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Low Back Pain and Obesity

Low back pain (LBP) is a VERY COMMON PROBLEM! Here are some facts about LBP: 1) At ANY given time, 31 million Americans experience LBP; 2) LBP is the single leading cause of disability worldwide; 3) 50% of ALL working Americans admit to having LBP symptoms each year; 4) LBP is the #1 reason for missed work and, the 2nd most common reason for doctor office visits (outnumbered ONLY by upper respiratory infections); 5) Most cases of LBP are “mechanical” and NOT caused by serious conditions like inflammatory arthritis (like rheumatoid), infection, cancer, or fracture; 6) At least $50 BILLION is spent annually by Americans on back pain (and that’s JUST the more easily identifiable costs); 7) At some point in life, experts estimate 80% of the population will experience LBP.

In prior articles, we’ve discussed ways to prevent LBP like exercise, eating right, staying active (avoid prolonged inactivity or bed rest), not smoking, maintaining proper posture, wearing low heeled comfortable shoes (and possibly foot orthotics and/or heel lifts), sleeping on a medium-firm mattress, using proper bending and lifting methods, fixing work station problems (computer key board and monitor placement is important!), and more.

This month’s topic concerns obesity and LBP. How are these related, and does it really matter? Let’s look at some adult obesity facts: 1) Obesity is common, serious, and costly: 35.6% of US adults are obese; 2) Obesity related conditions include: heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and is the LEADING CAUSE of preventable death! 3) An estimated $147 BILLION was spent on obesity related medical costs and the average medical cost for an obese person was $1429 higher than for those of normal weight (Body Mass Index or BMI of 18.5-24.9). 4) Ethnic variations: Non-Hispanic blacks have the highest obesity rate at 49.5% vs. Mexican Americans (40.4%), all Hispanics (39.1%) and non-Hispanic whites (34.3%) [ref. JAMA, 2012; 307(5):491-97]. 5) There was a dramatic increase in obesity in the US from 1990 through 2010. No state in the US met the nation’s “Healthy People 2010” goal to lower obesity prevalence to 15%. Instead, in 2010, there were 12 states with obesity prevalence >30% vs. in 2000, NO state had an obesity prevalence >30%! 6) More than 2 in 3 adults are overweight (BMI 25-29.9) and, 1 in 3 adults are obese (BMI >30). 7) In children 6-19 years old, about 33% are overweight or obese and 17% are obese.

Intuitively, common sense tells us that if we are overweight, it has to affect our low back in a negative way. Well, you are right! In the 1/15/13 journal Spine, an 11-year study from Norway gathered data between 1995-1997 and again in 2006-2008 of an entire county in Norway which included 8733 men and 10,149 women, aged between 30-69 years old who DID NOT have chronic LBP (>3mo. within the past year) vs. 2669 men and 3899 women who DID have LBP. After 11 years, a significant increase in risk was reported between those with a BMI >30 (obese) vs. those <25 (BMI 18.5-24.9 = normal). They also found that the recurrence rate of LBP was also higher in those who were obese.

Weight management is a goal of LBP care, and your doctor of chiropractic has many strategies that can help you fight this problem.


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