Believe it or not, weight loss is one effective way to reduce chronic back pain. In fact, research indicates that people who are overweight are more likely to experience back pain, joint pain, and muscle pain compared to individuals of a healthy weight. This is because excess weight adds extra strain to the muscles and ligaments in the back. Over time, this causes the spine to become tilted and unevenly stressed, which can ultimately lead to unnatural curvature and a loss of support. This is especially prevalent in the lower back.
In addition to causing chronic back pain, obesity also increases the risk of developing certain spinal conditions, such as:
- Herniated discs
- Pinched nerves
- Piriformis syndrome
Additionally, obesity also increases an individual’s risk for postoperative complications and infections after having back surgery. For these reasons, many spinal surgeons will recommend a weight loss plan before undergoing back surgery.
When it comes to defining obesity, most medical professionals use Body Mass Index (BMI), which uses a person’s height and weight to determine a BMI number. A BMI of 18.5-24.9 is considered to be normal weight, while a BMI of 25.0-29.9 is considered to be overweight. With this scale, a BMI of 30.0 or over is considered obese. Generally speaking, your spinal specialist is likely to recommend weight loss as part of your treatment if you are in the overweight or obese category.
Since many people who are overweight or obese also tend to have other symptoms such as shortness of breath and fatigue in addition to their back pain, this can make exercising difficult. However there are a few “gentle exercises” that can be used. Before starting any type of exercise program, it is recommended to speak with your spinal specialist to make sure the exercise will be beneficial to your spine, rather than detrimental.
Two common examples of low-impact exercises that are ideal for overweight individuals with back pain are: walking and water therapy. Walking is ideal because it provides spinal resistance and burns calories without excess difficulty. Walking daily is also a good way to ease yourself into physical activity. Water therapy is another ideal exercise because it takes pressure off of the body since water counteracts gravity. This can allow you to do certain exercises that you would normally not be able to do on land. Water also adds some resistance to movement, which is great for strengthening muscles.
In addition to developing an appropriate exercise program, it is also important to establish a healthy weight-loss diet. Reducing one’s daily caloric intake will allow more calories to be burned while exercising instead of being stored in the body as fat. Generally speaking, most weight loss diets consist of reducing the number of calories consumed by eating smaller portions, tracking meals and calories, learning how to prepare healthy food alternatives, and choosing meals that contain lower amounts of fats and sugars. Additionally, reducing alcohol intake is another effective step in most weight loss diets.
Finally, making sure that you drink enough water is another important part of managing back pain and losing weight. This is because water helps to transport nutrients and eliminate waste within the body, both of which are important for losing weight and decreasing back pain. Drinking water also allows the body to metabolize fat more efficiently and prevents you from retaining water. It is recommended that you drink at least 8 large cups of water a day.
If you are overweight and are experiencing chronic back pain, then using these tips can help you to lose weight. Although you may not see results right away, consistency is a key factor in losing weight. With every pound of body weight lost, you will be taking away strain on your back, which will help decrease chronic pain and/or allow you to get spinal surgery.