Obesity puts strain on muscles and may lead to back pain symptoms

May 11 2011
While most people think of accidents or office jobs that require sitting for long periods of time as the main reasons for back pain, it turns out obesity is also an important factor.

This may not be immediately obvious since so much of anti-obesity campaigning has focused on risks such as heart disease or diabetes. However, extra pounds put a significant stress on the skeleton - including the spinal column - and the muscles that support it. Therefore, it is not surprising that a new study found an association between obesity and impaired mobility.

Researchers from Penn State observed muscle development and function in three groups of rats: one obese, one normal-weight and a group that had a healthy weight but was given a vest to simulate obesity. Their results suggested that the animals who wore the vests adjusted to the additional weight by increasing the expression of a gene called troponin T, whose function is to promote proper muscle work. However, the rats that were raised to be obese did not have that genetic characteristic, making their muscles incapable of adjusting to extra weight. As a result, they showed reduced mobility and impaired muscle function.

"Our study is likely to stimulate a quest to determine the pathways and mechanisms that sense body weight and control muscle molecular composition, as this could provide new therapeutic approaches to alleviate obesity-associated problems," said Rudolf J. Schilder, postdoctoral fellow in physiological genomics at Penn State College of Medicine.

These complications may include back pain stemming from degenerative disc disease. Moreover, studies conducted over the last few years have shown that obesity may increase the risk of arthritis in both non weight-bearing joints and weight-bearing joints (such as those of the spine). In fact, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, obese people are 4 to 5 times more likely to be diagnosed with this condition than their healthy-weight counterparts.