Lower back pain when walking overweight


7 Bad Habits That Cause Back Pain

Back pain will affect about 80 percent of us at some point in our lives, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). It often results from repeated behaviors that stress your body.

If you’re battling back pain now — or if you want to take steps to prevent an achy back — make an effort to avoid these seven bad habits:

  1. Not exercising. “The failure to perform any exercise, particularly abdominal strengthening exercises, may lead to poor posture and increased low back pain,” says Nancy E. Epstein, MD, chief of neurosurgical spine and education at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, New York. Good exercises for back pain prevention include Pilates or other core strengthening activities that can increase stability in the back muscles. A 2015 Cochrane review found some scientific evidence that Pilates can help with low back pain, though it’s not clear if Pilates is better than the other forms of recommended exercises. Cardiovascular exercises such as swimming, walking, and bicycling are also recommended, along with movements that improve flexibility.
  2. Having poor posture. “Poor posture can add strain to muscles and put stress on the spine,” says Tae M. Shin, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon at the Los Angeles Orthopaedic Center. Over time, he adds, the stress of poor posture can actually change the anatomical characteristics of the spine. To avoid back injuries, try to stand with your knees slightly bent, and place one foot forward to take pressure off the lower back and reduce back strain. When sitting, Dr. Shin advises sitting with your hips slightly higher than your knees.
  3. Lifting incorrectly. Often back injuries occur when we try to lift heavy objects and do so incorrectly. Bend your knees and use the power of your legs, keeping the weight close to the body; keep your head down and back straight, and be sure to avoid twisting.
  4. Being overweight. Keep your weight under control for back pain prevention. You’re more likely to suffer from low back pain if you are overweight or obese, or quickly gain a significant amount of weight, according to NINDS. “Being overweight, especially in the mid-section, shifts your entire center of gravity forward and puts additional strain on your back muscles,” Shin says. Try to stay within 10 pounds of your ideal weight to avoid experiencing unnecessary back pain, suggests the North American Spine Society. Exercise and a healthy diet can help move you toward this goal.
  5. Smoking. Nicotine restricts blood flow to the disks that cushion your vertebrae and increases the rate of degeneration, Shin says. This loss of cushioning can cause back pain. Cigarette smoking also reduces calcium absorption and prevents new bone growth, leaving smokers with an increased risk for osteoporosis (brittle, fragile bones) and slower healing after bone fractures, which can cause back pain, according to NINDS. Additionally, coughing from heavy smoking can cause back pain.
  6. Not getting enough calcium and vitamin D. These nutrients are essential for bone strength. If you don’t get enough calcium and vitamin D in your daily diet (your body also synthesizes vitamin D in response to sun exposure), discuss the possibility of supplements with your doctor.
  7. Being sedentary. Limiting activity as a means of pain management when you’re experiencing back pain can be counterproductive. Activity increases blood flow to the affected area, decreasing inflammation and reducing muscle tension, Shin says. Research shows that people who continue with their normal daily activities after experiencing low back pain may have better back flexibility than those who rest in bed for a week, according to NINDS. Prolonged bed rest can may also increase pain and potentially lead to complications, including depression, blood clots in the legs, and decreased muscle tone.

When you’re in the throes of back pain or simply want to ward it off, avoiding these habits will help protect and strengthen your back and your entire body.

Weight Loss for Back Pain Relief

Patients who are overweight or obese and suffer from back pain may not be aware that their excess weight is actually contributing to their back pain.

While it has not been thoroughly studied exactly how excess weight can cause or contribute to back pain, it is known that people who are overweight often are at greater risk for back pain, joint pain and muscle strain than those who are not obese.1

In addition to back pain, symptoms exhibited by persons who are obese or severely overweight may include fatigue, as well as difficulty breathing and shortness of breath during short periods of exercise.2

If the fatigue and shortness of breath causes one to avoid activity and exercise, then this can indirectly lead to back pain as lack of exercise contributes to many common forms of back pain.

  • Read more about Exercise and Back Pain

This article examines the heightened risk and severity for certain back problems that obese or overweight patients may experience as a result of their weight. The article also provides practical tips and guidelines for how patients can use exercise, diet and weight loss to reduce their back pain.

How Obesity Leads to Back Pain

According to the American Obesity Association, episodes of musculoskeletal pain, and specifically back pain, are prevalent among the nearly one-third of Americans who are classified as obese.2

The American Obesity Association also reports that more obese persons say they are disabled and less able to complete everyday activities than persons with other chronic conditions.1


Some of the most common obesity-related problems include musculoskeletal and joint related pain.1 For people who are overweight, attention to overall weight loss is important as every pound adds strain to the muscles and ligaments in the back.

Watch: Video: 3 Simple Ways to Indulge Your Spine

In order to compensate for extra weight, the spine can become tilted and stressed unevenly. As a result, over time, the back may lose its proper support and an unnatural curvature of the spine may develop.

In This Article:

  • Weight Loss for Back Pain Relief
  • Weight Loss and Exercise for Patients
  • Nutrition and Diet for Weight Loss

In particular, pain and problems in the low back may be aggravated by obesity. This occurs for people with extra weight in their stomachs because the excess weight pulls the pelvis forward and strains the lower back, creating lower back pain. According to the American Obesity Association, women who are obese or who have a large waist size are particularly at risk for lower back pain.1


Conditions Related to Obesity

Obese or overweight patients may experience sciatica and low back pain from a herniated disc. This occurs when discs and other spinal structures are damaged from having to compensate for the pressure of extra weight on the back.

  • See What’s a Herniated Disc, Pinched Nerve, Bulging Disc…?

In addition, pinched nerves and piriformis syndrome may result when extra weight is pushed into spaces between bones in the low back area.3

Arthritis of the spine that causes back pain may be aggravated when extra body weight strains joints. Those patients with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of greater than 25 are more likely to develop osteoarthritis than those with a lower BMI. The American Obesity Association recommends modest weight loss as a treatment for some types of osteoarthritis.2

The effectiveness of back surgery may also be affected by a patient’s weight. Obese patients are at higher risk for complications and infections after surgery compared to patients who are not obese.2 For seriously overweight patients, paying attention to weight loss before undergoing back surgery may improve the healing process after surgery.

Identifying the Need for Weight Loss

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measure commonly used by medical practitioners. BMI is a mathematical formula (BMI=kg/m2) that takes into account a person’s weight in kilograms and height in meters and calculates a number. The higher a person’s BMI falls on a pre-determined range of values, the higher the likelihood for obesity.

Although there is some debate over the specific meaning of BMI measurements, a BMI of 30 or higher is typically considered to be obese, while a measure of 25 to 29.9 is typically considered to be overweight.4

It is also important to evaluate where excess fat is carried on the patient’s body. Patients who carry more weight around their midsection are at greater risk for obesity-related health problems, such as low back pain. Weight loss for health considerations is often advisable for women with a waist measurement of more than 35 inches or men with a waist measurement of more than 40 inches.4

Your Back Doesn’t Hurt Because You’re Fat: New Thoughts on Obesity and Back Pain

Dr. Jonathan ChungFollow Nov 9, 2016 · 7 min read

Read Time:


  • Why weight alone isn’t enough to cause back pain
  • What is it about being overweight that can cause pain?
  • Empowering the overweight patient to get better results

It’s no secret that being overweight or obese carries a higher risk of having back pain. Patients struggling with weight issues hear about it all of the time that if they want their backs to feel better, they have to shed those extra pounds. In fact, one of the first things a patient with low back pain will tell ME is that they have to lose weight before I even say anything. They’ve been convinced that their weight issues are the CAUSE of the pain in their backs.

