Back Pain and Extra Weight: Are You Wrecking Your Low Back?

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back pain and extra weight

Do back pain and extra weight correlate? The research on the topic has traditionally been mixed, but more recent studies seem to be drawing a firmer connection. In fact, several out this past few months show that extra weight is damaging your low back.

The low back bears the weight of the body and transfers it to the legs. In the front of the lumbar spine (aka low back) are the shock absorbing discs and in the back part the motion limiting facet joints. In between there are many ligaments that act like duct tape to hold it all together and muscles that help keep it all stable as you move. Finally, there are nerves that power your legs that come out two by two at each level.

I’ve seen many heavy patients walk in through the years with facet joint arthritis and have blogged before on why this likely happens. Now a new study draws a connection between the amount of weight you’re carrying around in your mid-section and the amount of arthritis in your low back facet joints. A study from May of this year also draws a connection between decreased height of the discs (which means they’re degenerating) and being overweight. Interestingly, the correlation only holds up for the upper and mid low back discs and not the bottom most disc (L5-S1). This makes some sense, as these are the discs that will take more stress as the spine flexes forward because of that belly. Finally, an April study that reviewed many different research publications concluded that sciatica (a pinched nerve in the back) was directly related to extra weight in a dose response relationship (meaning every extra pound caused a greater risk of nerve symptoms).

The upshot? The research stars seem to be aligning and demonstrating that carrying those extra pounds is not only causing pain, but damaging the structure of your low back! If you’ve get a belly and back pain, mix in a few salads!

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