Obesity Linked to Cartilage Loss, Osteoarthritis

Obesity is a significant predictor of cartilage damage from injury, misalignment of the joint, and osteoarthritis, according to a new study out of the Boston University School of Medicine.

obesity linked to osteoarthritisThe Weight Loss Surgery Channel recently reported that having weight loss surgery can increase the risk of bone fractures. Ironically, it now seems that even if you choose not to have surgery, you may be at risk of a crippling injury: cartilage damage.

Cartilage is one of the types of connective tissue that links and cushions the various parts of our joints. Now, a study out of the Boston University School of Medicine reports that obesity, among other factors, is strongly associated with an increased risk of rapid cartilage loss.

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The new study, which appears in the August issue of Radiology, identifies an increase in a person’s baseline body mass index (BMI) as a significant predictor of cartilage damage from injury, misalignment of the joint, osteoarthritis, and other causes.

Of these, osteoarthritis is especially serious. This condition causes the cartilage in the knee or other joints to break down, or even wear away entirely, leaving the joint without any cushioning at all. The bones can then rub together, causing extreme pain, further damage, and loss of mobility.

In the study, the researchers examined healthy, undamaged knee joints from 336 patients over a 30-month period. Just over 65 percent of these patients were women, most over age 60, with BMIs in the 29.5 range, which is classified as overweight.

Over the study period, the researchers observed slow cartilage loss in more than 20 percent of the patients’ knee joints, with almost 6 percent showing signs of rapid cartilage loss. From these observations, they were able to pinpoint the top risk factors for rapid cartilage loss, including pre-existing cartilage damage, a high body mass index, synovitis (inflammation of the joint membrane), and abnormal build-up of fluid in the joints.

And while the patients’ age, sex and ethnicity didn’t seem to have any effect on rapid cartilage loss, their weight did.

A patient’s odds of developing cartilage damage went up by 11 percent with each extra percentage point they were above normal BMI.

Researchers involved in the study advise those at risk of cartilage loss to lose excess weight as a means of limiting the damage and slowing the progression of the disease.