Why does weight loss relieve back pain?

Rick Olderman
Physical Therapy

Weight loss can help relieve back pain, especially if you carry weight in your tummy area. This is because, when the waist becomes large, it creates a drag on the spine, pulling it forward into an excessively arched position (increased spinal extension). This arching contributes to spinal compression affecting the vertebrae, disks, and nerve roots exiting the spine. Losing weight, especially when it comes off the stomach, reduces the excessive extension of the spine and unloads these tissues thereby reducing pain.

Increased weight also contributes to back pain because the leg muscles, not being strong enough to carry the body, become over worked. This leads to walking with extended or locked knees instead of using leg muscles. Locked knees contribute to tilting the pelvis forward. The spine then arches backward to offset this tilt, again leading to excessive spinal compression and pain. As you lose weight, the legs are more able to carry your weight and spend more time using their muscles--not locking the knees. This allows the pelvis to resume its natural position thereby allowing the spine to also return to a normal curve with less pain.

Gerald M. Silverman
Chiropractic Medicine
Dropping a few pounds can help relieve back pain for two reasons. First, because most people trying to lose weight usually incorporate an exercise program into their routine, they not only lose weight but also enjoy the other benefits that exercise in general will produce. And it is the general effect of exercise that resolves lower back pain; the diet and weight loss contribute little if anything to the favorable outcome.

Secondly, and maybe just as importantly, there are the psychological benefits of feeling better about yourself when you achieve a goal and shed a few pounds. Most people who choose to diet do so because they aren't feeling too great about their appearance, their health, or both. Once they begin to lose some weight, they start feeling better about the initial reason for losing weight, and soon they begin feeling better about secondary issues as well -- including things like back pain. We all know that someone who has just lost a few pounds usually has a lighter outlook about the world in general. It is almost as though once they started feeling better physically, they started feeling better psychologically. Or it may have been the other way around; once they started feeling better psychologically, they started feeling better physically. This doesn't mean that the pain was in their head. I'm not suggesting that at all. However, their lighter psychological weight may have been more beneficial in reducing lower back pain than their actual reduction in pounds.
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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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.