Historically I would normally just agree with the patient’s point of view. I’d let them know that I will do my best to support them in a goal to shed those unwanted pounds., but in the past couple of years I’ve had a change of heart.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that obesity and back pain are related. There’s no disputing that or the evidence that supports that idea. However, when it comes to taking care of people it’s so important that patients have a strong understanding of cause and effect.

When we think about your weight and your spine, we should think about excess bodyweight as a symptom and aggravating factor for back pain as opposed to the cause.

Because I have seen the following things happen way too many times for me to ignore it:

  • A lot of people are obese and never develop back pain
  • A lot of people are obese, get proper structural care for their spine, and their back pain disappears without losing a single pound.
  • Many people who start to change their diet and exercise start to feel their back pain improve before any weight loss occurs
  • Many people who get weight loss surgeries still have back pain even after the weight is gone

Now that’s not to say that people who lose weight don’t get great changes in the status of their back pain because that certainly does happen. But maybe we are looking at the problem the wrong way.

Now these observations aren’t based on a rigorous scientific study or survey. These are just things I’ve noticed past 6 years in practice. Here are some thoughts as to why these things happen.

  1. Check the Foundation

One of the analogies I make about the spine as it relates to the health of the body is that the hip/pelvis is similar to the foundation of a building. Just as a building relies on a level foundation to support the overall structure of the building, a level pelvis dictates the health of the spinal joints.When the hips and pelvis are level, then the force of gravity gets distributed through your joints, ligaments, and muscles more evenly. Your body parts become team players for the benefit of the whole.

When the hips and pelvis are unlevel, then some of the joints will start carrying a heavier load than the opposite side causing increased inflammation and arthritic changes. Some muscles will work harder and fatigue faster than others leading to tension and pulling of muscles.

Abnormal structural position leads to abnormal tissue function

Now here’s where obesity becomes problematic. While the extra weight doesn’t cause the body to breakdown, it can compound a problem that’s already there.

That’s one of the big reasons that people in our office can start getting relief pretty quickly once we get their hips level, there is an immediate change in how the joints of the spine become loaded.

2. Be Strong Enough to Support Yourself

Another issue with people that are overweight is that they tend to be weak compared to their bodyweight. In my experience, people that are overweight, but are strong tend to have less severe pain issues than those who are overweight and sedentary. This is especially true for women, and my guess is that women who are obese and sedentary are much weaker than their male counterparts.

The science is clear that exercise doesn’t aid much in weight loss, but exercise is FAR from useless for the obese patient. Building strength is one of the most important things you can do for your overall health.

You Can’t Go Wrong Going Strong

Being strong means you can pick things up from the ground without it throwing your back out. Strong muscle tissue is also going to support your spine for routine things like standing and sitting. Hell, just the act of getting up from bed or from a chair can be miserable for someone with back pain, but it’s a LOT better if the person has the muscle strength to support themselves in these movements.

This doesn’t just mean that your back needs exercise. It means that your arms, legs, chest, butt, and shoulders need to be strong so that your body can perform your activities of daily living.

As renowned (and a little infamous) physiotherapist Adam Meakins always says: “You can’t go wrong going strong”

3. Put the fires out

Chronic inflammation might be the most underappreciated problem when it comes to the connection between obesity and back pain. Chronic inflammation is like having a bunch of small fires running uncontrolled through the body. The metabolic problems associated with obesity are a large product of inflammation. While we know this inflammation can be a risk factor for things like heart disease and diabetes, it’s also a key player in arthritis and joint pain.

Inflammation is controlled by your immune system which produces chemical signals called cytokines. Elevated inflammatory cytokines in the blood stream effect the joints in multiple ways. They can damage tendons, promote osteophytes, and sensitize nerve endings that stimulate pain.The thing that not enough people talk about is that inflammation can be affected by the foods that you eat. Things like processed sugar, processed vegetable oils, trans fats, and excessive carbohydrate intake promote inflammation in the body.

I encourage many of my patients to play with a low-carbohydrate diet while they are coming to see me, but not because I need them to lose weight. I want them to eat differently because of how inflammation can impact the brain and joints.

The great thing about dietary changes is that they can act on inflammation faster than it can affect bodyweight. It’s not uncommon for patients with back pain, knee pain, or hip pain to start feeling better within a few weeks of an anti-inflammatory diet, even though weight loss has been minimal.

While most can and do lose weight on this type of diet, the anti-inflammatory effects of this way of eating may have deceived us for years into thinking that weight loss is the key to back pain management.

But Weight Loss is Good, Shouldn’t We Promote it Anyway?

Everyone wants to lose weight, and it’s likely beneficial for most people to shed a few extra pounds anyway, so why take the emphasis off of losing weight?

I think the reason we need to change our thinking is because deep down you can probably relate to this.

Losing weight is hard and someone telling you to lose weight to solve your problems is as frustrating as not getting any answer at all

For decades we have been telling overweight and obese people to lose weight because it will make their lives better in every way. But here’s the thing, you’ve seen the success rate on long-term effects of diet and weight loss programs; they are terrible!

If we can’t get people to lose weight to save their heart, protect their brain, or look better in a bathing suit, how the heck are we going to get people to lose weight to get rid of back pain.

I don’t think we can, and from my experience, we don’t have to.

Just telling someone to lose weight to make their problems go away is so damn disempowering to someone who knows and understands the struggles of losing weight.

Go After the Small Victories

In my office, the people who tend to have the best results and really change their lives are those that get a bunch of small wins. They get a small victory in one part of their life and health, and they become motivated to get more wins.

It might mean that their first win is breaking the cycle of pain. For so many people, they don’t have the will or energy to exercise because everything that they do hurts.

Then when they start feeling better, they start going out for a daily walk. Then their daily walk leads them to start sleeping better. Then they start having a better morning routine and start eating a healthier breakfast. Then their healthy breakfast makes them feel so good that they want to eat healthier for lunch or dinner.

Suddenly, they look back and they’ve lost 15 lbs without ever trying to lose 15 lbs.

As health providers, we have to do a better job in finding out where a patient’s biggest struggle exists, then start leading them on the path towards little victories, which may help them win in the game of life.

Why is smoking bad for me?

Tobacco smoke contains over 5,000 chemicals including nicotine. Nicotine is highly addictive. Smokers smoke for the nicotine but are harmed by the tar and other chemicals.

Many of them can cause cancer. Others are poisonous, such as hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide and ammonia. When you smoke, these chemicals can damage your lungs but also pass into your blood and spread through your body. Smoking can affect every part of the body – from your skin to your brain.

Outside the lungs smoking causes heart attacks, strokes and cancer. On average, smokers live 10 years less than non-smokers. Smoking tobacco is the biggest avoidable cause of death.

There’s no safe way to use tobacco:

  • Cigarette brands marketed as low tar, light or menthol are not safer than other cigarettes. Smokers get similar amounts of tar and other chemicals.
  • Roll-ups are just as dangerous as manufactured cigarettes and can be more dangerous without filters.

