Obesity puts a strain on about any physiological system you can think of. The heart, the lungs, the digestive system and the circulatory system all suffer when you’re carrying around excess weight; those problems have been well known for a long time. It also gives your bones and joints a beating, too; knees, ankles and hips all deteriorate more quickly when they have to handle more weight than they were ever designed for.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that obesity and lower back pain are linked to each other. While obesity can contribute to things like osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, degenerative disc disease and spinal stenosis, lower back pain in obese people is usually something simpler than that. Low back pain almost always originates from the muscles on either side of the spine. When the body is carrying around excess weight, it puts more stress on the spine (along with everything else). Excess abdominal fat can put strain on the back muscles, and make it much more difficult to find a comfortable alignment for sleep. Combine that with a lack of exercise (meaning poor flexibility and weakened musculature), and the obese person’s posture deteriorates. The pelvis tilts too far forward, and the spine curves unnaturally.
Along with this, bear in mind that obesity can often go hand-in-hand with poor nutrition; in other words, the obese person may not just be eating too much, but is eating all the wrong things. Overly-processed foods, convenience foods, junk food, fried food, and too much sugar, salt and fat add up to a poor diet. It’s estimated that as far back as 1992, 38% of people’s food dollars were spent on food that was eaten somewhere other than home; it’s difficult to keep a handle on a proper diet when you’re eating out at restaurants that much, especially fast-food places. Over time, that poor diet can contribute to things like osteoporosis or rheumatoid arthritis. With a loss of bone density, you’re at a much greater risk for vertebral fractures and other problems that are much more serious than poor posture and poor muscle tone.
Even for obese people, there are ways to work on flexibility and strength that can help with low back pain.
- Set a goal of losing 10% of body weight, for starters.
- Do some lower-back stretches daily. It doesn’t have to be rigorous; even light stretches can help loosen up some of the tension in the lower back muscles.
- Be aware of proper posture. Specially designed shoes may even help you strengthen your core, and improve posture.
- Incorporate at least some exercise into your daily routine. A brisk walk of even 20 minutes (to start) can make a big difference in your lower back, your energy level and your overall sense of energy and well-being.
- Be aware of what you’re eating and putting into your body. Fresh vegetables, lean meats and plenty of fiber will make you feel a heck of a lot better day-to-day than a diet of potato chips and pizza.