Easing Hip Pain Through Weight Loss
Excess weight can contribute to hip pain, so weight loss is a smart way to ease the stress on your joint. Learn how to achieve weight loss when exercising is difficult.
By Diana Rodriguez
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Losing excess weight benefits your whole body — your heart, brain, muscles, and bones will all be healthier if you maintain a healthy weight. But weight loss is never easy, particularly if you're sidelined with hip pain and even walking is difficult. Fortunately, the right combination of gentle exercise and restricted calories may offer relief from hip pain through weight loss.
Hip Pain: Osteoarthritis and Obesity
Osteoarthritis, a common cause of hip pain, has been linked to obesity. Studies show that a high body mass index (BMI) increases the risk of developing back, knee, or hip pain.
"We see more hip pain with obesity," says Anne Wolf, RD, MS, a dietitian and researcher at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. "The hip is a weight-bearing joint: The more weight we carry, the more wear and tear the hip feels," says Wolf.
The effect of excess weight is thought to be so strong that one study is currently looking at whether a weight loss and exercise program may even be able to delay the need for hip replacement surgery due to osteoarthritis.
Since the link between hip pain and excess weight is clear, losing weight may help ease the pain. In fact, while non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, along with physical therapy and stretching, can often help ease hip pain as well, Wolf says, most doctors will recommend that overweight or obese individuals lose weight if they are experiencing hip pain. "When it gets to the point where you have tried everything else, then weight loss is definitely an option before considering surgery," says Wolf, who recommends watching portion sizes, snacks, and unhealthy meals. "What really works is small changes and being consistent with them. Know what it is in your diet that might be contributing to the weight gain or the lack of weight loss."
Of course, dieting is only half of the weight-loss equation. The other component is exercise. As long as your doctor says it's safe, walking and other moderate types of exercise are great ways to help with weight loss and hip pain.
Hip Pain: A Personal Story
Ellen Schmidt, 42, of Shaker Heights, Ohio, has been a runner her whole life. To her, fitness is vital to health, weight management, and stress relief. So when hip pain kept her from being able to run, being a couch potato wasn't an option. She refused to give up her fitness regimen and needed a way to prevent weight gain.
"Primarily it was a conscious fitness thing — I have to exercise," says Schmidt. She tried other exercises, including yoga, but nothing worked for her the way running did. Then an orthopedist suggested swimming. "I had to find something, so I swam," says Schmidt. "And I had never been a swimmer."
She recommends swimming for people with hip pain: It's a great total body workout, and it's easy on the hips.
If you're overweight and have hip pain, losing weight is a no-brainer. And if you’re at a good weight and have hip pain, it's important to avoid gaining weight to keep hip pain from getting worse. Exercise may become a bigger challenge, but it’s still possible — just find what's comfortable for you.
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