  • Smoking cigars or pipes is also bad for your health.

  • Shisha smoking, also called hookah or waterpipe, also contains tobacco. The smoke goes through water, but contains the same dangerous chemicals and is just as harmful as normal cigarette smoke.

Smokeless or chewed tobacco

Smokeless or chewed tobacco is used by south Asian communities. These tobacco products are known by their south Asian names, such as betel quid, paan or gutkha, and are just as addictive. They can also be harmful, and are associated with mouth cancer, cardiovascular disease and problems in pregnancy. As well as tobacco, they can also include other unhealthy ingredients such as betel nuts or areca nuts, which are known to cause cancer in their own right.

Examples of these products are:

  • tobacco with or with or without flavourings, such as mishri India powdered tobacco and qimam, also known as kimam
  • tobacco with slaked lime or lime paste and areca nut, such as paan, gutkha, zarda, mawa, manipuri and betel quid with tobacco
  • tobacco with other ingredients added, such as kahini, gul, and naswar, also called niswar or nass

Inhaling any smoke is harmful

This especially includes smoking other substances such as cannabis. Cannabis smoking is associated with developing emphysema. You can become addicted to cannabis, and just like tobacco, cannabis smoke contains cancer-causing chemicals. If you mix cannabis with tobacco and smoke it, you’re at risk of becoming addicted to nicotine too.

Why is it so hard to stop smoking?

Most smokers want to stop because they know about the risks to their health. But many keep smoking because they’re addicted to nicotine, often from a young age. As well as marketing targeted at young people, the tobacco industry has designed and modified cigarettes to make them addictive. The nicotine in tobacco gets rapidly into your brain and creates a need to continue to smoke. The falling level of nicotine in your brain creates the urge to smoke. Controlling these urges is the key to being able to kick the habit.

Smoking is often part of your daily routine and habit. Your local stop smoking clinic can support you to manage this side of smoking as well as tackling physical cravings.

Are e-cigarettes bad for me?

The consensus is that using an e-cigarette or vaping is far less risky than smoking. It’s a less harmful way to receive nicotine and the vapour contains few of the harmful chemicals found in cigarette smoke. If they are present, they are at much lower levels. There is now also good evidence that e-cigarettes can help smokers quit.

Why should I stop smoking?

You’ll live longer, feel better and have more money to spend on things and activities you like doing, like holidays. You’ll also protect people around you who used to breathe in your smoke.

  • If you already have a lung condition, stopping smoking is the best step you can take for your health and quality of life. It will help you cope with your symptoms and stop your condition getting worse. For example, smokers are 5 times more likely to catch flu.
  • It’s never too late to stop, no matter how long you have smoked for. Your lungs will work better, even if you stop when you’re over 60. If you stop smoking when you’re 30, you’re likely to live 10 years longer.
  • Your friends and family will be healthier too. People who breathe in second-hand smoke are at risk of the same diseases as smokers. Second-hand smoke is particularly dangerous to babies and children as their lungs are still developing and are much more vulnerable to breathing in toxic materials.
  • Stopping is a key way to protect your children’s health in the long term. Children are much more likely to take up smoking if their parents smoke.

I managed to stop smoking 10 years ago and have a new lease of life. I now enjoy swimming and cycling. I wouldn’t have been able to push myself as hard if I were still smoking – and coughing.Michael

If you smoke 20 cigarettes a day, quitting could save you more than £275 every month – that’s over £3,000 a year!

Next: How can I quit smoking? >

The Effects of Smoking on the Body

No matter how you smoke it, tobacco is dangerous to your health. There are no safe substances in any tobacco products, from acetone and tar to nicotine and carbon monoxide. The substances you inhale don’t just affect your lungs. They can affect your entire body.

Smoking can lead to a variety of ongoing complications in the body, as well as long-term effects on your body systems. While smoking can increase your risk of a variety of problems over several years, some of the bodily effects are immediate. Learn more about the symptoms and overall effects of smoking on the body below.

Tobacco smoke is incredibly harmful to your health. There’s no safe way to smoke. Replacing your cigarette with a cigar, pipe, or hookah won’t help you avoid the health risks.

Cigarettes contain about 600 ingredients, many of which can also be found in cigars and hookahs. When these ingredients burn, they generate more than 7,000 chemicals, according to the American Lung Association. Many of those chemicals are poisonous and at least 69 of them are linked to cancer.

In the United States, the mortality rate for smokers is three times that of people who never smoked. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that smoking is the most common “preventable cause of death” in the United States. While the effects of smoking may not be immediate, the complications and damage can last for years. The good news is that quitting smoking can reverse many effects.

Central nervous system

One of the ingredients in tobacco is a mood-altering drug called nicotine. Nicotine reaches your brain in mere seconds and makes you feel more energized for a while. But as that effect wears off, you feel tired and crave more. Nicotine is extremely habit-forming, which is why people find smoking so difficult to quit.

Physical withdrawal from nicotine can impair your cognitive functioning and make you feel anxious, irritated, and depressed. Withdrawal can also cause headaches and sleep problems.

Respiratory system

When you inhale smoke, you’re taking in substances that can damage your lungs. Over time, this damage leads to a variety of problems. Along with increased infections, people who smoke are at higher risk for chronic nonreversible lung conditions such as:

  • emphysema, the destruction of the air sacs in your lungs
  • chronic bronchitis, permanent inflammation that affects the lining of the breathing tubes of the lungs
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a group of lung diseases
  • lung cancer

Withdrawal from tobacco products can cause temporary congestion and respiratory discomfort as your lungs and airways begin to heal. Increased mucus production right after quitting smoking is a positive sign that your respiratory system is recovering.

Children whose parents smoke are more prone to coughing, wheezing, and asthma attacks than children whose parents don’t. They also tend to have higher rates of pneumonia and bronchitis.

Cardiovascular system

Smoking damages your entire cardiovascular system. Nicotine causes blood vessels to tighten, which restricts the flow of blood. Over time, the ongoing narrowing, along with damage to the blood vessels, can cause peripheral artery disease.

Smoking also raises blood pressure, weakens blood vessel walls, and increases blood clots. Together, this raises your risk of stroke.

You’re also at an increased risk of worsening heart disease if you’ve already had heart bypass surgery, a heart attack, or a stent placed in a blood vessel.

Smoking not only impacts your cardiovascular health, but also the health of those around you who don’t smoke. Exposure to secondhand smoke carries the same risk to a nonsmoker as someone who does smoke. Risks include stroke, heart attack, and heart disease.

Integumentary system (skin, hair, and nails)

The more obvious signs of smoking involve skin changes. Substances in tobacco smoke actually change the structure of your skin. A recent study has shown that smoking dramatically increases the risk of squamous cell carcinoma (skin cancer).

Your fingernails and toenails aren’t immune from the effects of smoking. Smoking increases the likelihood of fungal nail infections.

Hair is also affected by nicotine. An older study found it increases hair loss, balding, and graying.

Digestive system

Smoking increases the risk of mouth, throat, larynx, and esophagus cancer. Smokers also have higher rates of pancreatic cancer. Even people who “smoke but don’t inhale” face an increased risk of mouth cancer.

