Increased Back Pain Associated with Higher Body Fat

Back pain in overweight or obese people has been linked to increased
body fat content, according to a study in the September 15 issue of
Spine. Interventions to prevent accumulation of fat mass may help
to reduce the risks of back pain and related disability.

In the study, led by Donna M. Urquhart, PhD, Monash University,
Melbourne, Australia, 135 participants ranging from normal weight to obese
completed a questionnaire to measure low back pain intensity and disability.
Participants also underwent dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, which assessed
body composition, including measurement of fat and lean body mass.

Results showed that heavier individuals had more intense back pain. The
increase in back pain in participants with a higher body mass index (BMI) was
specifically linked to increased fat mass. For each 5-kg (11 lbs) increase in
body fat mass, the odds of high-intensity back pain increased by 19%. For
increased fat mass in the lower limbs, the increase was 51%.

Lean body mass was shown to be unrelated to back pain; consequently, in
participants with higher BMIs, the increased pain derived from higher body fat
content, not just the fact that they were heavier.

“No measures of lean tissue mass were associated with higher pain
intensity of disability,” Urquhart and colleagues wrote.

Back pain and disability were also related to specific patterns of body
fat, including increased fat in the trunk, abdomen, hips, thighs and buttocks.
Factors that contribute to the link between fat mass and back pain include
greater mechanical demands on the spine and metabolic factors related to higher
fat mass, such as increased inflammatory activity.

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