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Obesity and Back Pain

How Being Obese Causes Back Pain

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Updated April 08, 2009

If you are overweight or obese, you may be grappling with back pain, a very common problem for heavy people. Carrying extra weight can increase your risk for developing several back disorders.

Pressure on the Spine
Extra weight puts added pressure on the spine, which can cause pain, says Kevin Cichocki, DC, clinical chiropractor and founder of Palladian Health. "It has long been known that a rise in body weight results in a geometric increase in the pressure on the spine." For those who are morbidly obese, Cichocki adds that the injury to the spine is even greater. This is due to degenerative changes in the vertebral column, he says. The pressure may increase your risk of herniated disk, degenerative disk disease and back strain.

Obesity and Herniated Disk
The extra pressure weight puts on your spine can -- over time -- cause a wearing away of disks' outer fibers, increasing your risk of an injury. Being obese may also prevent you from healing pain due to herniated disk-related sciatica.

Obesity and Osteoarthritis of the Spine
There’s no doubt that obesity contributes to the development of osteoarthritis (OA) in the spine. Studies show that with weight loss, pain from OA subsides in many patients. Adults aren't the only ones at risk, either. Obesity also affects the health of children's joints. So, encouraging your children to be active and achieve or maintain an appropriate body weight for their age and height may go a long way toward helping them to avoid arthritis later in life.

Obesity and Back Pain Due to Lordosis
A large belly may pull your pelvis forward, which in turn will increase the curve in your low back (lordosis). The increased lordosis will probably tighten up your back muscles and cause strain or pain.

According to Dr. Cichoki, keeping a healthy weight and strong abs can help you counter the effects of an exaggerated low back curve.

Obesity, Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis are related conditions. Obesity can affect them both by increasing strain in the joint that normally keeps the spine in line. Also, as described above in the section on lordosis, obesity may pull the pelvis forward, which accentuates the low back curve.

Obesity and Diffuse Idiopathic Hyperostosis
DISH, the hardening of one of the ligaments of the spine, is more common in elderly men than other types of people. This back condition has been linked to a high BMI, a measure that classifies one as obese. Researchers have also linked DISH with the presence of diabetes.

Obesity and Back Surgery
The obesity rate in people who have back surgery is higher than in the general population. In addition, complications from back surgery occur more frequently in obese patients. Having minimally invasive spine surgery may provide a safer option, as it is less invasive than traditional back surgery.

Will Losing Weight Reduce My Back Pain?
It's only common sense to think that along with controlling your risk for heart attack, diabetes, stroke and other degenerative diseases, losing weight can help you get rid of back pain. While there's not a lot of research to address this question, the little that is there may confirm what you were thinking. Dr. Andre Panagos, physiatrist and co-director of the Spine Center at New York Presbyterian Hospital says, "in my office, every single person who loses a significant amount of weight finds that their back pain is also significantly improved". Panagos believes the reason for this is related to a decrease in the amount of work muscles need to do in order to accomplish everyday tasks, once weight loss has been achieved. Let this tip from a doctor fuel your motivation as you as continue your efforts to reach and maintain a healthy weight!

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