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How Weight Affects Your Spinal Health

How obesity causes back pain

Are you carrying some extra pounds around your middle?

If you’re struggling with weight gain, you’re not alone. Struggling with weight loss is one of the most common shared human experiences. Nearly three out of four Americans are overweight or obese, according to the CDC. It’s frustrating to weigh more than you want. Excess pounds can keep you from feeling and looking your best.

You probably know that being overweight can raise your risk of health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer. The CDC has warned that obesity is also linked to COVID-19 complications. But you may not realize that weight can affect your spine, too. Dr. Kuznits of Neurosurgical Care would like you to understand more about the connection between weight and spine health. 

Weight strains your spine

Your spine is made up of bones (vertebrae) stacked on top of each other, with jelly-filled disks that act as cushions between your vertebrae. A series of nerves extend through the length of your spine in a space known as the central canal. Muscles and ligaments support your spine and hold it in place.

Your spine is designed to handle pressure and movement. However, when you’re overweight or obese, excess pressure can strain the various parts of your spine, resulting in pain that can range from uncomfortable to debilitating. 

Lower back pain

Lower back pain is especially prevalent in people who are overweight or obese. Your spine — especially your lower back — is built to support your body weight, but when you’re carrying excess pounds, you can overtax your lower back’s ability to do its job properly. 

Excess weight can impact the natural curve of your spine, press on the shock-absorbing disks between vertebrae and cause them to become herniatedpinched, or cause pressure on nerves that travel through the central canal, and strain the muscles and ligaments that support your back.

Osteoarthritis and weight

Excess fat, especially around the waist, can lead to the development of osteoarthritis in your back. Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that occurs from the wear and tear on joints.

Supporting your spine when you’re overweight

Naturally, losing weight can help reverse weight-related back pain. You can exercise. Cardiovascular exercise and weightlifting can help strengthen the muscles that support your back. And activities such as yoga and pilates can stretch muscles and make them more flexible.

Smart eating can also help your spine. Choosing foods that are high in calcium and vitamin D, such as dairy foods and leafy green vegetables, can help prevent osteoporosis, a condition in which bones, such as those in your spine, become thin and brittle. 

You can also protect your spine by quitting smoking and improving your posture.

Dr. Kuznits shares, "Many patients express frustration about not being able to lose weight by exercise because they are in too much pain to work out. I ecourage those patients to jump-start their weight loss with a diet, and add exercise when they feel that they can do so without discomfort."

 "Fortunately, weight-loss programs have evolved in recent years from crash dieting and calorie-counting to mindful eating. The focus has shifted from rapid weight loss results to offering better guidance while supporting accountability necessary for lasting behavior change. Another positive trend is that nutritional counseling and therapies are now covered by most insurance plans," Dr. Kuznits notes.

Renee Crickmore, Clinic Director at Pursue Physical Therapy, agrees, “Programs like Noom have effectively helped some of our patients lose weight in a healthy way by logging food intake, goal setting, and using cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)." However, Renee adds,  ”While many people report a successful experience using coaching and psychology to lose weight with Noom, it's not the perfect fit for everyone. Some people prefer specialized attention from a registered dietitian or nutritionist.”  

“To my patients who suffer from diseases or chronic conditions - from type 2 diabetes to obesity, hypertension, cancer or kidney disease”, says Dr. Kuznits, “I strongly recommend connecting with medically supervised dietitians and health coaches who specialize in developing nutrition and lifestyle interventions that are tailored to their unique biochemistry.”







Pnina Kuznits Director of Program Development

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