Overweight with Back Pain? It’s About Your Spinal Discs

June 11, 2014
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Overweight woman with back painWhy do obese and overweight patients have a higher risk of back pain? A new study has a partial answer to the question: the height of spinal discs.

The results show additional risks suffered from those who are obese – an actual loss of disc height in certain segments of the lumbar spine. Reduced disc height means that the cushioning in the spine has deteriorated, leaving an opportunity for a disc to bulge or other debilitating back problems to develop.

By analyzing MRIs, researchers measured disc height in 72 adults. At the L1-2 and L3-4 levels, people categorized as obese had an average  disc height of 4.16 cm compared to 4.57 cm in people with healthy weights. Obese participants were also more likely to suffer from back pain. However, there were no major differences in space at the lumbosacral junction. Still, the study established a relationship between obesity, disc height, and back pain.

For decades, doctors and chiropractors have been advising overweight and obese patients to lose weight. Doctors knew there was a correlation of back pain with obesity, and if the person lost weight, the back pain vanished. But the scientific reasons behind that process weren’t fully understood. Now a growing body of research is answering the “why” question, while showing how important weight is in the cause and treatment of back pain.

In the last decade, scientists have discovered more and more health problems associated with carrying extra weight. For example, extra fat is not simply inert – sitting there on the belly and body doing nothing – but instead is actively producing hormones and substances that interfere with immunity.

Chiropractic medicine offers a way to improve spinal health for all individuals, regardless of size or weight. And with continued advancements in the science of nutrition, many chiropractors may also be able to assist patients by providing recommendations on safe diets. Chiropractors can help to relieve your back pain now, and assist you in developing healthier habits to prevent it from recurring in the future.



Urquhart DM, et al. Obesity is associated with reduced disc height in the lumbar spine but not at the lumbosacral junction. Spine 2014.

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