Those who suffer chronic back pain may think that something is wrong with their spines. This is sometimes true, although pain often results from muscular strain or learned pain signaling by the nervous system. Whatever the location, it’s important for pain patients to think beyond the immediate location of pain and consider possible systemic causes of pain. One of the most prevalent systemic causes of back pain is excess weight.
Weight and Pain
There are a number of ways in which your weight may be a causal factor in back pain. Note the following:
• Fat accumulated in the abdomen (a typical sign of metabolic disorder) can pull the lower back in, creating increased lordosis (inward curvature of the spine) and anterior pelvic tilt. Anterior pelvic tilt is a type of postural dysfunction present when the pelvis is higher in the back than in the front and the buttocks sticks out. In this position, the web of muscles between the pelvis and lower back undergo altered lengths and tensions. Also, the spinal joints and discs experience increased pressure and compression. This, over time, can lead to joint and disc wear.
• Excess weight means extra work for the muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints and discs in the back. The lower back supports much of the body’s weight; the more weight there is, the harder your soft tissues and joints have to work, and the more susceptible to wear and injury they are.
• Excess weight can cause changes throughout the back that result in widespread pain. In one study, found obese women exhibited reduced range of motion in the thoracic spine in the upper back and in the shoulders. This stiffness may result in upper back, shoulder and neck pain along with lower back pain.
Part of back pain treatment for overweight patients, and particularly those with excess abdominal fat, is weight management. This is best done through a combination of diet and exercise. Those with back pain should incorporate a core strengthening segment into their exercise routine, which will help support the lower back.
Before embarking on an exercise plan with back pain, it’s important to consult with a doctor and/or physical therapist to ensure you don’t exacerbate any injury that may be present, and that you exercise with proper form, thereby preventing further pain.