An estimated 31 million people in the U.S. suffer from low back pain, according to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) and many of those people are overweight. A Gallup poll found 37% of obese people reported back or neck pain, compared with 27% of people with normal weight.

That’s no coincidence. Obesity ranks as a top risk factor for back pain. 

A slew of recent research has linked the two conditions. In 2013 for example, Norwegian researchers from Oslo University Hospital examined data that tracked body mass index (BMI) and the incidence of back pain for more than 25,000 people. Researchers conclusively found the higher a person’s BMI, the greater their risk for back pain.

Morbidly obese people are four times more likely to experience back pain than a person of normal body weight, according to a study presented at the North American Spine Society’s (NASS) 2013 meeting.

Researchers are still trying to understand exactly how excess body weight results in back pain, but some factors are certain.

1. Obesity and inflammation go hand in hand

Inflammation plays a major role in some types of back pain, and new research has linked inflammation to obesity.

Belly fat cells contain an inflammatory protein known as PAR2, and obese people have an excess amount of this protein in their bodies, notes a study published by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. Diets high in sugar and fat exacerbate the prevalence of this protein, which may worsen back pain.

2. Obese people are less likely to exercise

Exercise helps to reduce the risk of back pain, but people with extra body weight typically lead sedentary lives. Without exercise, lower back and abdominal muscles soften, losing their ability to support the spine. This lack of support may lead to back pain. Exercising just 20 minutes per day can reduce a morbidly obese person’s risk of back pain by 32%, according to NASS.

3. Added weight stresses your spine

The spine, particularly the lumbar region, supports a significant portion of the body’s weight. As a person gains weight, the lumbar portion of the spine must support increasing body mass. This added stress overly taxes the spine and can lead to back pain. Obesity also increases your risk for other health issues that lead to back pain, including osteoarthritis and herniated discs.

What are your experiences with extra weight and back pain?

Image by Doc Searls via Flickr


Weekly updates on conditions, treatments, and news about everything happening inside pain medicine.

You have Successfully Subscribed!