If you’ve been piling on the pounds for a long time now, chances are you’ve been going about your day with a feeling of discomfort, stiffness, and tightness in your lower back. In the past two decades, the rate of obesity has increased threefold, while complaints about chronic back pain have nearly doubled. Could there be a correlation between the extra weight around your mid-section and your aching back?
Several studies have confirmed that a bulging belly may be the cause of your chronic back pain, but you’d be surprised to learn that it also goes the other way: chronic back pain can lead to weight gain in the long run. Let’s explore the two sides of the body fat-back pain connection below.
Your Bulging Belly Is Stressing Your Spine
Having excess weight, especially in the mid-section, shifts the entire center of gravity of your body forward. This increases the strain on your spine, stressing your muscles and applying extra pressure on the soft tissue surrounding your vertebrae. In time, the natural curves of the lower back become accentuated and may throw off the spine’s natural alignment, resulting in mild to severe pain that doesn’t go away.
Two relevant studies describe how carrying around extra pounds can lead to more pain. The first reveals that an overweight person (generally having up to 30 pounds more than their ideal weight) has 20 percent more chances of developing back pain. Obesity (weighing 30+ pounds more than the ideal weight) doubles or even triples the risk. On the other hand, losing only 4 pounds takes 16 pounds of pressure off the spine.
The second study points out that piling on pounds increases the odds for degenerative disk disease by 30% to 79%. Patients diagnosed with this condition are more likely to experience chronic pain from a slipped or ruptured spinal disc, as well as numbness, tingling, and weakness in their legs. The condition can improve within 6 months, but 1 in 10 patients is forced to undergo back surgery to ameliorate the symptoms.
Your Aching Spine Is Causing You to Gain Weight
The less likely connection between your weight gain and chronic back pain has recently been confirmed by a study from the Yale University School of Medicine. It turns out, back pain can mess with the parts of your brain that help control your food intake, causing you to gain weight.
In the study, people suffering from chronic back pain showed less pleasure when sampling pudding compared to the pain-free group, although the tasting sensitivity was normal in both groups. When they were allowed to eat as much as they wanted from the treats, members of both groups ended up consuming equal amounts of calories, but the people in the back pain group didn’t eat direct proportional to how much they liked the pudding, as the healthy people did. Furthermore, their hunger ratings did not decrease afterwards. Their brain scans revealed heightened activity in connectivity in the two key areas of the brain linked to reward and punishment.
Back pain has been associated with weight gain before, but researchers thought it was because patients were sitting for longer periods for fear of increasing their pain. Now, it looks like the connection between the two has to do with back pain sufferers’ decreased ability to enjoy food. “The chronic pain experience taxes the areas regulating pleasure and pain,” says study author Paul Geha, M.D., explaining that sufferers are more likely to overeat to try to reach the level of reward.
Other ways in which chronic pain may lead to weight gain include sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, and medication side effects.
How to Keep Back Pain – and Weight – Under Control
Fortunately, you need not let your pain get the best of you. There are plenty of things you can do to soothe your sore back:
- Move around more. Whether you walk your dog every morning or swim in the pool three times a week, physical activity can help you control weight and build stronger muscles to support your spine.
- Improve your posture. You may not know it, but there are several ways in which a bad posture can damage your health. Stop slouching by keeping your shoulders in line with the spine and feet flat on the floor. Use ergonomic furniture that supports the natural curvature of your spine.
- Lift the right way. Lifting weights the wrong way is often a cause of back injuries. Instead of bending at the waist, bend your knees and hold the object as close to your body as possible; do not lift the weight over your waist.
- Visit a chiropractor. There are numerous ways in which a chiropractor can soothe your aching back, from chiropractic adjustments and massage therapy to flexion distraction and nutrition counseling.
Contact your local chiropractor right away if you are currently suffering from persisting back pain. With specialized help and a custom tailored nutrition plan, you will be able to regain your flexibility and return to your ideal weight as soon as possible.
About the Author
Dr. Marc Browner is the Founder of iChiropractic and Wellness in Naples, Florida. A graduate of the University of Florida in 1991, he earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life Chiropractic in 1995. In private practice since 1998, Dr. Browner is a member of the Florida Chiropractic Society, the Florida Chiropractic Association, and he attends continuing education seminars, classes, and workshops to remain abreast of the most current treatment methods and technological advances in the field.