Before closing the books on 2022, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) issued a report on an original investigation into the “Effect of Diet and Exercise on Knee Pain in Patients with Osteoarthritis and Overweight or Obesity.” The results of this investigation weren’t necessarily earth-shattering. Essentially, the study indicated some improvement in the pain metrics for the participants who participated in an 18-month community-based diet and exercise program versus the control group that did not participate in the program.
Though the results of the study were deemed “statistically significant” from a science and research perspective, the conclusion of the clinical significance of the results was, well, unknown. As a proudly practicing orthopedic surgeon and researcher for multiple decades now, I can tell you what I DO believe for certain – diet and exercise are mighty weapons in the fight against obesity-related knee pain and osteoarthritis.
It probably isn’t news that the government-tracked metrics of overweight, obesity and severe obesity in America have been rising for over a decade. According to the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 40 percent of Adults in the United States are obese. Obesity is not a cosmetic concern, it is a severe disease that affects every organ system, muscle, joint, and ligament, including your knees.
I’m sure you’d also be unsurprised to learn that while our obesity rate was going up – our activity levels have gone down, technology-assisted tasks of everyday living have exploded, and nutritious eating habits have tanked. Did you know? At least 37 percent of Americans consume fast food daily, and the U.S. has nearly 200,000 retail fast food locations.
We are in a bad, bad way, America. Do you need the anecdotal medical “evidence” of what our decrease in activity and increase in unhealthy food consumption is doing to our knees (I’ll let the other health experts weigh in on the effects on our other essential body systems)? Here it is: The more overweight a person is, the higher their risk for developing knee osteoarthritis and related knee pain.
So, while the research may not (yet) be able to overwhelmingly quantify how well a community-based diet and exercise program can help people manage their already-existing knee pain condition, we fully know that diet and exercise contribute to the development of these conditions in the first place.
A healthy diet and regular daily exercise are absolute superheroes in the battle to keep your knees healthy. Depending on the age at which you read these words, none of the above might seem like a big deal to you yet. But I can assure you, the pain and disability associated with knee problems is an absolute prison for the millions of Americans who face them. The ability to get up and move freely is something we take for granted – until we can no longer do so. I know we can do better, America. Our human DNA is hardwired for us to thrive. Let’s start fighting for it – not against it.