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Can Weight Gain Cause Low Back Pain?

Published October 4, 2018     | Reviewed By Jerry Nichols, MD
Tags:  Back Pain
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Being overweight has become an epidemic in North America where, according to CNN, an estimated one-third of the population is obese and two-thirds of the general population is overweight. These two groups of people both suffer from the health effects that come with the condition regardless of their gender, race, financial status or even age. Research by the National Center for Biotechnology Information on this topic has linked excess weight- especially belly weight- to spinal and lower back pains.

Back pain can wreak havoc on your daily life by affecting your normal sleep pattern, your posture, walking style, and even the capacity to do any form of labor. It’s a condition that affects many people and can be caused by a variety of different factors such as bad lifting, wrong sitting or sleeping postures, pregnancy, or being overweight. Any action, habit, or lifestyle that can strain your spine and back muscles can contribute to back pain.

“Someone who is overweight tends to be fairly inactive, therefore might sit more, do less exercise, have less muscle tone. It is likely to be the lifestyle someone who is overweight adopts that contributes to their back pain not the actual weight itself,” says physiotherapist Lyndsay Hirst, creator of Your Pilates Physio, an online Clinical Pilates resource and studio.

Spinal and back doctors have confirmed that added weight, especially in the midsection, contributes a lot to back pain since it strains the back muscles in the process of trying to support the excess weight gained by trying to keep the body in an upright position. The body of a healthy person is in equilibrium because it has a natural balance both mentally and physically and a change in this balance would affect the individual.

A proper standing posture, which is the position that ensures your body is in equilibrium, dictates that your chin should be up and your chest out and your stomach should be tucked in naturally which ensures your spine maintains an inward arc keeping your hips straight. This helps you maintain your balance through proper weight distribution.

Obesity (or being overweight) destroys this natural body alignment. Hirst says, “Having excess weight will also alter someones posture which again can contribute to back pain.” It leaves the spine carrying excess weight while working twice as hard to maintain your body’s balance. This leads to back pain and, over time, your body will adapt an unnatural symmetry that you may not notice because it happens incrementally. This change can be corrected with weight loss and the help of a chiropractor.


Weight Loss Tips for Back Pain Relief


Back pain can be debilitating and can affect many people’s physiological, psychological, and even social functioning rendering them incapable of walking, driving, working in jobs that require physical involvement such as construction, or even going to social functions. There are corrective measures that can also double as preventive measures you can take to remedy this situation.

Make an Appointment with a Doctor

It’s important for you to see a doctor for a checkup or physical if you think you are overweight, or if you experiencing back pain. Talk to your doctor about your diet, exercise, and lifestyle patterns. The doctor can then instruct you on how manage your weight, take care of your body, and help you come up with a strategy to reverse your condition. Hirst says, “Understanding your body and how it functions is key to success with weight loss. Sustaining weight loss can also be challenging. Seeing the right health care professional can help give you the tools and knowledge to start the weight loss journey and keep it up.”

Exercise

The next step is begin the exercises recommended by your physician to get rid of the excess weight. This doesn’t mean you hit the gym immediately. Start by developing consistent walking or bike riding habits. Exercise the same time each day and enlist the help of your family and friends to walk along side you. “It is extremely important to have the support of family and friends,” shares Hirst. “Having the encouragement of loved ones support you will help boost your confidence and keep you going.”

Diet

Your diet is important in maintaining healthy weight and avoiding back pain. Steer clear of high-calorie foods and learn to read nutrition labels, track your eating, and cook well-balanced meals. You can even consult nutritionists on the best diet plan for you so you can maintain a healthy and fit body. Dr. Fred Tabung, a visiting scientist with the Department of Nutrition at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, reported that increased chronic pain is the direct result of inflammation caused by a poor diet. Inflammation caused by stress on spinal joints due to excess weight can be reversed by understanding which foods to remove from your diet immediately.

Join a Support Group

Joining a support group helps you stay committed to your goals and provides you with a group of team members, a family that will be there for you throughout the whole process. What’s better is that this team will also be there for you even after you are healthy and fit leading you along whenever you lose focus. A study of Internet-mediated support groups found that members excelled using online support groups due to the “convenience, anonymity, and the non-judgmental interactions” they received. Researchers concluded that Internet weight loss communities “plays a prominent role in participants’ weight loss efforts—roles which might not be adequately filled by clinicians or offline family and friends.”

Hirst agrees, “I am a big believer in the use of support groups. They can be a great resource for recipe ideas, inspiration, motivation and allowing you to realize you are not alone.”


In Summary

If you are overweight and looking for the best way to get back to living a healthy, pain-free lifestyle, follow these tips and find the best option for you to turn back the clock and enjoy life.

Last change: October 19, 2018

Contributors and Experts

Lyndsay is a chartered, state-registered UK physiotherapist with Your Pilates Physio