"My back is killing me!"

How is adiposity influencing the health of your back?

Backaches are a regular problem for almost 25 percent of women and every sixth man in Germany. According to a survey of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) they suffer from chronic backaches (1). Around 70 percent of the European population suffers from backaches at least once a year. This complaint has become a widespread disease. 5.4 percent of disease-related absent days are due to backaches according to a health report of the health insurer Techniker Krankenkasse from 2011. On the occasion of the national back health day (March 15th) the IFB AdiposityDiseases is highlighting the issue of backaches in morbidly obese people.

The cause for backaches stretches from incorrect weightbaring and overstraining, malposition until internal diseases, inflammations and psychological strains. It is also known that obesity (adiposity) brings forward backpains. Physicians around Dino Smartzis at the University of Hong Kong found out in a recent study with 2599 men and women (2) that overweight persons have almost double the risk of suffering from a herniated disk than normalweight people.  The study shows that there is a greater wear of the disk in patients with a higher BMI among the study participants who had an average age of 42. In obese test persons the final stadium of degeneration could also be seen more often: the disk is already worn down to the point where the space between the vertebrae is narrowed considerably. The scientists examined the spine of each test person in a magnetic resonance tomography (MRT) and thus determined the respective wear. 73 percent of the participants suffered from disk degeneration with the number of men being slightly higher than that of women.

Since the number of adipose people is increasing it can be assumed that the number of people suffering from backaches will also rise. To be added to that is the fact that the majority of employed people have a profession where they sit most of the time. This leads to incorrect posture, muscle tension and with that also to backaches. Due to the lack of exercise the torso and back muscles withers and with that the back problems increase. The lack of exercise is supposedly even worse with morbidly obese people.

Back problems are the most frequent reason for early retirement in Germany. The therapy for disk herniations is extensive and takes a long time. Most of the time the backaches won't go away completely. Just as with other accompanying diseases of adiposity (high blood pressure, diabetes, metabolic disorders) the key to this health problem lies in a change of life style with weight reduction and more exercise.

Doris Gabel

(1) Kohlmann T., Schmidt C. O. (2005) Rückenschmerzen in Deutschland – eine epidemiologische Bestandsaufnahme. Orthopädie & Rheuma 1,38-41
(2) The association of lumbar intervertebral disc degeneration on MRI in overweight and obese adults: A population-based study. Samartzis D, Karppinen J, Chan D, Luk KD, Cheung KM. Arthritis Rheum. 2012 Jan 27. doi: 10.1002/art.33462. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 22287295
Keywords: associated diseases, society & social life