Look after your knees: Lose weight

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  • Published: Jan 7, 2016
  • Author: David Bradley
  • Channels: MRI Spectroscopy
thumbnail image: Look after your knees: Lose weight

Knees must

Magnetic resonance imaging reveals that obese people who lose a significant amount of weight can slow the degeneration of knee cartilage. Details of the study were reported to the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) towards the end of 2015.

Magnetic resonance imaging reveals that obese people who lose a significant amount of weight can slow the degeneration of knee cartilage. Details of the study were reported to the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) towards the end of 2015.

besity and being overweight is a positive risk factor for the development of osteoarthritis, a degenerative disease of the joints known to affect more than a third of adults over the age of 60. The knee joints are most susceptible to osteoarthritis and in many people the condition progresses to the point where total knee replacement is necessary. In the developed world, aging "baby boomers" and increasing incidence of obesity means this problem is becoming more prevalent.

"Degenerative joint disease is a major cause of pain and disability in our population, and obesity is a significant risk factor," explains Alexandra Gersing of the Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging at the University of California, San Francisco, USA. She points out that, "Once cartilage is lost in osteoarthritis, the disease cannot be reversed."

Progressive degeneration

Gersing and her colleagues have investigated the association between different degrees of weight loss and the progression of knee cartilage degeneration in 506 overweight and obese patients from the Osteoarthritis Initiative, a nationwide research study focused on the prevention and treatment of this condition. They report that the patients had either mild to moderate osteoarthritis or risk factors for the condition.

To investigate how weight loss affected the knees, the team divided the patients into three groups: a control group who did not lose weight, a second group who lost a little weight, and a third group who lost more than 10 percent of their body weight recorded at the start of the study. MRI was used to quantify the degree of degeneration on knee osteoarthritis.

"Through T2 relaxation time measurements from MRI, we can see changes in cartilage quality at a very early stage, even before it breaks down," Gersing explains. When the researchers analysed differences in the quality of cartilage among the three groups over a four-year period, they found evidence that weight loss has a protective effect against cartilage degeneration and that losing a lot of weight correlates with greater benefits on the knee joints.

Weight loss saves knees

"Cartilage degenerated a lot more slowly in the group that lost more than 10 percent of their body weight, especially in the weight-bearing regions of the knee," Gersing adds. "However, those with 5 to 10 percent weight loss had almost no difference in cartilage degeneration compared to those who didn't lose weight." It appears that significant weight reduction slows knee joint degeneration but also reduces the risk of developing osteoarthritis in the first place. The team suggests that weight loss coupled with moderate exercise should be the primary intervention against this disease. "It's most helpful if these lifestyle interventions take place as early as possible," Gersing adds. The team now hopes to investigate what role, if any, type 2 diabetes has in cartilage degeneration, given evidence from other studies that there could be a link. The researchers will also undertake an eight-year follow-up with the same patient group.

Related Links

RSNA 2015, online: "MRI Reveals Weight Loss Protects Knees"

Article by David Bradley

The views represented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

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