Smoking also has an effect on insulin, making it more likely that you’ll develop insulin resistance. That puts you at increased risk of type 2 diabetes and its complications, which tend to develop at a faster rate than in people who don’t smoke.

Sexuality and reproductive system

Nicotine affects blood flow to the genital areas of both men and women. For men, this can decrease sexual performance. For women, this can result in sexual dissatisfaction by decreasing lubrication and the ability to reach orgasm. Smoking may also lower sex hormone levels in both men and women. This can possibly lead to decreased sexual desire.


Quitting smoking is difficult, but your doctor can help you make a plan. Ask them for advice. There are a variety of nonprescription and prescription medications that can help you quit. You can also turn to our smoking cessation resource center, which has advice, stories from others, and more. There are both short and long-term benefits to quitting smoking. Since smoking affects every body system, finding a way to quit is the most important step you can take to living a longer and happier life.

Why you should not smoke

Tobacco is a very dangerous drug. It is legal and widely used.
Thousands of people die every year as a result of smoking cigarettes, cigars and pipes. The combined effects of nicotine, (the main drug in tobacco) and other gases which enter the lungs when smoked, greatly increases the chance of disease and ill-health. Tobacco is a stimulant drug giving smokers a ‘lift’.
Smoking has been directly linked to lung cancer, heart disease and other major illnesses, as well being dangerous during pregnancy for the mother and unborn child.
It is also recognised that secondary smoking or passive smoking can put the health of others at risk. This is one of the reasons why smoking has been so widely banned in public places.

Smoking and young people

Although the number of adults who smoke has dropped over the past ten years, this has not happened amongst young people. In fact in some parts of the country the number of young smokers has actually increased especially amongst young women.
Statistics have shown that one quarter of Britain’s 15 year olds (both boys and girls) are regular smokers. It is estimated that 450 children per day start smoking. Half of all teenagers who are currently smoking will die from diseases caused by tobacco if they continue to smoke throughout their lives and one half of this number will have their lives shortened by an average of 23 years.
Currently one in five 15 year old boys smoke cigarettes – this is a decrease of 5% since the mid 1980s. The numbers of teenage girls smoking has risen from 25% in the mid 1980s to 29% now – that’s one in three.

What Are The Costs?


  • Wheezing, shortness of breath
  • Lack of energy, poor concentration
  • Dull skin, nicotine-stained fingers, premature wrinkling
  • Reduced fertility, risky pregnancy, baby at risk
  • Damaged taste buds, stained teeth
  • Lung cancer, emphysema, stroke, heart attack – the list goes on
  • Damaged circulation, gangrene, amputation


  • Polluting the air with carcinogens
  • Children at higher risk of asthma, cot-death, bronchitis and glue ear
  • Smoke gets in your eyes
  • Dusty, stuffy home. Nicotine stains your walls as well as your fingers.
  • Spoilt clothes and furniture
  • Increased risk of fire in the home


At today’s rates, a 20-a-day smoker will spend £43,800 over the next 20 years.

Action on Smoking and Health

ASH is a campaigning public health charity working for a comprehensive societal response to tobacco aimed at achieving a sharp reduction and eventual elimination of the health problems caused by tobacco.

Back Pain Caused by Obesity | Health Risks & Treatments

What Does It Mean to be Obese – What Weight is Obese Weight?

Obesity is medically defined as excess adipose tissue. You may be wondering what does that mean? Well, adipose tissue is the medical term for fat or loose connective tissue. If a person is deemed obese, he or she has accumulated enough body fat to the point where it is negatively affecting their health. In general, you are not considered obese until your body weight is at least 20% higher than it should be. The most common way to determine excess adipose tissue is the body mass index or BMI. I’m sure you’re wondering… How do I do that? Thankfully, at BraceAbility we have created a helpful blog post to determine your body mass index.

What are the Most Common Health Risks Caused by Obesity?

  • 1. Type 2 diabetes – A chronic condition that alters the way the body processes blood, sugar, or glucose.

  • 2. Some forms of cancer – Breast, pancreas, colon, rectum, esophagus, and endometrium.

  • 3. Osteoarthritis – The excess weight puts even more strain on your joints causing your cartilage to degenerate

  • 4. Sleep Apnea – When your breathing cycle alters while you sleep causing you to take prolonged shallow breathes

Unfortunately, obesity also causes the muscles, joints, ligaments, bones, and organs to work harder in order to support your body. It’s because of this that people who suffer from obesity tend to have chronic back, knee, and overall body pains.

How does Being Overweight Affect your Lower Back and Spine?

In general, people who are overweight are at a much greater risk to suffer from back and spine pain, or any muscle or joint issues. In fact, there is a pretty direct link between obesity and spine issues. Essentially, the excess weight that is carried by an obese person puts additional strain and pressure on the spine. Thus, increasing potential injury to the spine and back. There are a variety of different conditions that may occur in the back region because of obesity that will be discussed in detail below.

People who suffer from obesity have an increased risk for problems specifically in the lumbar region (lower back). Because there is excess weight in the midsection, the pelvis is pulled forward, straining the lower back and creating lots of pain and medical issues.

How Does Having A Large Belly Affect My Back?

If you have excess fat in your belly, you are likely to experience side effects. Your core is your center of gravity and will shift with excess weight. This shift will pull your body forward and potentially strain your back. The shift will also cause your body to hold an unnatural posture that in return can cause lots of back pain, and down the line back issues. Many people have a medical condition called pendulous abdomen. With pendulous abdomen, the girth around your lower abdomen is enlarged or overextending. This is usually due to overeating and is extremely common in obese people. The pendulous abdomen is a condition that likely leads to back pain because of the excess fat. Because of this, BraceAbility has designed a brace to help stabilize the abdomen and back region.

Poor posture also tends to be one of the leading causes of back pain, especially if you are holding it for extended periods of time. Thankfully, there are many steps you can take to initiate correcting your posture. At BraceAbility we have a large variety of posture correcting braces that are a great way to alter your muscle memory. Specifically, check out the posture corrector made for plus-size individuals. The best part about changing your posture is that it can create weight loss. The muscles in your core are forced to work a little harder to hold yourself upright.

If I am Overweight, what Back Injuries or Spine Problems might I have?

Herniated Disc

A herniated disc is when the inner core of your vertebral disc ruptures. This rupture then causes it to burst through the crack of the outer piece. The chances of suffering from a herniated disc increase if you’re overweight, among other things. If you’re carrying around excess body fat, even more strain is placed on your intervertebral disc. Thus causing the deterioration of your bodies disc to happen at a much faster rate.

BraceAbility has a variety of herniated disc braces if you’re obese and suffering from the injury.

Bulging disc

Similarly to a herniated disc, being overweight or obese is going to increase strain on your back and spine. A bulging disc occurs when your vertebral disc pushes out of its normal position and begins to invade the space of your spinal nerves. This is more common in obese people because of the already increased strain that is placed on the back and spine from excess weight.

BraceAbility has a variety of bulging disc back braces if you’re obese and suffering from the injury.

Compression Fracture

A compression fracture of the back happens when your vertebrae, or bones of the spine, break. Compression fractures can occur anywhere in the spine, but most commonly in the lower thoracic spine and upper lumbar spine. Because the excess weight in this area is more prone to cause pain in obese people, compression fractures can become very common.

