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How Losing Weight Can Help Relieve Back Pain

Excess weight and back pain are connected in some cases as such weight can put a strain on the muscles in the back and neck. It also puts pressure on the body’s joints including the spine and vertebra. Excess weight can increase the sensation of pain as it puts pressure on the other structures in the body, such as the ribs, making breathlessness and fatigue extra factors in back pain.

A Vicious Cycle

Unfortunately extra weight can make a person less inclined, or less able to do exercise that keeps the circulation healthy, the body supple and strong, and the back in healthier shape. It is important to break out of this vicious cycle of inactivity; starting out with even small increases in daily exercise can help enormously with both weight loss and pain relief. Activities such as swimming, cycling, and walking are excellent for those who are overweight and suffering back pain as they have a low impact on the joints, unlike, for example, running. Specific stretches for spinal stenosis can also help with back pain relief.

Body Alignment


Overweight & Back Pain

Overweight people may also suffer more from alignment problems, as the extra weight can shift vertebrae out of position by straining muscles. By engaging in exercise the sufferer can strengthen core muscles, such as abdominal and back muscles, meaning that they are less likely to suffer from further back pain. Activities like yoga and pilates (with a qualified instructor) are excellent for this, and can be conducted by those who are overweight with very little risk. Tai Chi may also be a good option as it can teach (or reteach) correct body posture and alignment and provide gentle exercise and relaxation.

Fat Promotes Inflammation

Back pain is generally caused by inflammation in the body, and adipose tissue (fat) is a key site of cytokine (a pro-inflammatory substance) generation (Coppacka, 2001). By reducing the levels of adipose tissue in the body the potential sites for inflammatory cytokine synthesis are reduced. Pachler (2007) also reported increased inflammatory reaction to trauma in patients with higher levels of adipose tissue, meaning that those who are overweight will experience more significant damage and pain with even minor injuries than those with a healthy body fat percentage.


Research conducted by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology found that women who were overweight were more likely to suffer form fibromyalgia, a condition which can cause back pain, fatigue, mood disturbance, and sleep problems (Mork, 2010). Those who were overweight and inactive were 60-70% more likely to suffer from the disease than those who exercised four times a week and maintained a healthy weight.

Wonderful Natural Pain Relief through Endorphins

It is possible that exercise can aid in the relief of back pain by releasing the body’s natural analgesic – endorphins. Endorphins are released when a nerve impulse reaches the spinal cord and they prevent nerve cells from releasing more pain signals. This is a natural response to trauma in order for the body to continue activity and ideally run away from (take flight), or fight the cause of pain.

Exercise may not in itself increase the circulating peripheral endorphins necessary for relief from back pain but they could play a role in reducing anxiety about exercise-induced pain, thereby facilitating weight loss activities and indirectly reducing pain (Borenstein, 2004).

Be Sure to Check with a Doctor

In certain conditions exercise may not be appropriate, at least without medical supervision. Acute back pain can be a sign of structural trauma requiring medical attention, therefore intense exercise could exacerbate a problem and should not be engaged in without medical advice being sought in the first instance.

Being overweight means that even simple daily activities, such as climbing the stairs or gardening takes more muscular energy, and puts more strain on the muscles and joints than in those with a healthy body-weight. Losing weight can reduce the experience of back pain significantly in those with excess body weight and is a recommended part of many therapeutic plans for spinal stenosis.


Borenstein, D.G., Wiesel, S.W., Boden, S.D., (2004), Low Back and Neck Pain: Comprehensive Diagnosis and Management, 3rd Revised Edition, Elsevier Health Sciences.

Coppacka, S.W., (2001), Pro-inflammatory cytokines and adipose tissue, Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, Cambridge University Press, Vol.60, pp.349-356,

Mork, P.J., Vasseljen, O., Nilsen, T.I., (2010), Association between physical exercise, body mass index, and risk of fibromyalgia: longitudinal data from the Norwegian Nord-Trøndelag Health Study, Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken), Vol.62, No.5, pp.611-7.

Pachler, C., Ikeoka, D., Plank, J., Weinhandl, H., Suppan, M., Mader, J.K., Bodenlenz, M., Regittnig, W., Mangge, H., Pieber, T., Ellmerer, M., (2007), Subcutaneous adipose tissue exerts proinflammatory cytokines after minimal trauma in humans, Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab, Vol.293, pp690-96.

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  1. […] Not only is early morning prime time for heart attacks to happen, it is also the point where your body has been inactive for longest, meaning that all your muscles and connective tissues are not quite ready to be stretched and squashed and pulled and twisted by the strain of running. Give yourself a little time to wake up, warm up and gear up before heading out. Do some gentle stretching including arm, neck, shoulder and back stretches, not just your legs. Start by walking for a block or two, then do a couple of blocks running, another round of walking and give your body a chance to fully get into its stride before you force it. That 5k will be done in no time, your dog will be proud of you, and you’ll be a step closer to maintaining or achieving a healthy body weight. […]

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