Research has shown that obesity is linked to the development of degenerative arthritis, as well as degeneration of the spine due to mechanical and inflammatory factors. Weight loss is believed to improve chronic low back pain by reducing harmful overload on the spine and biomechanics. It is also known that weight loss can relieve musculoskeletal pain in the morbidly obese. But we wanted to take a closer look at the research that shows exactly what changes people in pain experience when they lose weight.
We gain weight because pain can cause our activity level to drop, but the food doesn’t, sometimes it’s because we eat stress.
A study of people with almost daily chronic musculoskeletal pain that interfered with daily activities included people with a combination of the following painful body parts: lower back, hips, knees, ankles, and feet. Diagnoses included mechanical pain, sciatica, patellofemoral chondromalacia, degenerative arthritis, tibiofemoral arthritis, ligament laxity, metatarsalgia, and plantar fasciitis. At the start of the study, the average weight of the participants was 277 pounds. At the end of the study, the average weight loss was 97 pounds, with the minimum weight loss being 35 pounds. The study concluded that “89% of patients had complete relief from pain in one or more joints after losing weight.” In addition, those who lost moderate weight (i.e., less than 60 pounds) experienced the same relief as those who lost more than 99 pounds. Interestingly, those who regained the weight noticed a return in pain.
One study concluded that body weight is a possible risk factor for developing low back pain, but it still hasn’t been able to determine whether it is the real cause of low back pain. However, another study found associations between weight loss and reduced pain in the elbow, upper back, lower back, and hip areas, as well as general pain. One study even looked at the effect of weight loss on the height of the disc space between the vertebrae in people with back pain that extends into the legs. They found that an average weight loss of 81 pounds in morbidly obese people resulted in significant pain relief in the back and legs and increased disc space height by 2 mm. That’s big! Increased disc space height could mean reducing the pinching or pinching of nerves, relieving disc bulging or bulging, and reducing inflammation in that part of the spine.
Anti-inflammatory foods can be included in the healthier diet plan.
Source: Josh Millgate / Unsplash
Weight loss has also been shown not only to reduce the frequency and intensity of back pain, but also to reduce the dose of medication required. Another study found that when people with obesity lose weight, function improves and pain is reduced. There are numerous studies showing that weight loss can lead to improved pain and function. One explanation is that weight loss reduces the biomechanical stress on the load-bearing joints and thus reduces pain.
You may be in pain and surprised at how much weight loss can help. What are the best next steps?
- Contact your doctor. Before making any significant changes, discuss with your family doctor whether weight loss is appropriate for you and to ensure a safe and healthy approach to weight loss.
- Weigh yourself. Every time we change our lifestyle or behavior, it helps to track our progress.
- Set a goal. Be realistic with your goal and time frame. Also, be compassionate to yourself – body aches and pains can be a major cause of your weight gain. Physical activity is avoided because of pain, but if eating habits don’t change accordingly, we end up gaining weight and losing strength. Think about how much you would like to weigh in order to feel more physically comfortable, improve your functioning, or improve other health conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
- Consider your options. There are many ways to achieve weight loss. Some use calorie restriction, others intermittent fasting, while others focus on replacing normal meals with healthier alternatives and portion control. The anti-inflammatory diet is also becoming increasingly popular because of its pain-related association.
- Build in movement. Our eating habits primarily contribute to our body weight, but activity helps us get there and is important in managing pain. Body aches and pains are difficult to reconcile with physical activity, so come up with small, manageable activity goals, just make it a habit (for example, walking 5-10 minutes a day or 30 minutes of floor exercises every other day).
- Commit. As you prepare to change your lifestyle, it is important to set yourself a realistic and achievable goal, outline the plan, and finally commit to it.
- Submit your plan. Put your plan on the fridge, on your mirror, and / or tell a caring friend or family member. We are more likely to achieve our goals when we are reminded and held accountable. Talking to loved ones about why you want to make changes can also help them learn that losing weight can relieve your pain so they can aid your efforts to make healthier choices.
- If necessary, seek additional assistance. It’s okay to ask for help, hire an accountable partner for evening walks, or join a weight loss program or community.
- Begin. Taking action is often the hardest part. Take the first step to a small, manageable one. For example, replace one snack a day with an alternative snack or avoid sodas for a week. You decide which step is right for you.
The best plans are the ones we can commit to, so make them realistic and hold yourself accountable!
Source: Helena Lopes / Pexels
Losing weight can be challenging for anyone and even more so when it comes to musculoskeletal pain. There are so many different approaches we can take to better manage chronic pain; Losing weight is just one of them. Typically, a combined approach that includes regular exercise, healthy eating, stress management, and pacing activities is best.