BraceAbility has a variety of compression fracture braces if you’re obese and suffering from the injury.

Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD)

Degenerative disc disease refers to the changes that happen during the body’s natural aging process. The disease is the weakening of one or more of the disc between the vertebrates. If it’s a natural aging process you’re probably wondering about its connection to obesity. Just like other conditions of the spine, it’s all about the weight strain that is placed on it. Essentially, DDD is more common in overweight people because the excess weight speeds up the aging process.

Read our article on degenerative disc for more information.

BraceAbility has a variety of DDD braces if you’re obese and suffering from the disease.

Osteoarthritis of the Spine or Arthritis of the back

Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disorder that can occur anywhere, including your hands, knees, back, and neck. Osteoarthritis of the spine is a breakdown of the cartilage in the joints of your neck and lower back. Just as with the other spinal conditions, the excess weight is placing more strain on the spine. However, osteoarthritis of the hands is also more common in overweight or obese individuals. Some doctors believe your chances of osteoarthritis increase when you’re obese because of your bodies ability to circulate blood and oxygen decrease.


Lordosis is also known as swayback. It is a condition in which the spine in the lower back has an excessive curvature. A large belly will naturally pull your pelvis forward, which will create a larger curve in your spine. This will most likely cause major strain and pain in your back muscles.

How Will Losing Weight Affect My Back?

If you are a man or woman who is overweight or obese you most likely recognize the health benefits you would receive with weight loss. Shedding some pounds could reduce your back problems, lower your risk for certain cancers, and ultimately add years onto your life. However. it’s important to understand what is really happening to your body as you begin to lose weight, especially if you are suffering from a weight caused back condition. As you begin to trim off the excess fat on your body, your muscles don’t have to work as hard. Essentially, day to day tasks become easier for your body to handle, which results in less pain experienced. The less you strain your joints, muscles, and bones, the healthier you become. Although the task of losing weight is difficult, it is possible. Let the numerous health benefits you will begin to receive be your motivation.

Could I Experience Back Pain After Extreme Weight Loss, Especially In Post Surgery Situations?

Although weight loss will most often help health problems you are experiencing, there are some cases where extreme amounts of weight loss may create back pain. It is not uncommon for people who have surgery to remove excess weight to run into back issues post op.

With bariatric surgery, people will complain about back pain in post-surgery recovery. Commonly with gastric bypass surgery, the location of the back pain varies but generally is in the mid to lower back. This type of pain from excessive weight loss may be attributed to reduced body fat because it lowers cushioning, potentially creating discomfort or affecting your spinal alignment. When considering if you should get gastric bypass surgery it’s important to be aware of the side effects that come along with the procedure. The main symptoms of gastric bypass surgery include dumping syndrome, dehydration, gallstones, hair loss, indigestion, and back pain.

In most situations, people who undergo a bariatric weight loss surgery will have had more severe back pain prior to surgery rather than post surgery.

I am Overweight and My Back Hurts – When Should I See A Doctor?

If the back pain you’re experiencing is persistent and debilitating, visiting a doctor is your best option. Initially, you may just want to visit with your family’s general practitioner. However, you may have to eventually visit with a more specialized surgeon depending on the severity of your condition and whether or not it has to do with your spine. Occasionally, back pain is a symptom of a much more serious condition that you would want a doctor to diagnose. Many of the above conditions make take a doctor’s diagnosis before you really know what is going on.

Lower Back Pain when Walking or Standing

It is not uncommon for people of all ages to experience lower back pain while standing or walking. This kind of pain can be extremely frustrating as it limits you from being able to perform simple tasks that are heavily apart of everyday life. Most often someone who is having back pain while he or she is walking or standing has an issue with degenerative discs. Like we stated early, suffering from degenerative disc issues becomes increasingly more likely with the more excess weight you’re carrying on your body. The excess weight stresses out your body’s muscles, joints, etc ultimately causing them to deteriorate faster.

Feb. 11, 2009 — The number of Americans suffering from chronic low back pain is on the rise, and a new study says the nation’s obesity epidemic may be partly to blame.

In North Carolina, the percentage of people suffering from chronic low back pain has more than doubled since the early 1990s, according to researchers, who see the state as a mirror of the nation.

“Low back pain is the second most common cause of disability in the United States and a common reason for lost work days,” Janet Freburger, PhD, PT, of the University of North Carolina, and colleagues write.

Individuals in the study were considered to have chronic low back pain if they reported pain and activity limitations nearly every day for the three-month period prior to their interviews, or if they reported more than 24 episodes of pain that limited their activity for one or more days in the prior year.

The team of researchers found that the prevalence of chronic low back pain in North Carolina increased from 3.9% in 1992 to 10.2% in 2006.

Increases were noted in men and women, and also across all ages and racial and ethnic groups.

The results were gathered in telephone surveys of 4,437 North Carolina households in 1992 and 5,357 in 2006. Questions were aimed at determining prevalence of low back pain or neck pain sufficient to limit daily activities.

The study, published in the Feb. 9 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, is thought to be the first to use similar methods and a consistent definition of chronic low back pain to analyze trends over time.

More than 80% of Americans will experience an episode of low back pain at some time in their lives, and total costs of the condition are expected to exceed $100 billion annually, two-thirds of that from decreased wages and productivity.

The researchers say reasons for increased prevalence aren’t clear but could be linked to rising obesity rates and depression, as well as heightened awareness of symptoms.

The changing nature of the nation’s workforce, with an increase in construction and service industry jobs and a decline in manufacturing, may be another factor.

“Discerning whether the prevalence of this condition is increasing and contributing to the increase in the use of health care services is vital for developing strategies to contain costs and improve care,” Freburger says.

3 Ways Smoking Is Hurting Your Back

Smoking Hurts Your Blood Flow

Often, concern about smoking and blood flow focuses on its impact on the heart, but the rest of your body is impacted as well. “Because nicotine can alter the size of the blood vessels and the ability for the body to adapt, that can cause increased damage to the ligaments as well as muscles within the spine region,” Dr. Navarasala said.

Smoking Hurts Your Spine

The disks of the spine, which provide cushion to the spine and offer ranges of motion, are impacted by smoking as well.

“Smoking can actually cause breakdown of the disk because there’s lack of nutrient exchange, specifically where the bone meets the spine disk,” Dr. Navarasala said. “In terms of the disk itself, the presence of nicotine in the blood stream actually can decrease not only the healing but also the regeneration of the cells within the disk.

“Additional mechanisms of action include lack of blood flow to the muscles that surround the spine. These can include muscles on the back of the spine here that can lead to increased pain and discomfort.”

Smoking Hurts Your Healing

In addition to causing multiple diseases, cigarette smoking has many other adverse effects on the body, such as causing inflammation and impairing immune function. “In terms of back pain, a lot of the progress that you potentially might make during physical therapy and the treatment plan that we outline can quickly be negated if smoking continues,” Dr. Navarasala said. “That’s very important to understand early on in this process.”

Learn more about smoking cessation programs in the new year.

Smokers with lower back pain must quit to alleviate symptoms

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. – Before considering treatments and surgical options to mitigate lower back pain, physicians should counsel affected patients that quitting smoking is a more effective – and considerably more affordable – means of finding relief.

