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The Relationship Between Obesity and Back Pain
The Relationship Between Obesity and Back Pain

Obesity is an increasing health concern which contributes substantially to a number of medical conditions.  Obesity has been associated with heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer.  Excess weight puts stress on the joints and can exacerbate osteoarthritis.  Obesity is also a factor in gall bladder disease.  In addition, studies have shown a relationship between obesity and back pain, particularly in the lumbar spine.

How Obesity Affects the Spine

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The spine is designed to carry the body’s weight.  Extra pounds increase the pressure and stress on the spine.  This can lead to damage that affects the spine’s structure.  As muscles that support the back weaken, vertebrae can be pulled out of their normal alignment.  Posture and flexibility may be adversely impacted, and mobility may be decreased.

Spinal disorders have many causes.  However, the following chronic spinal conditions have been associated with obesity, or may be made worse by it.

Degenerative Disc Disease

The discs, which act as shock absorbers between the vertebrae, wear out and degenerate over time.  They lose their ability to move and cushion the spine.  Being overweight or obese adds stress to the spine and hastens the process of degenerative disc disease.

Spinal Stenosis

This condition is a narrowing of the spinal canal.  Less room in the spinal canal can result in nerves becoming pinched.  A person with spinal stenosis may experience back pain, sciatica, and tingling, weakness, and numbness in the legs and buttocks.  Losing weight may provide some relief of symptoms.

Herniated Discs

Obesity is a contributing factor for herniated discs.  Wear and tear over time can result in a rupture of the outer portion of a disc, causing the inner gel material to leak out.  According to a study published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, obese patients are more likely to have surgery for lumbar disc herniation but have poorer outcomes than nonobese patients.


This condition results from one vertebrae sliding forward or backward over another vertebrae.  This typically occurs in the lumbar spine.  The vertebrae that is out of position presses on adjacent nerves, causing pain.  Other symptoms can include muscle spasms, tingling and numbness in the legs and buttocks, and difficulty walking.  Since obesity puts extra strain on the spine, those individuals are at greater risk for degenerative spondylolisthesis.

Importance of Maintaining Healthy Weight

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Obesity puts a strain on the musculoskeletal system and can cause back pain.  Weight loss can reduce pressure on the bones, joints, ligaments, and muscles.  In addition to weight loss, a physical therapy program can build strength and fitness, burn calories, and increase function, flexibility, and mobility.  Maintaining a healthy weight benefits overall health and reduces the risk of back pain.

The physicians at Atlanta Brain and Spine Care are experts in diagnosing and treating back pain and other spinal disorders.  Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

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