Low Back Pain and Morbid Obesity

Low Back Pain and Associated Disorders Resulting From Severe Obesity

One of the most common musculoskeletal symptoms experienced by an estimated 8 out of 10 people, chronic low back pain may be caused by a range of diseases (inc. obesity) and disorders affecting the lumbar spine. Low back pain is often accompanied by sciatica, a disabling pain from an entangled sciatic nerve, which is typically felt in the thighs as well as lower back and buttocks.

Obesity Adds to Risk of Back Pain

Obesity – especially morbid obesity – carries a high risk of chronic musculoskeletal pain, specifically low back pain. As well as osteoarthritis and other degenerative conditions, a number of other pain and problems in the low back may be aggravated by obesity. Back pain frequently occurs as a result of the excess weight pulling the pelvis forward which strains the lower back. Fact sheets from the American Obesity Association indicate that women who are obese or who have a large waist size are especially at risk for lower back pain.

Obesity Can Lead to Disc and Spinal Problems

In some obese patients, the spine can become tilted and suffer additional stress. Over time, this can deprive the back of proper support and an unnatural curvature of the spine may develop. A recent study (Fishman L., Ardman C. Back Pain: How to Relieve Low Back Pain and Sciatica) explains how obese patients may incur sciatica and low back pain from a herniated or “slipped” disc. This type of back pain in the lumbo-sacral spine occurs when discs and other spinal structures are damaged from having to adjust to the pressure of extra weight on the back. In addition, when excessive weight is pushed into spaces between bones in the low back area, the patient can experience compressed nerves and piriformis syndrome.

Surgery for Back Problems Denied to Obese Patients

In cases of chronic severe back pain, or disc-related health problems, orthopedic back surgery may be the only option. Unfortunately, surgery to relieve weight-related back problems is unlikely to succeed if the original cause (excess weight) remains active. This is why some surgeons refuse to perform orthopedic surgery on patients who are still suffering from morbid obesity.


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