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Dr. Andrew Spitzfaden, St. Luke's Hospital

Weight loss and exercise help those with knee pain

When we think about weight, we tend to look at ourselves and think how we might change or modify our eating behaviors to enhance our appearance. Life-altering or life-limiting conditions rarely creep into our mode of thinking as a result of poor eating behaviors.

For many, the thought of how weight affects osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis affecting approximately 20 million people in the US, never enters our consciousness. Osteoarthritis, a condition where cartilage wears down in the joints and causes pain, tenderness, stiffness, diminished flexibility and bone spurs, is made worse with extra weight placed on joints. And because women have a higher incidence for the disease than men after the age of 50 and because one third of overweight women are obese, they should take particular notice.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association tested the benefits of weight loss and osteoarthritis. The research, which focused on adults 55 and older who reported knee pain, split participants into three groups: a diet and exercise program, a diet-only program and an exercise-only program. The results for those who both dieted and exercised were encouraging. Those participants lost approximately 23 pounds, experienced less knee pain (51 percent less) and increased their walking speed.

Diet and exercise are productive ways to reduce your level of knee pain caused by osteoarthritis by reducing the amount of pressure placed on them. There are other options if pain persists including physical therapy, over-the-counter or prescription strength medications, topical ointments, knee sleeves or braces and injections. If those options fail, some may opt for knee replacement surgery.

Total knee replacement surgery involves removing and replacing the diseased parts of the knee joint with new, artificial parts. The muscles, tendons and ligaments are left in place around the knee to provide stability for the new joint. A new joint may be fixed to existing bone using a special cement or through a "press fit" technique which allows existing bone to grow into the metal surface, locking it in place.

Discuss with your physician which options are best for you.

Dr. Andrew Spitzfaden specializes in orthopedic surgery and sports medicine at St. Luke's Hospital. If you have knee or hip pain, attend a free class covering the latest treatment options by visiting the Classes and Events section or calling 314-542-4848. For more information on all orthopedic services and resources at St. Luke's, visit our Orthopedic Services page.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on March 20, 2014.