Does Weight Loss Help Symptoms of Arthritis and Joint Pain?

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 our 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 hope 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.

Older woman walking on treadmill with doctor next to her
Steve Cole / Getty Images

Tips to Lose Weight for Arthritis

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.

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.

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 to reach your calorie goals.

Get Help: Some ideas include talking with a healthcare provider, 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.

For some people who do not find successful results with diet, exercise, and medications, bariatric surgery might be a useful consideration. Not every individual wants, or needs a surgical treatment to help address their body weight, but this can be a useful procedure for people who struggle despite appropriate treatments.

Even if you do require joint replacement surgery, weight loss prior to proceeding with a joint replacement can offer significant benefits. Reducing weight prior to joint replacement surgery can lower your risk of surgical complications including infection. In addition, by strengthening and losing weight, your rehabilitation is going to be easier on the rest of your body. Trying to rehab a joint replacement is difficult even for people with ideal body weight and good strength. Reducing body weight prior to entering a rehabilitation plan can help significantly.

A Word From Verywell

The prospect of exercise can be daunting for many people, but the gains for those with joint pains can be dramatic. Start off 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.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Vincent HK, Heywood K, Connelly J, Hurley RW. Obesity and weight loss in the treatment and prevention of osteoarthritisPM&R. 2012;4:S59-S67. doi:10.1016/j.pmrj.2012.01.005

  3. Skoczyńska M, Świerkot J. The role of diet in rheumatoid arthritisReumatologia. 2018;56(4):259-267. doi:10.5114/reum.2018.77979

  4. Karfopoulou E, Anastasiou CA, Avgeraki E, Kosmidis MH, Yannakoulia M. The role of social support in weight loss maintenance: results from the MedWeight studyJ Behav Med. 2016;39(3):511-518. doi:10.1007/s10865-016-9717-y

  5. Seward MW, Antonelli BJ, Giunta N, et al. Weight loss before total joint arthroplasty using a remote dietitian and mobile app: study protocol for a multicenter randomized, controlled trialJ Orthop Surg Res. 2020;15(1):531. doi:10.1186/s13018-020-02059-w

Additional Reading

By Jonathan Cluett, MD
Jonathan Cluett, MD, is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the United States men's and women's national soccer teams.