Weight Loss Can Slow Down Knee Joint Degeneration

    Overweight and obese people who lost a substantial amount of weight over a 48-month period showed significantly less degeneration of their knee cartilage than those whose weight remained stable, according to a new study published online by the journal Radiology.

    The research team investigated the association between weight loss and the progression of cartilage degeneration on MRI over a 48-month period in 640 overweight and obese patients (minimum body mass index [BMI] 25 kg/m2) who had risk factors for osteoarthritis or MRI evidence of mild to moderate osteoarthritis.

    Data were collected from the Osteoarthritis Initiative, a nationwide research study focused on the prevention and treatment of knee osteoarthritis.

    Patients were categorized into 3 groups:

    • More than 10% loss of body weight
    • 5% to 10% loss of body weight
    • Stable weight (control group)

    The results showed that patients with 5% weight loss had lower rates of cartilage degeneration when compared with stable weight participants. In those with 10% weight loss, cartilage degeneration slowed even more.

    “The most exciting finding of our research was that not only did we see slower degeneration in the articular cartilage, we saw that the menisci degenerated a lot slower in overweight and obese individuals who lost more than 5% of their body weight, and that the effects were strongest in overweight individuals and in individuals with substantial weight loss,” said the study’s lead author, Alexandra Gersing, MD, from the Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging at the University of California, San Francisco.

    Light to moderate exercise is also recommended to protect against cartilage degeneration in the knee.

    “Our study emphasizes the importance of individualized therapy strategies and lifestyle interventions to prevent structural knee joint degeneration as early as possible in obese and overweight patients at risk for osteoarthritis or with symptomatic osteoarthritis,” Dr. Gersing said.


    Gersing AS, Schwaiger BJ, Nevitt MC, et al. Is weight loss associated with less progression of changes in knee articular cartilage among obese and overweight patients as assessed with MR imaging over 48 months? Data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative. Radiology. Published online ahead of print, May 2, 2017. doi: 10.1148/radiol.2017161005.