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Back Pain and its Link to Obesity and Physical Activity

Most Americans experience back pain at some point in their lives, especially people who are obese and rarely physically active. This combination can exacerbate the strain that causes and leads to muscle spasms, and bulging or ruptured discs. Back pain is a common and costly condition that nearly 80 percent of adults can experience with around 8 percent living with chronic back pain.

Complications from Obesity

There is a high risk of developing spinal pain as a result of obesity and physical inactivity. Lower back pain is significantly higher in patients with elevated body mass index (BMI) and increases with each BMI category. People who are overweight and obese are more likely to develop lower back problems and intervertebral disc disorders; however, these specific mechanisms are not fully understood. Associated with this, patients with chronic inflammatory conditions have been found to be linked with obesity and disc degeneration of the spine.


In addition, there are two other indicators that have been associated with obesity and/or physically inactive that correlate with back pain. C-reactive protein (CRP) rises in reaction to inflammation of the body in people with obesity and people who are inactive and can be 15 times the CPR compared with those who maintain adequate physical activity and bodyweight. Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), is strongly related to CRP. This is a type of blood test that measures how quickly red blood cells settle at the bottom of a test tube that contains a blood sample normally settling relatively slowly,  but a faster than normal rate may indicate inflammation of the body. The relationship between the outcomes associated with elevated CRP or ESR leads significantly to obesity. Also, since people who are obese often have difficulty engaging in physical activities when experiencing back pain, 48 percent are most likely to have a higher risk of sustaining spinal injuries. With this the cycle, weight gain and back pain become constant.

Relief through Weight Loss

A recent study used for comparing weight loss measured the effectiveness of a Very Low-Calorie Diet (VLCD) versus a food-based diet. VLCD was found to be more effective and have greater results for sustaining weight loss. Losing weight certainly helps alleviate the potential physical limitations associated with back pain and relieves pressure on the spine that reduces the risk of osteoarthritis. Being aware of these benefits may provide the inspiration to begin preventive measures. A structured VLCD, therefore, can be used in conjunction with medical supervision for safe and rapid weight loss to treat a multitude of issues, including back pain.


Source: Back Pain and Obesity: A Recurring Cycle — By Andrea M. Pampaloni, Ph.D.

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