Obesity and Low Back Pain

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According to the American Obesity Association (AOA) 64.5% of adult Americans (about 127 million) are categorized as being overweight or obese. The unfortunate truth is that obesity is becoming a global epidemic affecting adults and children.

Obesity and the Connection to Back Pain

Being overweight or obese can significantly contribute to symptoms associated with osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, and spondylolisthesis.

The spine is designed to carry the body’s weight and distribute the loads encountered during rest and activity. When excess weight is carried, the spine is forced to assimilate the burden, which may lead to structural compromise and damage (e.g., injury, sciatica).

One region of the spine that is most vulnerable to the effects of obesity is the low back; the lumbar spine. Lack of exercise and bodily conditioning leads to poor flexibility and weak muscles in the back, pelvis, and thighs. This can increase the curve of the lower back, causing the pelvis to tilt too far forward. Further, this is detrimental to proper posture and as posture weakens, other regions of the spine (neck) may become painful.

You may try to dismiss the cause of some of these spinal disorders to the process of normal aging. It is true that with age body tissues can cause changes to spinal anatomy. However, if you are overweight or obese, chances are you have, or will have, back pain. You may have or develop one of the following conditions:

  • Osteoporosis

    A sedentary lifestyle coupled with an unbalanced diet can affect the density, or strength of the bones (spinal vertebrae). When the structural architecture of a vertebral body is compromised, it is at risk for fracture. Vertebral fractures can be painful and disabling. If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, you have probably lost between 25-30% of desirable bone density. If the diagnosis is osteopenia, bone loss has been in the range of 10-15%.

  • Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis

    The joints in the spine are called facet joints. Excessive body weight places unnatural pressure and stress on the joints during movement and at rest.

  • Low Back Pain

    Obesity may aggravate an existing low back problem and contributes to recurrence of the condition. General unhealthy posture accounts for neck and back pain. A level of physical fitness is necessary to properly support the spine.

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