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How Diet, Weight, and Exercise Impact Your Knee Pain

The recommendations provided on this page are for educational purposes only and are not to be interpreted as medical advice or a recommendation for a specific treatment plan, product, or course of action. Please consult your clinician for personalized medical advice.

Many older adults suffer from sore, painful knees caused by osteoarthritis. Increased weight and obesity are two of the main risk factors for developing this condition. In fact, people who are obese are several times more likely to develop painful knee arthritis during their lifetime, as compared with non-obese individuals (Panunzi, 2021, Losina, 2014). Thankfully body weight is a risk factor that can be improved to not only help prevent arthritis in the first place, but also lower pain if this condition starts to develop.

How body weight impacts knee pain

Walking around with a few extra pounds can really affect how your knees feel. The opposite is true, too: Individuals who lose even a small amount of weight feel much less pressure on their knees, and as a result, less pain.  

When you lose one pound of weight, your knees experience a four-fold reduction in pressure. This means that losing 10 pounds relieves 40 pounds of pressure from your knees—a big change that can make daily activities like walking around the house or climbing stairs to the bedroom much easier (Messier, 2005).  

For patients with obesity who lose a few more pounds—moderate weight loss—there can be considerably more pain relief and decreased disability. The data is so strong that clinicians are advised to recommend weight loss as an initial treatment in overweight patients with arthritis (Bliddal, 2006).  

Tips for a healthy approach to weight loss  

Even though losing a few pounds is proven to lower knee pain, it can be hard to know where to start. That’s why, at Vori Health, we provide every individual with a holistic team of medical experts. In addition to working with a specialty doctor and physical therapist, you get the guidance of a registered dietitian nutritionist and a health coach to support your weight loss and pain reduction goals.  

“Managing your diet and lifestyle are two powerful ways to keep chronic inflammation and pain under control,” says Christi Bowling, RDN, Director of Nutrition at Vori Health. Here are a few healthy weight-loss tips our team often recommends:

  • Go anti-inflammatory. Extra pounds not only adds pressure to your knees, it can also increase inflammation in your body. Try to avoid foods with high amounts of sugars, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, and refined carbs—all of which can worsen how you feel.
  • Balance your plate. Fill half of your plate for lunch and dinner with colorful vegetables and the other half with equal amounts of a heart-healthy protein and fiber-rich grain. These measurements help you get the right amount of nutrients and track how much you are consuming.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Not sleeping enough can cause fluctuations in the hormones that control your blood sugar and ability to feel full. At night, make sure to sleep seven to nine hours to avoid mindless eating (Chaput, 2012).

Motion is lotion

One major myth is that exercise increases knee pain. But, in fact, the opposite is true. Your joints are made to move—they produce their own version of “oil” with motion. As a result, lack of exercise can cause more pain and stiffness.  

Regular exercise can not only help you achieve your weight loss goals, but the right kind of exercises—ones that strengthen muscles around a sore joint and relieve excess stress on that area—can help keep your body moving smoothly and pain-free (Tanaka, 2013).  

Working with your Vori doctor, your Vori Health physical therapist personalizes an exercise program for you. Here are a few options we often recommend:  

Move your knees

Lying Heel Slide

The heel slide is a great way to get your knees moving. It is gentle on the joint and you can easily keep the motion within a pain-free range. We recommend trying this exercise in the morning, when the joint is particularly stiff, to help get your day started with less pain.

TARGET REPS: 8-12 each side

Strengthen your quads

Straight Leg Raise

The straight leg raise is an effective strengthening exercise for your quads (the muscles in the front of your thigh). Keeping these muscles strong reduces stress and pressure on the knee joint.

TARGET REPS: 8-12 each side

Don't forget your hips

Hip Abduction

Maintaining the strength of your hip muscles is very important for good knee health. Your hip abductors (muscles that move your leg out to the side) improve the alignment of your knee and provide support for the joint. You can strengthen these muscles either standing or laying on your side.

TARGET REPS: 8-12 each side

Keep things flexible

Seated Hamstring Stretch

A hamstring stretch is a great way to keep your knees healthy and ready to move. Your hamstrings are located in the back of your thigh. Tight hamstrings can cause an imbalance in your knees and also pull on your back, causing pain over time.  

TARGET REPS: 2-3 reps per side, gently holding each stretch for several seconds

A powerful plan to lower pain

Here at Vori Health, our doctor-led care teams want to help you get back to your everyday life. If you are looking for ways to lower knee pain, talk with a Vori Health care team today. We’ll create a customized plan that combines the most effective medical treatments with nutrition, physical therapy, and lifestyle support to help you feel your best.

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