Extra Pounds Lead to Extra Back Pain

Americans who overeat are not only raising the risk of heart disease and diabetes, they could also be causing long term damage to their backs. A new study has found that adults who are obese or overweight are significantly more likely to have lumbar disc degeneration, a leading cause of lower back pain.

Researchers at the University of Hong Kong studied nearly 2600 Chinese men and women and found that 73 percent had lumbar spine degeneration. The condition was more common in men than women and more prevalent among older people. People with a higher body mass index (BMI) were also more likely to have the disease and to suffer from more advanced degeneration.

“Our research confirms that with elevated BMI there is a significant increase in the extent and global severity of disc degeneration. In fact, end-stage disc degeneration with narrowing of the disc space was more pronounced in obese individuals,” said Dr. Dino Samartzis, the lead researcher at the University of Hong Kong. .

Seven percent of the study participants were underweight, 48 percent were in the normal weight range and 45 percent were either overweight or obese.

Degenerative disc disease is primarily an age related disability. As a person ages their spinal discs begin to wear down, resulting in a loss of spinal fluids or tearing in the outer layers of the discs. Researchers say being overweight or obese contributes to the process because extra weight is loaded on the discs. Fat cells may also play a role by causing chronic inflammation. Earlier research found a link between high BMI levels and lower back pain, which is often caused by degenerative disc disease.

“Since overweight and obesity are worldwide concerns whose prevalence continues to rise, our study’s findings have considerable public health implications,” said Samartzis. “If these issues continue to plague society, they can further affect spine health leading to low back pain and its consequences.”

The study was recently published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.

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