Obesity and Lower Back Pain

Is there a cause and effect between obesity and lower back pain? Or more simply put, can obesity cause back pain? The short answer is: Yes.

Some Reasons Why Obesity
Causes Back Pain

Yes obesity can cause back pain by:

  • Accelerating, over time. the wear and tear process of degenerative joint disease or degenerative disc disease that is already present. The excess weight can and often does, over time, cause disc damage, resulting in bulging or herniation of the disc.
  • Creating abnormal joint alignment of the facet joints that, over time, will lead to facet joint arthritis or a facet syndrome. The excess weight can, and often does, cause the facets to glide excessively resulting in facet syndrome and lower back pain. Obesity can cause facet joint sprain due to the imbrication of the facets as the abdominal fat (belly fat)pull forward on the spine and trunk and the overweight person must lean backward to maintain an upright posture. This pulling forward causes the lumbar spine to become more lordotic, creating abnormal disc stress and facet joint alignment.This can easily be witnessed with pregnancy. The mother to be, most noticeably in the last trimester, will demonstrate a forward lumbar curve or hyperlordosis, from the additional abdominal weight pulling forward.
  • Causing muscle overload; thereby (you guessed it), causeing or aggravating a myofascial pain syndrome (trigger points). The excess weight, can and often does, create muscular overload leading to the development of trigger points.

All three of these conditions can occur without the person being overweight. However, the key factor in these scenarios is: time. The abnormal stress to the discs, joints and muscles from the excess weight will cause the tissue to degenerate or wear out prematurely, or at an accelerated pace. As in the case of trigger points, it will create them or cause existing trigger points to become active.

Being overweight will increase the pressure that causes a pinched nerve effect, cause further facet joint glide or may activate trigger points, all of which will cause an increase in pain.

Obesity And Lower Back Pain
The Threshold
Factor

Excess body weight, or obesity, may end up being the straw that broke the camel's back. In other words, it may be enough to put you over the pain threshold if you already have a lower back condition that is not symptomatic (pain expressive).

Obesity, by all means, can be a contributing or aggravating factor in many lower back pain cases. But to simply blame obesity as the primary cause may not be accurate.

Preexisting Conditions

Often times, there needs to be some type of preexisting cause of LBP that will only make it more evident or more aggravated. The added increase of stress from being overweight can be all that is needed for your lower back to start hurting or become worse. Any excess weight can add to lower back pain by increasing pressure or joint load, which will accelerate the degenerative process or cause further damage to an already damaged joint.

Some of these preexisting conditions that may cause lower back pain with the accumulation of excess body weight are:

  1. Degenerative disc disease
  2. Facet arthritis
  3. Bulging or herniated discs.
  4. Muscle strain
  5. Myofascial pain syndrome (trigger points).

These conditions will in turn cause back pain due to a pinched nerve, joint inflammation or trigger point activation.

Time Is A Factor

It takes time to develop DDD (degenerative disc disease) or a facet syndrome and... it take time to become obese. So, after many months to years of DDD slowly getting worse, and many months to years of obesity developing or already existing, the lower back pain will eventually manifest itself.

By the time the symptom of lower back pain becomes evident, the damage is usually advanced in the form of degenerative disc disease or degenerative joint disease.

With DDD and facet syndrome, or even trigger points already present but asymptomatic (not expressing pain), the addition of excess weight will accelerate these conditions and help to create pain and other associated signs and symptoms at an earlier time than would have happened with normal body weight.

A healthy disc, joint or muscle will not express lower back pain in the presence of excess body weight until the excess weight has had enough time to cause tissue breakdown.

Being that nearly 100% of the population will at some time suffer lower back injuries, either of a micro-traumatic or macro-traumatic nature, it is important to minimize any and all factors that may further contribute to the degenerative process that inevitably occurs with joint injury.

The key point to take away from this is that in either case, injury or obesity, and especially when both are present, time is needed for lower back pain to develop.

A person who is already obese will more likely develop lower back pain sooner following an injury than one who becomes overweight years after the injury to the lower back has occurred.

Can Obesity Cause Back Pain?

So the best answer to the question, “Can obesity cause lower back pain?” is:

Yes... overtime, the excess weight will either cause tissue injury or further damage an already preexisting condition or prior injury.

Take Action

Regardless, whether lower back pain is made worse with excess weight or excess weight contributes to or causes the development of the condition that produces lower back pain, it is imperative to keep your body at its ideal weight. Or if you are overweight or you already have obesity and lower back pain, take action to reduce your weight in order to minimize further tissue stress and damage, which will help to keep the inevitable and irreversible joint degeneration to a minimal rate and amount.

In the case of trigger points, they will need to be treated and eliminated as much as possible along with weight reduction. Excess weight only creates muscle overload as the muscles work to maintain body posture and alignment, balance, endurance and proper mechanics.

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