How Your Weight Can Affect Your Spine

Virtually everyone experiences back pain at some point in their lives. It’s estimated that 80% of the American population will suffer from back pain, and when comparing this statistic with the fact that almost 40% of adults are overweight, there are plenty of people who are both overweight and have back pain. Is there a connection?

Spinal anatomy

The bones of your spine and the soft tissue that help to support it are the structural workhorse for most of your body. A healthy spine is aligned vertically from the front view, while displaying a gentle S shape from the side. This shape supports your line of gravity which traces approximately between your ear and ankle when you’re standing with good posture.

Most of the structure of the spine is actually behind this line. Other bones and muscles transfer forces to the spine to maintain balance while permitting the incredible range of motion with which your body is capable. It’s a balancing act that’s also a remarkable feat of bioengineering, supporting your center of gravity which by adulthood is about the level of your second sacral vertebrae, close to the top of the buttocks.

Load and force multiplication

When you think about proper lifting techniques, you may know to keep the load close to your body, lift with your legs, and refrain from using the motion of your back to leverage the load. These tips are all designed to keep a lifted load close to your center of gravity.

Think about holding a 5-pound weight close to your chest. Most people can keep that weight there for an indefinite period. The weight is close to your center of gravity, so it’s easy to adapt to and balance.

Now, imagine holding that weight at arm’s length and the situation changes. Your arm muscles tire quickly, since they must support the weight themselves. Your balance also changes, since your center of gravity moves forward with the weight shift. It’s still a 5-pound weight, but the force on your body is many times what it was when the weight was against your chest.

Obesity and back strain

Carrying extra weight on your body can also be a force multiplier, creating strain and imbalance not only when you’re standing still, but also when you’re moving. Since normal weight distribution changes, movement may create forces that can no longer be shared through your body. Like your outstretched arm, body parts can be forced to bear more force than they’re meant to.

It’s not surprising that your spine often bears the burden of excess weight. Every level of your spine has a three-point joint that’s strong and stable under normal circumstances, but it can develop issues under the persistent load that extra pounds represent.

These issues include damage to your spinal discs, the cushioning pads that act as shock absorbers. Under imbalanced loads, they can rupture and press against spinal nerves, creating pain at the site and anywhere along the nerve’s path. Sciatica is a common form of this condition.

When you’re suffering from back pain, contact us at Spine Group Beverly Hills. With an examination and review of your medical history, leading orthopedic surgeon Dr. John Regan can determine how much influence your excess weight has on your pain. He and our team can then work with you on a treatment plan to end the influence of back pain. Call us for a consultation by phone or request an appointment from the convenient online tool today. 

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