How Does Weight Affect Your Back?

Logic (and a quick google search) tells us that obesity and back pain are related. But what do the experts say? Does weight affect your back? Let’s take a closer look.

How does weight affect your back

Does Weight Affect your Back?

A few studies 3,4 have confirmed the popular theory that being overweight can cause back pain. These studies have shown that individuals with higher BMI’s (body mass indexes) have a greater chance of experiencing back pain and intervertebral disc disorder (IDD).

Risk of Lower Back Pain

Obesity and Degenerative Disc Disease

Intervertebral disc disorder, also known as degenerative disc disease, is diagnosed when a patient experiences pain as a result of intervertebral disc degeneration.

The discs between the bones in our spines wear down over time as part of the natural aging process. When this happens, the discs can become brittle and fail to fulfill their primary role of being “shock absorbers” to the vertebrae. This can lead to pain.

Note: Read more about intervertebral disc disorder, also known as degenerative disc disease.

Studies have shown that increased body mass index (BMI), especially in younger individuals, can accelerate disc degeneration. 5

Obesity and Back Pain in Older Adults

A 2012 study2 of Americans 60 years old and above showed the likelihood that they would experience back, hip and knee pain increased with an increasing BMI. In other words, as an older adult, the heavier you are, the more likely you are to experience pain in your back, hips and knees.

This study suggested that the correlation between obesity and back pain in older adults could be due to the known relationship between obesity and osteoarthritis.

Obesity and Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition which causes pain in the joints. More specifically, weight bearing joints (ie: hips, knees, spine), are most commonly affected by osteoarthritis. This is due to the mechanical forces at play.

Put another way, the more weight you carry on your body, the more pressure is felt by the joints within your spine. This constant, additional pressure over time can accelerate the natural degeneration of the spine. As a result, the vertebrae may rub together as they move ,causing discomfort and back pain.

There are multiple ways that weight can affect your back. We have just talked about how an increased BMI can lead to accelerated disc degeneration and/or and increased risk of developing osteoarthritis. If you are overweight and have back pain, a weight loss program would be a great way to help reduce your pain. You may even find it relieves pain in some of your other joints as well!


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21646416
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14569039
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28208824
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24239800
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15917859
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