Obesity, Back Pain, and Weight Loss

Throughout most of the 19th century, and particularly the last 30 years, obesity has been on the rise, and with that, the rate of diseases associated with weight gain, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and osteoarthritis. Weight gain can go against us in two ways, in terms of the development of back pain. First, many of these diseases that occur as a result of back pain indirectly cause back pain. For example, cardiovascular disease can cause poor circulation to the blood vessels that supply the tissues of the back with nutrients and oxygen. And obesity can cause back pain directly by putting added pressures on the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and discs of the back that must support this added weight. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases in one study found the percentage of people with lower back pain to double from 1992 to 2006. This doubling of the rate of back pain correlates closely to the increase in obesity in that population. Now this is not evidence of a direct link between obesity and back pain, but does show a pretty strong connection.

Our country, in general, is getting fatter and adopting a more sedentary lifestyle, for a number of reasons. Our nation, on the whole, is consuming a more unnatural diet (laden with processed) foods, we have longer commutes to work (so we spend a longer percentage of our days in our cars) and we are becoming more enamored with electronic devices for entertainment, and the expense of outdoor sports enjoyment and recreation. In all, we are more likely to eat things and do things that are adding inches to our waistline, and making us more susceptible to obesity and back pain. Results from large population surveys indicate self reports of back pain have increased from 4% to just over 10% from 1992 to 2006. The increase in percentages in back pain also has corresponded closely to the rates of osteoarthritis, obesity, and interestingly, depression.

Now it's interesting that the cluster of obesity, back pain, and depression go together. Does back pain cause depression, or does depression cause back pain? The answer is most likely both. We do know that those Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) successfully treat depression, anxiety. Tricyclic antidepressants have been long been well established to treat depression and anxiety. Patients who have taken Tricyclics, such as Amitryptyline, have also reported the bonus effect of experiencing joint pain relief as well. Though the understanding of emotional state and physical state, and how they are linked, is an ongoing process, we already do know some things. We know that the brain center responsible for emotion and the flight or fight response receives from, and sends to, neural signals, to nerve endings in our body that innervate the joints, muscles, and ligaments of our back. The pain or anxiety that we may feel emotionally may make the nerve endings in our back more sensitive, and more likely to fire pain signals to our brain than someone in a calmer and happier emotional condition. The opposite phenomenon is also true. Nerve endings in the facet joints, nerve roots, and other tissues of our spine may frequently fire signals to the emotional centers of our brain when there are chronically compressed, or inflamed due to conditions such as sprain and strain injuries or diseases such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis that affects the spine.

Find out more about losing weight and feeling better emotionally and how improvements in one of these areas can affect the other.