Spine Problems

Spine Problems Can Be Attributed to Obesity

In various scientific studies conducted by researchers, the conclusion was that lumbar disc disorders through mechanical load, (1) mechanical load issues stemming from obesity causing low-grade systemic inflammation, (2) toxins absorbed by body-fat accumulation into the body which increase pain sensitivity and fluctuate pain modulation (3) and chronic pains in the back which seem to be caused by statogravitational mechanisms that exercise a higher pressure on the lower part of the spine due to increased abdominal mass of fat tissue (4) are just some of the factors that explain why obesity, lower back problems and subsequently spinal problems are all related issues.

The fatter you are, the more it hurts

It makes sense: the more body-fat you accumulate, the higher your body mass index will be. This is a measure of your ideal weight in comparison to your age and height. When fat is accumulated on your body due to being overweight or obesity, specially around the abdominal area, you are more likely to experience pains in the spine, lower back and even legs. (5) This pain is due simply to the fact that your current bone development and growth is tailor-made by your body’s metabolism to adapt and compensate to your current living conditions. Thereby, if you have been leading a largely active life as a child and then became obese as a teenager or a young adult, you will likely suffer lower back pains and spinal problems until you begin converting that body-fat into muscle tissue by introducing regular exercise and possibly even work-outs into your daily life.

Hormones that exacerbate pain are found in accumulated body-fat

Furthermore, it is also known that body-fat accumulation invariably layers various toxic hormones onto your body such as leptin, adipokines and cytokines which are linked to pain modulation; and in the case of leptin, has been linked to an increase in pain sensitivity. (6) What this simply means is that the more body-fat you have accumulated on your body, especially in the abdominal areas, the more likely you are to feel the pain from the pressure of gravity pushing down on a bone structure not intended to carry the added weight. Were that body-fat muscle tissue instead, the difference would be resounding. Mostly because your body would have less weight to carry about and secondly because the pain-inducing hormones would not be in the previously fatty parts of your body.

One third of Americans who are obese suffer from back pain

According to the American Obesity Association’s fact sheet from 2002, musculoskeletal pain and specifically back pain, are prevalent among the nearly one-third of Americans who are classified as obese. (7) Furthermore, according to the same data, “more obese people are saying that they are disabled and less able to complete everyday activities than persons with other chronic conditions.” (8) Every extra pound clearly adds strain to the muscles and ligaments in the back. This is supported by the studies conducted on postmenopausal women (9) and the studies on lumbar disc disorders through mechanical load. (10) Other conditions that have been related to obesity and overweight patients’ spinal problems are sciatica (11) as well as lower back pain from a herniated disc. (12) Further links between obese of overweight patients and arthritis of the spine have been shown, as well as the information that those with a body mass index of greater than 25 are more likely to develop osteoarthritis than those with a lower BMI. And finally, the effectiveness of back surgery can also be potentially affected by the weight of a patient.
Obese patients at higher risk of surgery-related complications

Obese patients are also at a higher risk for complications and infections contracted after surgery in comparison to patients who have an acceptable body mass index, particularly deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. (13) In fact, it’s common procedure to recommend weight loss before undergoing back surgery. A recent key study actually did find that there is a direct correlation between increasing body mass index and the risk of significant postoperative complications. (14) Obesity seems to be a prevalent condition in patients who want to take liposuction surgery for degenerative spinal conditions.

Decreasing bone mineral density also caused by obesity

Another factor that is highly influential in relation to obesity is the bone mineral density of the lumbar spine. The hypothesis goes that the higher the body mass index of a subject, the more likely they are to have issues with the density of the bone degrading and leading to debilitating conditions such as osteoarthritis or osteoporosis. In a clinical trial performed on over 1,000 Japanese subjects, it was found by examining X-rays of the lumbar regions of the spine that bone mineral density in patients peaked at the ages of 20-29. (15) For women, abrupt bone loss often happened after age 50 in relation to menopause. Bone mineral density, at least in women, seems to be related to the onset of menopause. In general though, those patients who were obese were found to have a lower bone density in the spinal lumbar regions than the ones with an ideal body mass index, which clearly indicates that obesity is a major factor in the development of these debilitating illnesses that can cause major spinal problems.

From all these ailments, conditions and diseases, it is clearly apparent that people with a body mass index between 25-29 (overweight) should consider introducing regular exercise into their routine to combat weight issues  and that people with a body mass index higher than 30 (obese) should seek immediate medical attention with a view to a weight-loss program that will bring them back to an acceptable BMI that rules out the possibility of obesity-related spine problems.