It's a fairly well-known fact that increased body weight has an important effect on lower back health...and not a positive one.
A recent study published in the Journal of Healthcare Engineering (Vol. 2017) showed how the stresses in the discs of the lower back differ in individuals who are at a healthy weight compared to those who are overweight. When someone who is at a healthy weight bends forward at the waist, the pressures in the discs in the lower back increase. When he or she stands upright or leans backward, the pressures within the discs decrease.
However, in overweight individuals, not only does bending forward increase the pressures within the disc s, so does standing upright and leaning backward. Increased disc pressures over extended periods of time lead to degenerative changes in the discs which in turn lead to lower back pain. These are well understood effects of obesity on lower back health.
There is another effect that is not well-known. According to a study published in Medicine in April 2016, the extra weight carried around someone's abdomen and trunk is not just excess fat weighing that person down; that fat, otherwise known as adipose tissue, is considered to be a metabolically-active organ.
No, it doesn't burn calories - although that would be helpful. What that metabolically-active excess fat does is produce hormones like estrogen and other chemicals that cause and worsen inflammation, which can in turn lead to depression. It's a perfect storm for the chronic lower back pain + depression combination I so often see in my overweight patients.
So what happens?
Excess body weight causes and accelerates degenerative changes in the disc and subsequent pain in the lower back. The pro-inflammatory chemicals produced by the excess abdominal fat amplify this pain.
And...remember those chemicals that cause depression? Depression can in turn amplify the patient's perception of lower back pain. In other words, depression makes lower back pain feel more severe.
Like I said, it's a perfect storm for chronic lower back pain. Losing that excess weight does more than help with pain - it actually improves the patient's entire outlook.
If you think excess body fat may be causing lower back pain, Dr. Bart Sellers can help. Schedule a consultation with our office today by calling 985-624-9888 or email Dr. Sellers directly at