How does obesity affect back pain?

Rick Olderman
Physical Therapy

Obesity affects back pain for at least two reasons:

1. Increased girth of the stomach area causes the spine to arch backward (spinal extension) to compensate for this weight. Spinal extension increases compression of the vertebrae, disks, and nerve roots exiting the spine.

2. Excessive weight overloads the leg muscles. In response, obese individuals lock their knees so the the muscles don't have to work so hard. This tilts the pelvis forward (anterior pelvic tilt) which then causes the spine to arch backward (spinal extension) to compensate. Again this leads to compression of spinal tissues and pain.

Gerald M. Silverman
Chiropractic Medicine
Weight is not a major risk factor for lower back pain. This may come as a great surprise, but the incidence of lower back pain in the obese population is virtually the same as in the general population. The slightly greater rate of lower back pain seen with obesity is explained by comorbidity, the combination of a number of different illnesses or symptom complexes at one time. If obesity were a direct cause or precursor to lower back pain, we would expect to find a much higher incidence of lower back pain in that population, and we don't find that at all.

Structurally, your spine is designed to carry and support many times your body weight. Of course there must be limits, and I'm not suggesting you push yourself to find out what those limits are, but the extra body weight most people carry never approaches an amount of weight your spine could not tolerate.
Your Miraculous Back: A Step-By-Step Guide to Relieving Neck & Back Pain

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Your Miraculous Back: A Step-By-Step Guide to Relieving Neck & Back Pain

Many of us complain about our 'bad back,' but this book argues that our backs are, without exception, amazing examples of bioengineering, capable of dramatic feats of strength, flexibility, and...

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Back Pain

Back Pain

Just about everyone has experienced some level of back pain. It is one of the most common ailments brought on by disease, injury, or misalignment of the spine. It can be a dull muscle ache in the lower back or a severe, sharp pain ...

in that affects your ability to bend over or stand up straight. Most often back pain results from strained muscles and ligaments that surround the spine, but it can also be caused by structural problems with the bones of the spine. There are treatment options for back pain, and understanding the causes and symptoms is key to preventing it in the first place.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.