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Will My Obesity Cause a Herniated Disk?

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Updated June 02, 2010

Question: Will My Obesity Cause a Herniated Disk?
Added weight on your spine may indeed contribute to a herniated disk.
Answer:

Carrying extra load in the stomach area causes the pelvis to tilt forward and the back to arch, which is known as lordosis. According to Dr. Kevin Cichocki, clinical chiropractor and founder of Palladian Health, this alteration in the position of your pelvis and lumbar spine may contribute to the wearing away of outer fibers in the back part of your disks. These outer fibers contain and protect the soft material that is responsible for cushioning and shock absorption in the spine.

Over time, the wear and tear on the fibers can cause problems. "The microscopic radial tears, as they are called, may lead to a complete rupture," says Cichocki. "A rupture of the fibers allows the soft material on the inside to escape and land on a nerve root." This is how the herniated disk causes pain. Most herniated disks occur between the side and back of the vertebra.

Obesity, however, is not the only thing that puts pressure on your disks. Your body position greatly influences the health of these shock-absorbing cushions, too. Sitting puts the most pressure, followed by standing. Lying on your back places the least amount of strain on your disks and, depending on your injury, may help relieve symptoms.

Could You Have a Herniated Disk?

In general, someone with a herniated disk may experience symptoms such as muscle spasm, weakness, numbness or tingling.

The location of one's symptoms can depend on the location of the herniation. The two most common locations for disk herniation are the cervical spine (neck area) and lumbar spine (lower back). Disks that are higher up can affect the arms; disks lower down the spine would be more likely to affect the lower back and legs, resulting in severe low back pain and pain running down the legs.

See your health care provider if you're experiencing any of these symptoms. If your herniated disk causes sciatica and 6 months of conservative treatment does not help, it may be the extra weight you're carrying that is hindering your healing.

Sources:

Deyo RA, Bass JE. Lifestyle and low-back pain. The influence of smoking and obesity. Spine. May 1989.
Hage, M. (2005). The Back Pain Book. Atlanta, Ga. Peachtree Publishers

Erl Pettman MCPA. FCAMT. OMT. What is a 'typical' posterolateral disc protrusion and how is it so successfully managed by the passive extension protocol innovated by Robin McKenzie? An evidence based review. Lecture excerpt from the Level I NAIOMT course taught at Andrews University, Michigan

Peytremann-Bridevaux I, Santos-Eggimann B. Health correlates of overweight and obesity in adults aged 50 years and over: results from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE). Obesity and health in Europeans aged > or = 50 years. Swiss Med Wkly. May 2008.

Telephone Interview. Kevin Cichocki, DC, founder of Palladian Health and Chairman of the Board of the Erie County Medical Center. October 2008.

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