Ready to get started on those new years resolutions? If you’re one of the many Americans suffering from obesity, a renewed focus on weight loss is likely high on your priority list for the new year.
Not only does a healthier weight make us look and feel better, it also has numerous physical benefits such as decreased blood pressure and improved sleep and heart function. And there is one more important health bonus from weight loss that is often overlooked but is central to our lives: improved spine health.
Weight loss can have dramatic improvements in the strength and function of our low back and spine. To understand this, we have to appreciate spine mechanics: Increased body weight causes a corresponding increase in pressure on the intervertebral discs, the jelly discs that act as shock absorbers and allow flexibility with bending and twisting. With increased weight, there is increased pressure. This additional force increases risk of injury to the most vulnerable discs in the lowest part of the spine.
The most common discs involved in low back pain are the L4-L5 and L5-S1, located at the lowest part of the spine. Excess weight increases the stress and pressure on these discs, increasing the risk of disc disease such as disc bulge or herniation, conditions often associated with low back pain and even sciatica.
Obesity is also linked to arthritis. While we commonly associate obesity with arthritis pain in the knees and hips, we can add to this list worsened back arthritis, also known as facet disease. Excessive weight places unnatural pressure on the small joints in the back of the spine known as the facets. These joints, smaller than the size of our knuckles, help us rotate our spines and stay flexible. Over time, these small joints become stressed from many factors, including excessive weight, that cause inflammation in these joints and, in turn, low back pain.
Taking these considerations together, here is MBSP’s 2017 New Year’s Resolution message: Weight loss is critical and helps immensely in improving our spine health. Even small reductions in weight decrease the pressure on the discs of the low back and decrease the stress on the small joints of the spine. Ultimately, weight loss can help decrease low back pain, improve routine functions such as standing and twisting our low back and help us successfully develop healthier spines and improved quality of life.
This year, while working toward a healthier you and challenging yourself to stick with your resolution, think about your spine — your back pain — as added motivation to reach your weight loss goals. At MBSP, we consider all conservative options as part of our approach to relieve pain and improve lives, including an emphasis on healthy living and spine health as part of our approach to treating our patients.