At the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pain Management, Dr. Brian White spoke at length about the debilitating effects of both smoking and weight on bone and muscle pain, and how the key to alleviating that pain is to cut out the former and bring down the latter.


“When we think of multiple medical conditions associated with smoking, we don’t really think of musculoskeletal issues, but they are strongly associated with smoking,” explained Dr. White, an interventional physiatrist with the Bassett Healthcare Network in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Dr. White began by talking about the effects of smoking, extensively citing a 2010 study that examined the pathophysiology between smoking and pain. Findings indicated that long-term smoking causes receptor desensitization, creating the perception in smokers that a relatively small amount of pain is severe (Anesthesiology. 2010;113:977-92).

Furthermore, smoking deprivation – either caused by a longer-than-usual amount of time between periods of intake or attempts to quit – causes patients to have shorter pain latency. Structural damage caused by smoking can lead to increased risk of osteoporosis, lumbar disk disease, and impaired bone and wound healing, along with impaired oxygen delivery, the investigators concluded in the 2010 study.

Several other studies confirm these findings, said Dr. White, including a pair concluding that smoking is associated with higher lifetime risk of musculoskeletal pain (Ann Rheum Dis. 2003;62:33-6), as well as higher intensity of pain (Scand J Rheumatol. 1997;26:49-54).

Additionally, smoking can alter the effectiveness of opioids prescribed for pain management. “Smokers have higher pain scores and higher opioid use, but lower serum hydrocodone levels,” he said. “This may suggest an up-regulation of the metabolic pathway for morphine.”

Regarding lower back pain, smoking has been found to cause nicotine-associated disk degeneration, according to a 2013 study (Muscles Ligaments Tendons J. 2013;3:63-9). A separate study calculated odds ratios for smokers developing lower back pain as 1.49 for those simply “seeking care,” 1.79 for those experiencing chronic lower back pain, and 2.14 for smokers experiencing severe lower back pain (Am J Med. 2010;123:87 e7-e35).

The most telling study, however, was a 2012 prospective review of 5,322 patients, which found that patients who never smoked experienced significantly less pain than those who did, and that patients who quit smoking over the course of their pain management treatment experienced better outcomes than patients who continued smoking (J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2012;94:2161-6).

“As a group, those who continued to smoke during had no clinically important improvement in pain,” explained Dr. White.

Dr. White did not report any relevant financial disclosures.

For the past 40-years, those poor souls who are huddled together outside, in all kinds of weather, get a little positive nudge to put down their cigarettes, for at least one day. Thursday, November 19th marks the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout and this is a day when smokers are encouraged to quit for the day and make a plan to quit for good.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), smoking rates have dropped dramatically in the past several decades, from about 42% of adults in 1965 to about 18% in 2012, the latest year for which numbers are available. However, about 42 million adults currently smoke cigarettes, and tobacco remains a major killer, responsible for nearly one in five deaths in the United States, and at least 30% of all cancer deaths.

Many of the health risks of smoking are well-known. Lung cancer, pulmonary diseases, mouth and esophagus cancer are all caused by smoking. However, what is less known is that smoking can also cause spinal degeneration and severe back pain. Dr. Rajesh Arakal, a spine surgeon at Texas Back Institute explains this below.

Quit Like a Champion!

Joy Donovan Brandon of the ACS noted, “The first ‘smokeout’ was in California and research confirmed that as a result of this initial effort more than a million people stopped smoking. The next year, the American Cancer Society took the program national.”

What is it about the Great American Smokeout that helps smokers put down their packs forever?

“November 19th is just another day on the calendar” Joy notes. “Some people quit on January 1st or their birthday. We give them one more day to think about quitting, offering support and raising awareness of the health risks. This year our theme is “Quit Like a Champion. If you quit smoking, you’re a champion for your co-workers, your family and yourself.”

Those who quit might also realize another benefit – a healthier spine.

How Smoking Can Lead to Serious Back Problems

“By breaking down the active ingredients in smoke, such as nicotine, we can determine how they might relate to spinal disease,” Dr. Arakal said. “Nicotine can cause narrowing and constriction of blood vessels in the body.

“Unfortunately, some of the very small blood vessels are very important for nutrition to the discs in the spine. When this happens, the discs which might have a slower rate of deterioration can begin to have an accelerated rate. This can be dose (of the nicotine) dependent,” he said. “People who have been smoking for a long period of time, or have a multiple-packs-a-day habit can suffer these ramifications.”

“As smoking has changed over the years, to something like ‘vapor,’ which sounds more innocuous, the active ingredients such as nicotine are still very much present. Those harmful effects will not be lessened by inhaling vapor rather than traditional cigarette smoke.”

“There are other harmful chemicals found in this smoke besides nicotine,” he noted. “I don’t think researchers have a good handle on all of the damaging elements found in smoke. There is more work to be done to quantify the effects of these harmful chemicals.”

Are Older Smokers at Greater Risk?

“We understand that there is a genetic disposition towards back pain,” Dr. Arakal said. “In general, we think of older patients of having a higher probability of spinal disease. This is because they have more years of wear and tear and micro-traumas have accumulated in the spine.

“Certainly, older people are going to have more likelihood of multiple causes for spine problems, whether it be disc problems or a combination of many, smaller traumas which weaken the spine. Arthritis is also more prevalent among older patients and this can lead to spinal stenosis and nerve pain.”

How Long Does it Take to Realize the Benefit of Smoking Cessation?

If someone uses the Great American Smokeout and support from other non-smokers to stop smoking, is there any immediate benefit to that individual’s spinal health?

“I think there are positive effects of smoking cessation anytime someone breaks this habit, at whatever age,” he said. “For example, from a pulmonary standpoint, we have seen incremental improvements within days of the patient stopping smoking. However, if someone has serious spinal disease and they stop smoking, I don’t believe this condition ‘auto-corrects.’ There is a positive effect when someone stops smoking. It slows the rate of degeneration of the spine.”

“For those we feel require spine surgery, we recommend they stop smoking for several reasons, “ he said. “Successful surgery requires good biology. So, if someone stopped smoking on the day of the surgery, their ability to recover will be better than someone who didn’t stop. The non-smoker will heal better from the surgery and have a much better outcome.

Want to Get Involved in the Great American Smokeout?

“The American Cancer Society has a toll-free number help-line,” Joy Brandon notes. “That number is 800-227.2345. We have trained staff answering those lines and they will have tips and tools on ways you can quit smoking. “We hope everyone quits like a champion this year!”

AGE: 43
HEIGHT: 5’7″
WEIGHT NOW: 130 lb

LIGHTBULB MOMENT: When I read that weight loss could end my back pain.

BIGGEST BENEFIT: No more worry that a sudden movement could trigger a spasm

Growing up in Athens, Georgia, I was a tomboy who ran after my brother enough to stay slim. But in college, I ate more and moved less. By the end of my first year, I’d gained not only the freshman fifteen but a bonus ten pounds. At 175 pounds, I was a chunky size 14.

