Does Obesity Worsen Back Pain?

It is extremely common to have chronic back pain when one is carrying extra weight. A lot of back and spinal problems are attributed to a sedentary life style, bad posture and lack of daily activity. Interestingly, these are some of the same contributing factors in obesity. In the United States, about 58 million people are overweight.

Apart from increasing the risks of heart disease, abdominal obesity also contributes to injuries and pains associated with the back. Extra visceral fat around the abdomen causes the posture of the body to lose spinal strength. The body tends to lean forward increasing pressure on the muscles that support the spine, specifically of the lower back. This increased pressure places undue stress on the spinal disks that is the protective material between spinal vertebrae. This pressure creates a bulge, a result from uneven distribution of weight, on these disks that irritates area nerves. Obesity aggravates the problems of bad posture and misalignment resulting in back pain and probable injury.

Back Pain in Obesity


Obesity can accentuate back pain and aggravate the following clinical conditions:

Herniated or Ruptured Disc

The spine is anchored and cushioned with the help of small sac like structures called discs. It contains a jelly like material which eases movement of the spine. Increased upper body weight and sedentary life style can weigh down on the discs and cause them to bulge which can lead to rupture. The jelly like material starts flowing outside causing a protrusion which presses against nerve roots and the spinal cord. This causes pain in the lower back often radiating to the legs.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

RA is a disease which brings about a painful inflammation in the joints and the tissues around it. It can affect several other organs. Carrying excess weight puts more pressure on the inflamed joints which leads to acute pain. Reduction in weight can show an immense improvement in the symptoms.


Lordosis is an inward curvature of a portion of the lower back. Excess abdominal weight pulls the pelvis forward, which causes the lower back muscles to become imbalanced and weak.



This is a degenerative disk disorder that may cause changes in normal spinal structure and lose its’ functioning capability. It is essentially the tread on a tire. Loss of this protective, shock absorbing material increases the compression forces from the weight of the body. The middle and lower regions of the spine are affected the most.

Back Surgery

Obesity delays the bodies’ ability to recovery from spine surgery. Time to recover and return to normal activities after surgery is prolonged when one is obese. A 10% decrease in weight can improve symptoms dramatically.

It is important to understand that diet and exercise are the two pillars when it comes to losing weight. And losing weight can definitely help improve posture and decrease back pain.




National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases http://www.niams.nih.gov/

William C. Shield Jr., MD, FACP, FACR, Chief Editor; Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) facts; medicinenet.com; http://www.medicinenet.com/rheumatoid_arthritis/article.htm

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