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Can being overweight cause back pain?

Man overweight with back pain

Debilitating back pain that keeps you from being active can contribute to weight gain. But does it also happen in reverse? Can weight gain cause back pain?

In a word, yes.

Several studies show a high incidence of low back pain related to a body mass index (BMI) over 25 as well as a relationship between obesity, low back pain, and conditions like lumbar disc degeneration.

Nearly 80 percent of people experience low back pain at some point during their lifetime. People who have a higher BMI, who have had rapid weight gain, who are mostly sedentary, and/or who carry their weight around their middle, have a higher chance of developing back pain.

Higher BMI and lower back pain

Study after study shows you’re more likely to suffer from low back pain if you are overweight or obese.

There is a relationship between elevated BMI and degenerated disks, as well as a greater severity of degeneration. Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is common among an aging population, and is, in many cases, unavoidable. The discs, which live between the vertebrae, naturally lose their water content as we age. As the water content is reduced, so too is the disc’s ability to act as a buffer.

The lack of cushioning from the desiccated or dried out disc puts stress on the adjacent vertebrae and joints, causing pain or weakness. You can experience everything from numbness or a pins-and-needles sensation to cramps down the legs and even into the buttocks that worsen when sitting or standing.

 

While not everyone experiences discomfort related to this condition, being overweight, even as little as 10 pounds, increases the chance of developing DDD and of having a serious case because of the stress and strain on your vertebrae and discs.

Not everyone who experiences disc degeneration will need surgery. More conservative treatments may be sufficient, and some people may not need treatment at all. However, you won’t know the best way to treat your condition without an official diagnosis. It can be tempting to Google your symptoms, presume to know what’s wrong, and follow the advice of WebMD or another online site. Many times, there is some good general information there. However, many spinal conditions have symptoms in common. The danger of self-diagnosis is in not treating the right condition or delaying treatment.

For example, delaying treatment for degenerative disc disease can lead to prolonged pain and convalescence, which can then create or worsen other physical as well as mental health conditions. You can develop bone spurs, which can then lead to pinched nerves. If the disc tears, the resulting pain may be excruciating. If it collapses down and bulges into the spinal canal where the nerves live, you’ll progress to spinal stenosis. In extreme cases, compressed nerves can lead to cauda equine syndrome, an especially dangerous condition that requires immediate surgery to avoid potential paralysis. Symptoms of cauda equine syndrome include pain, numbness, tingling, weakness of the legs, and loss of bowel and bladder control.

DDD can often be treated conservatively through a combination of exercise, physical therapy, and medications including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). If you’re still in pain after several months or if surgery is the best option, our industry-leading surgeons at the DISC Spine Institute are specially trained to perform minimally invasive procedures including.

  • DiscectomyDuring this procedure, the damaged part of the disc is removed, which takes pressure off the nerve.
  • ForaminotomyThis is performed through a very small incision in the back of the neck.
  • LaminectomyMinimally invasive laminectomies take pressure off the compressed nerve.

These minimally invasive procedures are performed through a small tube that is placed between the muscle fibers without cutting the tissue in order to preserve the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the back. Specialized instruments and microscopes are used to remove small pieces of bone and soft tissue. Incisions are less than an inch long, are suture less, often requiring just a Band-Aid, involve very minimal blood loss, and are done on outpatient basis.

Rapid weight gain and lower back pain

Lifestyle changes, certain medications, and forced inactivity due to injury can lead to rapid weight gain. Carrying too much weight regardless of how it was put on can cause a number of physical problems. Gaining weight quickly can put a different kind of stress on the body and kickstart a number of ailments and other chronic conditions. Rapid weight gain that’s due to poor nutrition can be especially dangerous.

Rapid weight gain can also put undue stress on the muscles, joints, and ligaments, leading to back pain.

It’s not unusual for those who carry extra weight to have a higher degree of back pain and to develop osteoarthritis. Patients with a BMI of 25 or higher are more likely to develop this condition because the excess weight puts more pressure on the joints.

Studies have shown that mild, sustained weight loss — as little as 10 or 15 pounds — among those whose BMI classifies them as obese, can greatly reduce the risk of developing osteoarthritis later in life.

Osteoarthritis is a chronic disorder that doesn’t typically warrant surgical intervention. Severe cases of spinal arthritis may also turn into spondylolisthesis or spinal stenosis. These conditions can be more serious and may require surgery.

Belly fat

Excess weight that is concentrated around your middle is dangerous and can lead to serious health conditions. It’s a major risk factor for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancers.

The excess belly fat can also have a detrimental effect on your back. The extra weight puts added pressure on your back muscles and ligaments because they have to work harder to keep your body upright.

Weight that is concentrated around your middle can, over time, affect your posture. It’s not uncommon for a curvature of the spine to develop or for the spine to fall out of alignment. This can present as hunched-over shoulders, a neck that bends forward, swayback, or a pelvis that tilts to the front because the lower back isn’t properly supported.

Prolonged inactivity

Many of the same dangers related to obesity are also risk factors for a sedentary lifestyle, such as a greater likelihood of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. A lack of physical activity can also affect the back, exacerbating existing conditions or spurring back pain because of underuse. Stiffness and weakness can result from prolonged inactivity. This can also create a dangerous cycle, because the back pain then discourages movement, which leads to even more inactivity.

Poor Posture

The poor posture I previously mentioned is often a result of a lack of muscle tone in the core. The truth is that many people underestimate the effect a weak core can have on their back. Strengthening abdominal muscles can help support the back muscles and mitigate lower back pain.

Weak Core Muscles

A strong core can keep you from developing or worsening back issues simply by improving your posture and creating a strong foundation. Lack of exercise can also lead to poor flexibility and weakness in the pelvis and legs. Simple exercises like walking or swimming target multiple muscle groups and can help strengthen your core and back, but be sure to ask prior to starting any exercise regimen. Some spinal conditions may require rest. Your spinal doctor or physical therapist should be able to identify exercises and movements that are ideal for your condition.

If you’re ready to address your back pain or if you want more information about treatment options, contact us at the DISC Spine Institute, to be seen by experts in minimally invasive treatments, the most effective medical procedures to treat and eliminate chronic back pain. Today’s minimally invasive procedures include outpatient treatments and easier surgical treatments with small incisions and a quicker recovery time instead of a long hospital stay.

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