Obese Children at Risk for Spinal Disorders

New Study Shows Extra Weight is Associated with Back Pain in Kids

Overweight Child Eating Junk FoodWhen most people think of back pain, they often consider it an adult problem. But a new study suggests that children—particularly obese children—are at risk for developing degenerative lumbar spine (low back) disorders as well.

The study, led by Dr. Judah Burns of the Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York City, reviewed the MRI findings of 188 adolescents aged between 12 and 20 years old. The participants all had back pain, and 56% showed some signs of lumbar spine disorders.

The researchers then determined the body mass index (BMI) for 106 of those participants. Of those 106, 54 had higher BMIs than 75% of people their age. Out of the 54 participants, 37 showed signs of lumbar spine disorders on their MRIs.

On the other hand, the young people who were at a healthy weight had normal MRI results.

For years, the childhood obesity epidemic has raised concerns about dangers of high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. But the results of this study suggest that the extra weight in young people may also affect the health of their spines.

The medical community already knew that if you are overweight or obese, the extra weight puts extra pressure on your intervertebral discs. This pressure causes the discs to wear out at a faster rate.

This obesity-degeneration connection has mostly been noted in adults, but now, this study shows the same connection in overweight or obese children. In essence, young people who are obese run the risk of wearing out their spines faster than they should. To learn more about how your weight affects your back health, read this article about back pain and obesity.

What's interesting about this research is that back pain in children is most often due to muscle strain or acute injury from sports. It's not as common for children and young adults to develop actual degenerative disc problems, though this research suggests that it may become more commonplace if the childhood obesity trend continues.

You may learn more about this new research here.

Updated on: 08/25/15
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Exams and Tests for Back Pain

To diagnose the cause of your back pain, your doctor will need to do several tests. You'll have physical and neurological exams, and then you'll most likely need imaging studies, such as x-rays or CT scans. This will help confirm your diagnosis.
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