This can be the ‘elephant in the exam room’ with your physiotherapist, but unfortunately, yes, in many cases weight affects injuries. Dr. Winton touched on this topic briefly in her recent blog post “Naturopathic Recommendations for Minimizing Joint Pain and Inflammation” and it’s an important factor to pay attention to. Here’s why…
Joints from the mid-back down carry the weight of the upper body (and anything a person is carrying) and transfer it down joint by joint to the sole of the foot. Forces are multiplied by the mechanics at some joints to really increase the potential for trouble. The knee cap for example will bear a compressive load of approximately five times one’s body weight during walking, and even more so during running or deep knee bends. If the average Canadian adult is carrying an extra 30lbs it can add quite a bit to the joint load!
Cartilage is structured like a dense sponge and needs the repetitive movement of daily activity to move nutrients in and waste out. Ligaments are the heavy bands that hold our joints together and control the movement. Forces around the joint put tension on the ligaments and with a heavier load, the ligaments have more to hold. It is easy to see how injured cartilage or a stretched or partially torn ligament will not heal as quickly when the limb is carrying more. Similarly, high loads over time will increase the wear on the cartilage and damage its surface, and even the bone surface it attaches to.
One of my patients demonstrated the effect of an increased load recently when he modified his own exercises. He is a runner recovering from a knee injury and had progressed to the point that he had no pain walking. We agreed to begin a walk/run routine to work him gradually back to running. At home, he decided to increase the challenge by instead wearing a backpack with a 25lbs plate from barbells. He did his usual running route at only a walk, but the pain came back. When he reached home and took off the backpack, the pain disappeared.
If only it were so easy.
Many patients find that even a ten pound weight loss makes a difference in their symptoms. I truly admire some of my patients, and even colleagues, who have taken on bigger challenges and lost even more. Weight can be a difficult subject for physiotherapists to raise with patients, but we are here to help take the pain out of exercise and have a naturopath on our team who can help with dietary approaches as well. Contact us if you have a persistent injury – we can help.