That’s when my back started to bother me. One moment I’d be fine, and the next the pain would be so bad that I’d be flat on the couch for days. At twenty-one, I was finally diagnosed with a bone spur on one of my vertebrae, probably the result of too much stress on that spot. I had an operation to remove the spur, but the surgery didn’t do away with the pain. I never knew what would bring it on—bending over the wrong way, reaching to get something off a shelf—so I became even less active. I avoided anything that might trigger those days of misery.

Through all this, I fell in love. I married my husband, who’s always been in shape, in 1992. I even lost 40 pounds on Nutrisystem for our wedding—I felt less back pain at 135 pounds, but I attributed that to good luck, not good health. I was pregnant by our first anniversary, and my weight climbed to 190. I also herniated a disk. Six months after giving birth to my first daughter, I was back down to 175 and recovering from my second back surgery. My next two pregnancies—in 1995 and 2000—were less traumatic, but my back pain persisted and, because I was afraid to exercise, the weight stayed.

In April 2009, my back began bothering me more than ever before. I didn’t want to take the pain pills my doctor prescribed—it’s hard to be a good mom when you feel that loopy—but his only other recommendation was more surgery. In an effort to take matters into my own hands, I picked up three books on healing pain naturally. As I turned the pages, I finally understood the real cause of my problem: The extra pounds on my belly put extra pressure on my spine. I still cannot believe that none of my doctors ever recommended going on a diet!

I’d joined the YMCA a few years before to socialize, but now I needed to go there to work out. My doctor warned me against the high impact of step class, so I tried out the elliptical machine. Then I discovered an indoor cycling class. It wasn’t long before I got the bug. Soon I was cycling three times a week and lifting weights twice weekly. To stay energized, I ate several times a day instead of less frequent big meals.

By July 2009—only a few months after starting—I’d lost 30 pounds, hitting a low of 145. In that short period of time, I noticed that my back ached much less often. I began training for a 5-K race, gingerly at first but picking up the pace as I gained confidence in the strength of my back. Those last 10 pounds slid right off. By Thanksgiving of that year, I was at my goal of 135—less than I’d weighed when I graduated from high school!

I’m now 43 and in the best shape of my life. I’ve lost another five pounds, thanks to the fact that I’m no longer just taking classes but also teaching them. I lead indoor cycling workouts at the Y three times a week and run a twelve-week intro-to-exercise program for new gym members. I’m a completely different person—I have so much more energy. Best of all, I’m 100% pain free without surgery or pain pills! I no longer have to beg off when my husband and daughters want to go to the water park or for a hike. Instead of sitting at home, I’m joining in the fun.

Went to the gym to socialize Goes to the gym to sweat
Avoided exercise for fear of triggering pain Exercises to prevent pain
Spent days on the couch unable to move Hasn’t popped a pain pill in more than a year
Wore loose XL tank tops Wears fitted tees to show off her “guns”
Kicked around the pool with the help of a noodle Swims laps with her daughters

More from Prevention: What’s Behind Your Back Pain?

The Connection Between Weight and Back Pain

Back pain and weight problems are both ongoing issues for Americans, but these conditions have a surprising connection. Obesity has several associated health complications, including diabetes, strokes, heart disease and high blood pressure, but back pain also relates to the presence of extra body fat. Excess body weight can add to stress on the spine, and metabolism differences also increase the risk of back issues.

However, a small amount of extra body weight is not the problem. The connection between weight and back pain occurs in two specific categories — overweight or obese individuals. The good news is that losing weight can ease aching or throbbing backs and decrease the risk of further back conditions. The following explanation of weight and back pain issues leads to practical steps for back pain relief.

Overweight vs. Obesity

Overweight and obesity are different categories of excess weight, although they are often used interchangeably. The primary measurement of these weight categories is the body mass index (BMI), and which ranges from underweight, normal or healthy, overweight to obese. Overweight is a BMI anywhere from 25 to under 30, and obese is a BMI from 30 or higher. The BMI is a preliminary tool, but several other factors are necessary to evaluate overall health.

The obesity scale is broken down into three subcategories since there isn’t a maximum level. The first subcategory or class is a BMI from 30 to 35, and the second is a BMI of 35 to 40. The third subcategory is the highest, with a BMI of 40 or more.

How Your Weight Impacts Your Back Health

The medical field remains unsure about what precise factors of excess body fat influence back health and cause spine diseases. Many doctors believe that these factors are merely correlated without a clear link, but the large number of studies that show an overlap between back disorders and obesity is difficult to overlook.

Medical professionals are still unsure whether mechanical or metabolic and meta-inflammatory aspects contribute most to back pain, but common occurrences in patients indicate a mixture. The following impacts happen when excessive weight damages the spine and back.

1. Weakened Muscles

Behaviors associated with obesity, like a sedentary lifestyle or a poor metabolism, weaken the supporting muscles. The back muscles needed to retain the shape of the spine suffer from an increase in weight. Legs also bear the burden of a weakened back, because they must compensate for the extra load on the abdomen. Walking becomes more difficult with weakened back muscles, and many have reported that daily functions are more challenging due to obesity and back pain.

2. Undue Spine Compression

The pressure from weight in the midsection pulling the spine downward contributes to pain in the back. The spine is a column of vertebrae, cartilage and discs, and they surround the spinal cord, which is sensitive. Discs or vertebrae pressing the nerves in the spine can cause severe conditions. Obesity pushes the body into postures that deter the spine’s natural shape. Whether herniated discs or nerve compression happen because of added weight, pain follows.

3. Irregular Spine Curvature

Added body weight brings the spine into an altered and unhealthy shape. As body weight increases, the pelvis tilts, and the spine’s natural curvature changes. Weight creates an imbalance in the typical three-curve system, which leads to spine alignment issues and a chance for pressure-related back problems. The over-extension of the lowest arch because of abdominal body fat is especially harmful to the lower back.

4. Slowed Metabolism

A slower metabolism is linked to the presence of excess body fat, and when the metabolism is delayed, the body suffers in many ways. A possible result of obesity on the metabolism and biological functions is systematic inflammation. Inflammation in cases of obesity prevents people from fighting diabetes and weakens the immune system. The weakness in other bodily systems shows that excess weight hampers basic biological protections.

5. Prolonged Recovery Time

One of the least disputed factors connecting weight and back problems is increased recovery time. Overweight and obese individuals with back and spine problems had longer recovery times than usual from their pain, injuries or surgeries. The healing properties of the back are slowed down, possibly from the previously discussed metabolic factors.

Conditions Associated With Obesity and Back Pain

Certain back diseases are linked with obesity and the damage of extra weight on the spine. The following conditions are the most common ones that studies show to be detrimental to the back and spine for the obese.

1. Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the degradation of joints, bone and cartilage and the accompanied pain and rigidity. Obesity typically holds a higher risk for joint inflammation, and osteoarthritis is common in overweight individuals. Although osteoarthritis more frequently occurs in the elderly, obesity increases the possibility for middle-aged individuals to have it, too.

Osteoarthritis connects to obesity and back pain through the presence of adipokine and leptin. Adipokines are important metabolism mediators, and they are present in many serious conditions including obesity. Leptin, in particular, is an adipokine which effects bodies’ immune systems and metabolisms, regulates body weight and changes energy output. Leptin deteriorates cartilage in the body, and knees are especially vulnerable to an increase in leptin content, which is observed in obesity.

