How Weight Affects Your Spine

Excess weight isn’t just a cosmetic issue. Being overweight or obese, especially when you carry fat around your waist, can ca

Are you carrying some extra pounds around your middle? Do the pants that fit you last year feel tight this year? Are the numbers on your scale going up?

If you’re struggling with weight gain, you’re not alone. Nearly three out of four Americans are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s frustrating to weigh more than you want. Excess pounds can keep you from looking and feeling your best.

You probably know that being overweight can raise your risk of health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer. But you may not realize that weight can affect your spine, too. Drs. Abhishiek Sharma and Erik Curtis of Atlas Neurosurgery and Spine Center would like you to understand more about the connections between weight and spine health. 

Weight strains your spine

Your spine is made up of bones (vertebrae) stacked on top of each other, with jelly-filled disks that act as cushions between your vertebrae. A series of nerves extend through the length of your spine in a space known as the central canal. Muscles and ligaments support your spine and hold it in place.

Your spine is designed to handle pressure and movement. However, when you’re overweight or obese, excess pressure can strain the various parts of your spine, resulting in pain that can range from uncomfortable to debilitating. 

Lower back pain

Lower back pain is especially prevalent in people who are overweight or obese. Your spine — especially your lower back — is built to support your body weight, but when you’re carrying excess pounds, you can overtax your lower back’s ability to do its job properly. 

Excess weight can alter the natural curve of your spine, press on the shock-absorbing disks between vertebrae and cause them to become herniated, pinched, or cause pressure on nerves that travel through the central canal, and strain the muscles and ligaments that support your back.

Osteoarthritis and weight

Excess fat, especially around the waist, can lead to the development of osteoarthritis in your back. Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that occurs from the wear and tear on joints.

Protecting your spine when you’re overweight

Naturally, losing weight can help reverse weight-related back pain. But even if you can’t lose weight, you can take some important steps to help protect your spine if you’re overweight.

For example, you can exercise. Cardiovascular exercise and weightlifting can help strengthen the muscles that support your back. And activities such as yoga and tai chi can stretch muscles and make them more flexible.  

Smart eating can also help your spine. Choosing foods that are high in calcium and vitamin D, such as dairy foods and leafy green vegetables, can help prevent osteoporosis, a condition in which bones, such as those in your spine, become thin and brittle. 

You can also protect your spine by quitting smoking and improving your posture.

Come to Atlas for spine-related pain

If back pain is interfering with your quality of life, we can help. At Atlas Neurosurgery and Spine Center, located in Phoenix and Sun City West, Arizona, our experienced providers can give you the spinal and nerve care you need to feel good and do the activities you enjoy. Make an appointment by calling one of our offices, or request an appointment online.

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If you're looking for a neurosurgeon in the Phoenix area, contact Atlas Neurosurgery and Spine Center for the ultimate neurological care.