Obesity is Double Whammy Risk For Degenerative Disc Disease
Did you see the Royal Pains television episode where a doctor called a patient “morbidly obese?” Despite the social gaffe, the term is real – and it can affect your back pain.
The category “Morbidly Obese” applies to people who have a BMI (body mass index) of 40 or greater, whereas “Overweight” is considered a BMI of 25 or more. The journal BMC Public Health just published a study showing that 34% of the world’s weight due to obesity is concentrated in 6% of the world’s population: North America. That’s right neighbors… our American lifestyle is making us heavy. But what does this have to do with spinal surgery? Quite a lot, in fact.
An unavoidable cause of degenerative disc disease in the low back is the natural aging process of the spinal column. However, a more preventable cause for this progressive condition is morbid obesity, according to a recent study out of Stanford University, in Palo Alto, California.
While obesity hasn’t been clearly determined to be a direct cause of degenerative disc disease, it has been widely identified as a contributing factor in the premature onset of this sometimes-debilitating condition. An earlier study, published in Arthritis and Rheumatism, found that adults who were obese were more likely to have evidence of disc degeneration than adults who were not overweight. The weight gain may place excess stress on the discs and, pain in turn may restrict activity thereby continuing the cycle of weight gain and spinal damage.
Treatment for degenerative disc disease isn’t always necessary, since often it isn’t accompanied with noticeable symptoms. If the individual experiences pain, a variety of treatment options are available, including self-care, over-the-counter and prescription medication, epidural injections, and physical therapy. When these conservative treatments aren’t working, spinal surgery might be a necessary step.
Weight can affect treatment options, too. Researchers at Stanford have found that obesity poses an additional risk to individuals undergoing lumbar spinal surgery. Reporting in the journal Spine, researchers analyzed data from 85,000 spinal fusion patients and found that of the 2% of patients who were morbidly obese had twice as many surgical complications than non-obese patients (14% versus 7%).
If you are suffering with painful symptoms caused by degenerative disc disease, and think you may also fall within the category of individuals who are considered overweight, you should consult with your physician to discuss your treatment options.