2. Intervertebral Disc Disorder

Intervertebral disc disorder is when the degeneration of spinal discs occurs, and overweight individuals are prone to deteriorated discs. Discs, the natural cushions of the spine, release fluid throughout the day, but they need to be replenished through rest and nutrients. However, when wear and tear leave them thinned without restoration, degeneration begins.

Extra weight on the spine is one form of pressure that can stress the discs and shift them closer together, elevating the possibility that vertebrae will grind against one another or nerves and initiate pain. The wearing away of discs leads to significant back pain and an inability to move freely. The vertebral endplate of the spine also can have edema as a result of disc deterioration, which brings more pain.

3. Lower Back Pain

The risk of lower back pain is more likely when excess body fat is present. At least 80 percent of Americans experience lower back pain during their lives, and it often causes immobility and lower extremity issues. The intensity of pain in the lower region does not clearly rise and fall based on the BMI of a person, but the frequency of lower back pain is higher in individuals who are obese or overweight. Generally, obesity predicts lower back pain.

Lower back pain is a symptom of back conditions, like sciatica and spinal stenosis, but it could also be the result of an injury. Loading problems strain the back and overload joints that support the spine. Injury and serious back conditions lead to low back pain, and easy tasks like walking, standing and sleeping become difficult and painful. This debilitating situation prevents many basic activities due to extreme discomfort.

Increased Risks Due to Being Overweight

Obese and overweight individuals have a higher risk of injury, surgery and health complications. A surplus of body fat is not the only factor that creates extra risk, but the fat cells, altered metabolism and weakened joints and muscles contribute to the likelihood of medical difficulties.

1. Anesthetic Surgical Issues

Anesthesia presents a substantial issue for overweight patients because the normal dosages that patients are given are often ineffective. Breathing problems from extra tissue can occur, and breathing assistance can exacerbate existing breathing issues. Oxygen and proper airflow are challenges with sleep apnea patients, but typical pain medication can also interfere with breathing for overweight individuals.

Deep vein thrombosis, blood clots in the legs at a great depth, is a possibility for obese patients who have recently received surgery. The extended inactivity from recovery allows the legs to become sedentary, and the blood that usually flows to the heart from their movement slows down. If clots form, they can move to the lungs, and swelling in the legs is likely. Compression stockings can help, but there are few clear symptoms of deep vein thrombosis.

2. Pre- and Post-Operative Surgical Problems

Pre-operative surgical considerations for spine surgeries include equipment restrictions, patient positioning and preparing patients for managing pain. Planning for the different size and body makeup of patients is crucial before surgery. Imaging and scans help physicians account for a different surgical approach and altered methods. Some imaging is hard to read because the machine can’t convey appropriate readings past the thickness of the tissue.

Post-operative surgical problems include infection of the wounds, cardiac complications and controlling pain medication. Wounds from surgery are more likely to become infected in patients who are obese or overweight. The condition or physique of a person also contributes to the rate of infection, because a healthy and muscular individual may have a higher BMI but recover more quickly due to consistent physical activity. A higher sensitivity to pain makes obese patients prone to rely on the medication for a longer period and in higher doses than if they were closer to an average weight.

3. Injury

It is twice as likely for obese or overweight individuals to sustain an injury than for people of average weight. Overweight people overexert themselves and fall more often, and these injuries result in further health conditions. Falls and ambulatory stumbling occur more often for obese individuals, and a history of these injuries especially impact elderly individuals who are overweight when they can’t steady themselves or have extensive physical limitations.

Spinal cord injuries happen often, and occupational injuries are also a common risk for obese individuals. Driving injuries can endanger people who are overweight, although the extra tissue occasionally protects people in car accidents. Sleep apnea also endangers obese drivers, as many car accidents and injuries result from this condition. Significant injuries from vehicle accidents are worse for people with excess body fat.

How Weight Loss Relieves Your Pain

Losing excess body fat from healthy food choices, exercise and lifestyle changes renews your spine and back structure and relieves the pain that comes along with extra weight. Weight loss eases extra pressure on the spine, corrects posture and reduces health risks. The following advantages come from decreasing BMI and introducing active and balanced practices into your life.

1. Exercise Improves BMI and Back Health

Exercise reduces surplus weight in the midsection that is harming the spine, but it also benefits back health simply from strengthening the muscles and increasing flexibility. Physical activity promotes back health on its own, but because it is a common weight loss method, it is doubly effective in reducing back pain. Supporting muscles regain their vigor and take unnecessary pressure off the spine so that it can bear a natural amount of weight.

Stretching, conditioning and strengthening exercises all help your back remain trim and fit. Practicing flexibility and balance can reduce overexertion and injuries that occur from lifting. Low-impact exercises are an excellent place to start repairing your back and core’s weakened muscles.

2. Natural Spine Alignment Returns

Spine alignment is restored when weight is lost, because the typical abdominal weight is reduced, easing the arched curvature of the back. Extra pressure from the weight that creates nerve compression and disc degeneration is displaced.

The neutral spine position aligns your head, shoulders, hips, knees and feet so that your spine is not extended or bent uncomfortably. When the weight that pulls your spine in extreme positions slowly disappears, you can practice good posture again. This allows your organs enough space to function effectively and your spinal discs to perform their job of separating vertebrae.

3. Current Relief and Future Risk Prevention

Individuals who have lost weight to lessen their back pain generally see positive results. If individuals who are overweight have back or spine surgery before they attempt to lose weight, the results are less successful for their weight loss attempts. However, if weight loss regiments are implemented to reduce back pain, relief from back pain is a common outcome. Surgery recovery is improved when individuals lose weight before surgery, and osteoarthritis stressors are reduced when body fat is diminished.

A lower BMI reduces the risk of future back injuries. Preventing future back injuries is as simple as losing weight and continuing exercise and healthy habits. The likelihood of back injuries with obesity is enough to convince many to strive for a healthy BMI and reduced abdominal fat to leave their spines flexible and supported.

Practical Tips on Weight Loss Methods for Back Relief

You understand how low-impact exercise helps back pain, but you may still wonder where to begin with weight loss methods to alleviate your back pain. The following tips will help you start healthy measures to get your body and back in shape.

  • Walking is a safe place to start to get your back in shape, and even though it seems simple, walking provides circulation and promotes weight loss.
  • Aerobics and Pilates will help you lose weight efficiently, and modified poses can save your back extra strain.
  • Try stretches and strengthening moves that build up your core without straining your developing back muscles, like wall sits, bridges and hamstring stretches.

Find Spine and Back Support at the Spine Institute of North America

If you want to relieve your back pain and recognize your BMI as a contributing factor, the Spine Institute of North America is ready to help you reduce your spine and back problems resulting from excess weight. Weight loss can reduce your back pain, but surgery may also be necessary for your condition. We provide minimally invasive spine surgeries and assist you in as quick a recovery as possible to get you back to your preferred routine.

Our physicians will help you form a care path, and our staff provides personal help to navigate your treatment options. Whether you need an endoscopic discectomy, endoscopic facet rhizotomy or spinal cord stimulation, we are leaders in these techniques and intent on relieving your pain and reviving your life.

Contact us today to learn more about the connection between weight and back pain or to schedule an appointment.

This content was medically reviewed by Baher Yanni, M.D, on January 17th, 2019.


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