for people who are overweight and have arthritis. Weight loss is difficult when you have bad joints; however, there are ways to exercise that do not place too much stress on the joints of your body.

Tips to Lose Weight for Arthritis

  • #1: Keep Your Goal Reasonable
    If you lose a lot of weight, that's terrific. When starting out, though, you should keep your goals simple. Don't worry about your ideal body weight. Try first to lose 10 pounds, and then keep that weight off.
  • #2: Low-Impact Is the Way to Go
    Losing weight may require you to learn a new way to exercise. Most patients I have dealing with arthritis find walking long distances difficult. Therefore, trying to exercise by walking may not work out. Take up swimming or water aerobics as a way to exercise without joint pain.
  • #3: Diet Is Just as Important
    Watching what you eat is just as important as the exercise you perform. Weight loss goals can be best achieved with a healthy diet and appropriate exercise. Trying to lose weight by a sudden, dramatic change in exercise habits or diet is unlikely to succeed. Instead, find more subtle changes that you can adapt to and maintain.
  • #4: Get Help
    Achieving the goal of weight loss is much more likely to be successful if you have help and a support network. Some ideas include talking with your doctor, making goals with friends and using online tools to help you achieve your goals. Joining an online community can help you get the support you need.

Bottom Line: Make The Effort

The prospect of exercise can be daunting for many people, but the gains for those with joint pains can be dramatic. Start of simple, with reasonable expectations, and try to lose just a small percentage of body weight. Odds are, if your joints are bothering you, this will make a significant difference.

As stated, make sure you ease in to it, and get some help along the way, and relief should hopefully be right around the corner! On a related note, you should find similar benefits of exercise with other problems that go along with being overweight including your blood pressure and blood sugar.


Miller GD, et al. "Intensive weight loss program improves physical function in older obese adults with knee osteoarthritis" Obesity 2006 Jul;14(7):1219-30.

Continue Reading