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Obesity, Disc Height Changes and Low Back Pain
What happens when an obese person with low back pain loses weight? According to research published in the journal Spine, quite a few positive outcomes.
Obesity’s impact on the low back
Researchers observed thirty morbidly obese patients with low back pain before and after bariatric surgery.1 Knowing that obese people commonly complain of low back pain and that weight loss tends to improve back pain and quality of life, these researchers set out to discover what exactly happens to the low back when weight is reduced. They specifically measured intervertebral disc height, axial back pain, radicular leg pain and quality of life both before and after surgery. The results showed positive outcomes in all of these areas. The bariatric surgery led to significant weight loss, an average of 182-219 pounds. The weight loss resulted in decreased low back pain and radicular pain and also a marked improvement in the disc height of the L4-L5 disc height.
Weight loss and chronic pain
Losing weight caused disc height space to increase and low back pain decreased. Bottom line, disc height can get better just with weight loss. There are many other treatment options for low back pain, most of which do not address the root cause. Any stress put on the ligaments needs to be relieved in order to permanently cure low back pain. In the case of obesity, the excess weight puts much pressure on the ligaments supporting the spine. We’ve written more about this in an article on obesity and disc herniation. Weight loss should always be a part of treating low back pain in an obese person. As this study showed, the pain was significantly reduced once the pressure was relieved.
Prolotherapy for low back pain
As stated, excess weight puts pressure on the ligaments. Like a rubber band that loses tension, the ligaments of the spine can loosen. Loose or lax ligaments cannot support the vertebrae in place and as they move, chronic pain results. If, after weight loss, chronic low back pain continues, Prolotherapy is a suitable treatment option to address the ligament laxity that resulted from the pressure of the excess weight.
For more on obesity and low back pain, read our article on the relationship between obesity and healing.
1. Lidar Z, Behrbalk E, Regev G, Salame K, Keynan O, et al. Intervertebral disc height changes after weight reduction in morbidly obese patients and its effect on quality of life and radicular and low back pain. Spine. 2012;37(23):1947-1952.