Why It’s Hip to Manage Your Weight

You may already know that maintaining a healthy weight can lower your risk for many health conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and certain cancers. Here's something you may not be aware of: Keeping off excess pounds now may help you avoid hip problems later.

"Keeping your weight in check is definitely good for your weight-bearing joints," says Carmen Pichard-Encina, MD, a general orthopaedic surgeon with MedStar Orthopaedics at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital. "Being overweight or obese increases stress on your hips and knees and raises your risk for wearing down the cartilage, a condition called osteoarthritis."

Cartilage is the tissue that allows the bones in a joint to smoothly glide over one another. When cartilage wears away, the bones in the joint rub together. This causes pain and swelling and makes it harder for people to move.

Perfect Storm for Joint Problems

Being overweight at a younger age may be especially hard on the joints.

A study in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism found that women who were obese before age 25 were almost three times more likely than thin women to eventually need a hip replacement for severe arthritis. In fact, excess weight at a young age pointed to a woman's eventual need for a hip replacement even more than being overweight at age 55 or older, when joint replacements become more common.

"It makes sense that women with a lifelong problem of obesity have been putting extra stress and loads on their joints longer and would be more likely to develop arthritis early," Dr. Pichard says.

"Your doctor may suggest a hip replacement if your hip pain from arthritis is not adequately controlled by medication or therapy and interferes with daily activities, like walking, getting out of a chair and getting dressed," she adds.

When surgeons perform hip replacement to relieve severe arthritis pain, they remove parts of the hip joint and replace them with new, artificial parts that allow you to move without pain.

How to Love Your Hips

Even if you're already overweight, it's not too late to think about how you can help your hips. Dr. Pichard says losing even modest amounts of weight can help some patients control their hip pain-and delay or avoid hip replacement surgery altogether. In addition to helping you lose weight, exercise is considered the most effective non-drug treatment for reducing pain and improving movement for people with osteoarthritis.

Dr. Pichard works closely with patients to help them better manage their pain and possibly avoid hip replacement surgery. "This road invariably begins with conservative measures, such as low-impact exercise, physical therapy and medication," she says. "And maintaining an ideal body weight is a huge part of my initial conversation with patients."

"Nothing but good comes from staying active and maintaining a healthy weight," Dr. Pichard says, "and your joints will love you for it."

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