Obesity can contribute to a host of health issues, including back pain

Jul 27 2011
Excess weight has been shown to increase the risk of many chronic conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer, but it also puts strain on the bones and joints, resulting in chronic neck or back pain.

Scientists previously found a link between obesity and the onset of osteoarthritis, but in recent years, a less common - though equally painful condition - has come under scrutiny.

It is called spondylolysis, and it stems from a defect in the connection between vertebrae. This may lead to small stress fractures of the spine and, in extreme cases, to sufficient weakening of the vertebrae that they slip out of place. The latter process usually puts pressure on spinal root nerves and causes significant pain, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The source estimates that the condition affects between 3 and 7 percent of Americans.

A Danish study suggested that while lumbar spondylolysis has been well studied and understood in adolescent athletes, it is also a significant problem in other populations. So the team from the Copenhagen University Hospital of Hvidovre set out to study its causes in non-athletic demographic groups.

The cross-sectional study of epidemiological data from the Copenhagen Osteoarthritis Study focused on a cohort of 4,151 individuals aged from 22 to 93 years, who have been surveyed on their general lifestyle characteristics and health parameters four times since 1976. The measurements used for this analysis were from 1976 and 1993.

First, the study - which appeared in the European Spine Journal - found that both age and body mass index (BMI) increased the risk of spondylolysis, and that the risk was more significant in men.

However, among individuals who already had the condition, the chances of experiencing spondylolisthesis - which is the slippage of a disc - were greater for women. In fact, the study found that female cases of slipped disc were correlated to age, BMI recorded at the time of the 1993 examination and the same measurement taken 17 years earlier. For men, the only significant association was that between spondylolisthesis and body mass.

This observation was enhanced by another study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, which found that the burden of chronic musculoskeletal conditions is on the rise in terms of disability, quality of life and healthcare costs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one-third of U.S. adults, or nearly 34 percent, are obese.