The Link Between Weight And Back Pain
You know that a healthy weight provides a host of health benefits, but you may not know that losing weight can help resolve or prevent back pain.
Back pain affects more than half of all Americans at some point in their lives. It is a leading cause of disability. The Institute of Medicine has estimated that chronic back pain costs our country approximately $600 billion a year in medical treatments and lost productivity.
If you suffer from back pain, you know how frustrating and limiting it can be. What you may not know is that there is a link between back pain and your weight. Excess weight and obesity are linked to high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Unhealthy weight stresses almost every organ in the body, so it is no surprise that it also increases the risk for back pain, joint pain, and muscle strain. The lower back is particularly vulnerable to weight-related pressure. According to the American Obesity Association, back pain affects nearly one-third of people classified as obese.
When your body carries extra weight—especially around the midsection—that weight pulls your pelvis forward. Every extra pound adds strain to back muscles and ligaments. Over time, the spine can become tilted and develop an unnatural curvature. Research has shown that obesity poses more than a mechanical stressor on joints: excess body fat also produces chemicals that contribute to joint damage. The combination of weight-related risks can cause a range of damage to the spinal discs and other structures:
- When your weight slips into an unhealthy range over time, the risk of degenerative disc disease increases by 30 to 79 percent.
- As discs compensate for the pressure of extra weight, they can become herniated, causing sciatica.
- Too much weight can result in ruptured or slipped discs. This damage compresses the spaces between the bones in the spine, causing pinched nerves and piriformis syndrome: muscle spasms that cause pain and can irritate the sciatic nerve.
- The pressure of extra weight can also aggravate arthritis of the spine, or trigger the development of osteoarthritis.
- Extra weight doesn’t just increase wear and tear on your back and joints, it also makes injury more likely. People who are overweight are 15 percent more likely to sustain musculoskeletal injury, and people who are obese are 48 percent more at risk for injuries.
Maintaining a healthy weight or losing weight can help ease or prevent back issues, and reduces stress on other joints as well. Dropping just a few pounds can make a big difference to your back. For every four pounds you lose, you remove 16 pounds of pressure from your spine. In one study, the risk of developing osteoarthritis dropped 50 percent with each 11-pound weight loss.
At Summit Orthopedics, we do preventative wellness screenings for weight, blood pressure, and smoking to identify and address health issues before they become health problems. If you are concerned that your weight may be putting your back at risk, we can provide diet and exercise guidance to help you protect your back and maintain a vibrant, active quality of life.
Learn more about the factors that increase your risk for a vertebral compression fracture.
Meet the Expert: Doctor Bio Video Series
Dr. Mundrati’s advice to help patients manage back pain—and keep it from recurring.