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The Effects of Obesity on the Hands, Wrists & Elbows

Much like other joints and structures in the body, the hands, wrists and elbows can be affected by excess weight and obesity. The following is just some of the significant research showing dysfunction of the hand, wrist and elbow as it relates to patients with obesity.

  • A study1 involving surgery to the hand, forearm and elbow showed that there may be an increased risk of postoperative complications as the body mass index, or BMI, rises in the patient. This is especially evident with BMIs over 45.
  • Another study showed that the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome is over two-and-a-half times higher for patients who are obese than for patients with a normal BMI.2
  • Obesity has been shown to directly affect hand grip strength.3
  • While we often see them as very resilient, about 32% of American children and adolescents are overweight or obese. Even their young bodies cannot fully overcome the issues associated with excess weight. Sadly, orthopedic issues are affecting ever-younger patients, and excess weight can stunt the development of the growth-plate – areas of cartilage at the end of the arm, in addition to other 3

As we have discussed in other articles regarding obesity in the musculoskeletal system, excess visceral fat in the body releases proteins known as cytokines that can directly attack joints, even when they are non-weight-bearing. This can cause osteoarthritis (OA) or worsen existing cases of joint dysfunction.


  • 1London DA, Stepan JG, Lalchandani GR, Okoroafor UC, Wildes TS, Calfee RP. The impact of obesity on complications of elbow, forearm, and hand surgeries. J Hand Surg Am. 2014;39(8):1578-1584. doi:10.1016/j.jhsa.2014.05.007
  • 2Mansoor S, Siddiqui M, Mateen F, et al. Prevalence of Obesity in Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Patients: A Cross-Sectional Survey. Cureus. 2017;9(7):e1519. Published 2017 Jul 26. doi:10.7759/cureus.1519
  • 3 A. (2015, March). The Impact of Obesity on Bone and Joint Health [PDF]. Chicago, Illinois: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

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