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Weight Loss - Back Pain

Weight Gain and Back Pain


Updated January 24, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

The Daily Spine
Tips for Living Well With Back Pain

One theory regarding the way in which people take positive action steps for better health is called the health belief model. Basically, the health belief model predicts that you’ll change a bad health habit if you perceive that, without doing so, you'll come down with an illness, or your wellbeing will be similarly threatened. In practice, the health belief model is a matter of benefits vs barriers. If you perceive that losing weight will really help you out of chronic back pain, that may be enough of a benefit to overcome any barriers you may have with getting started on a program.

Weight Loss and Back Pain

In light of this definition of the health belief model, let’s look at how attaining your ideal weight might be good for your neck or back. First, can you really reduce or eliminate back pain with successful participation in a weight loss program?

Research is still ongoing, but consensus tends toward the affirmative. Some studies find that people who exercise regularly, and are therefore more fit, experience less back pain overall when compared to people who don’t exercise regularly. I’ve interviewed a number of people — medical experts and overweight back pain sufferers alike — when writing other articles on this topic, and found that in general, most people feel it's only common sense that taking off pounds is a good back pain relief strategy.

Not only will fewer pounds likely result in less pressure on your spinal structures, but if you carry a lot of weight, you may feel sluggish about exercise as well. Am I right?

The problem with giving into the sluggishness is that regular exercise not only burns calories, it also builds muscle and develops joint range of motion. Both are key components of good spinal alignment, which is often a great way to reduce strain and resultant pain.

To learn more about weight loss for back pain relief best practices, check out my FAQ entitled Will Losing Weight Help Me Reduce Back Pain? Also, Paige Waehner, About.com's Guide to exercise, has a great weight loss primer. And check out Malia Frey's About.com Weight Loss site while you're at it. All are great resources.


Wai, E., MD, MSc, Rodriguez, S., MD, Dagenais, S. DC, PhD, Hall, H., MD. Evidence-informed management of chronic low back pain with physical activity, smoking cessation, and weight loss. The Spine Journal 8 (2008).

Bigos, S., MD, Holland, J., MD, MPH, Holland, C., PhD, Webster, J., MD, MBA, Battie, M., PhD, Malmgren, J., PhD. High quality controlled trials on preventing episodes of back problems: systematic literature review in working age adults. The Spine Journal 9. (2009).

Email Interview. Panagos, A., MD, Co-Director, The Spine Center, New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

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