Weight loss may alleviate knee pain by decreasing the load on the knee joints and reducing inflammation. Excess weight is associated with knee osteoarthritis, which can cause pain and discomfort.

According to the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), the knee and hip joints can experience forces greater than 7 times a person’s body weight. When someone is overweight or has obesity, there is more load on the knee joint, which can result in pain, inflammation, and conditions such as arthritis.

Losing weight can relieve pain symptoms, help prevent or delay a knee replacement, and help with certain types of arthritis.

This article will discuss how weight affects knee pain, weight loss for knee pain, and recommendations for losing weight.

Image of a closeup of a person's hand on their kneeShare on Pinterest
Maskot/Getty Images

Along with other parts of the lower body, the knee joint carries the body’s weight during everyday activities such as walking. As body weight increases, the amount of stress and load on the knee also increases.

The increased strain on the knee joint can also contribute to issues such as chronic pain and arthritis.

Obesity and being overweight can also cause inflammatory changes that affect the joints. For example, overweight and obesity are risk factors linked to knee osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis where joint tissues break down, causing bone to rub together and resulting in pain and other symptoms.

According to the AAOS, the chances of needing a hip or knee joint replacement are greater for people who have a high than normal BMI.

Losing weight can help reduce knee pain and inflammation and lower the risk of developing or worsening certain types of arthritis.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, weight loss can help arthritis by:

  • reducing pressure on joints such as the knee joint
  • easing pain and reducing inflammation
  • reducing arthritis severity
  • improving the chances of remission or minimal disease activity
  • slowing cartilage degeneration in osteoarthritis
  • reducing the chance of a gout attack and lowering uric acid levels

Research supports the positive benefits of weight loss on osteoarthritis knee pain.

For example, a 2018 study examined the effect that weight loss had on pain, function, and other outcomes in overweight and obese adults with knee osteoarthritis. Benefits depended on the amount of body weight that was lost in the long term.

The study found that losing 10% or more of a person’s body weight resulted in better outcomes than losing less weight. Weight loss of 20% or more had even more benefits, including reduced pain, improved function, and better health-related quality of life.

Making lifestyle modifications to diet and exercise habits may help someone lose weight.

To improve eating habits for long-term success, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend reflecting on current eating habits, replacing unhealthy eating habits with better habits, and reinforcing improved habits.

The CDC suggests eating within someone’s unique caloric needs and including the following:

  • proteins such as lean meats, beans, and others
  • vegetables and fruits
  • whole grains
  • fat-free or low fat dairy products
  • low amounts of cholesterol, trans fats, saturated fats, sodium, and added sugar

Exercise can also help a person lose weight. When developing an exercise habit, start slow and adapt activities based on how the body feels. To exercise in a way that lessens stress on the joints, consider low impact activities such as cycling, swimming, and walking.

The CDC recommends that people with arthritis do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of higher-intensity exercise each week. They should also include strengthening and balancing activities.

Other possible weight loss strategies include medications prescribed by a doctor or bariatric surgery. A healthcare professional can advise on the best and safest weight loss options for an individual based on their goals.

Losing weight may be challenging and is a long-term process. Some tips that may help someone lose weight include:

  • setting measurable, realistic goals and tracking progress
  • tracking eating and exercise
  • working on other health issues that may affect mental, emotional, or physical health and can interfere with weight loss goals
  • planning meals out ahead of time
  • slowly making changes one at a time
  • Increasing physical activity and improving eating habits
  • focusing on sleep
  • not giving up by finding inspiration and new rewards, focusing on sleep, trying something different, or using other strategies
  • talking with a doctor about current medications and other conditions that could interfere with goals

Maintaining a moderate weight can reduce the load on the knee joint and help prevent associated inflammation that may cause knee pain. People with a high BMI are more likely to need a knee replacement, and being overweight or having obesity is a risk factor for developing knee osteoarthritis.

There are multiple ways to lose weight to alleviate knee pain. Increasing physical activity and improving eating habits are two lifestyle changes that can help.