Back Pain Weighing You Down

Back pain is linked to higher amounts of body fat

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Extra weight might not seem like a lot of trouble, but the more weight you add on the more pain you might feel - especially in your lower back. Lose the weight to feel physically better.

A link between back pain and body fat has been previously suggested, however definitive links were weak. Extra weight increases chances of obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain cancers and now pain.

"That extra fat around the stomach increases back pain."

Donna M. Urquhart, Ph.D., from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, studied 135 people of normal to obese weight. All participants were asked to take a questionnaire that would help measure lower back pain and related disability. The participants were also put through dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry to determine fat and lean body mass.

Urquhart and team found that heavier people tended to have more back pain. This was especially significant in participants who had higher body mass indexes (BMIs). BMI is a common indicator of obesity. A BMI of 18.5-24.9 indicates normal weight, 25-29.9 means overweight and a BMI higher than 30 signifies obesity.

The researchers found that a five unit increase in BMI - which is equivalent to being classified as overweight or obese - led to a 35 percent chance of having more back pain. The link was even stronger for related disability.

Participants were 19 percent more likely to have higher-intensity back pain if they had more body fat mass - just 11 pounds more. If more fat was found in the lower limbs, then pain increased by 51 percent. Similar results were seen if more body fat was found in the trunk area, abdomen or around hips, thighs and buttocks.

Participants who had leaner body mass had unrelated back pain. This shows that individuals with higher BMIs were suffering from back pain specifically due to higher body fat and not just being heavier.

Jim Crowell, fitness expert, agrees, "I have clients come in who are overweight all of the time and very often they complain of back pain. I believe that their extra weight can lead to significant pain especially in the low back. In fitness terms it is excess tension that causes muscle soreness and pain and tension is brought on by external resistance or external weight, which is brought on by excess fat."

The report is published in the September issue of Spine.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 6, 2011
Last Updated:
September 9, 2011