Obesity and low back pain can affect the way women walk

Sep 27 2011
The combination of obesity and lower back pain may alter the way a woman walks, a discovery that may impact the way doctors approach rehab for lower back pain, new research says.

The spinal cord that connects the brain to the rest of the body is protected by the spinal column, which consists of the vertebrae, the facet joints and the intervertebral discs that cushion the spaces between the bones. For people who are obese, increased body fat composition can make movement of the skeleton more physically demanding, which may lead to lower back pain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lower back pain has put considerable stress on both the healthcare system and economy in terms of the costs of treatment and lost productivity.

Previous studies have shown that a person's gait, or the way they walk, can be affected by either obesity or lower back pain. However, there has been little research to assess how these two factors as a combination can change someone's gait. Scientists in Italy wanted to see how obesity and lower back pain together can affect the way people walk, as reported Sept. 26 in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation.

The scientists enrolled 28 women for their study, divided into three groups: those who were obese and had lower back pain, women whose obesity did not come with back pain, and healthy controls who had optimal body mass indexes. Special cameras recorded the women as they walked, allowing the scientists to analyze the angle and strength needed to move structures such as the ankles, knees and hips.

Results showed that the combination of obesity and low back pain had more effects on a woman's walk than obesity alone. This is an important consideration to take into account in rehabilitation for back pain, because changes in a person's walk can put greater demands on parts of the musculoskeletal system and lead to further damage, the researchers said. Special exercises focusing on the ankles, hips and pelvis may be valuable, in addition to weight loss.

Further research will be needed to validate these results, the investigators said, including more patients with more severe lower back pain.