How obesity can contribute to a herniated disc in the back

It is becoming more widely understood that obesity has a negative effect on overall health, especially cardiovascular and respiratory health. The spine is another area of the body that can be affected by carrying excess body weight, contributing to conditions like a herniated disc in the back. While primarily an age-related condition, being overweight or obese adds to the stress being placed on the spinal discs, which can accelerate their breakdown.

While obesity is difficult to live with even before pain from a herniated disc is factored in, there are steps that anyone can take to better manage their weight. By learning more about how weight contributes to disc degeneration and the lifestyle choices that can improve the health of your spine, you can give yourself a better chance of living an active life with lasting relief from back pain.

Extra weight and herniated discs.

The vertebrae in the spine are cushioned and separated by rubbery discs that absorb the shock of weight and everyday movement. As a result of the natural aging process, the discs begin to lose elasticity over time, making them less able to absorb the stress being placed on them and vulnerable to damage. This deterioration is particularly common in the lumbar (lower) region of the spine because of its flexibility combined with the amount of weight it supports.

Obesity compounds this by adding to the stress placed on the discs. A herniated disc occurs when the softer nucleus of a disc begins to push out through a weak spot or tear in the tougher outer layer. This is more likely to happen in people who have significantly more weight in their upper body that is transferred to the weakened disc.

Weight management to prevent and treat a herniated disc

Upon diagnosis of a herniated disc in your back, one of the most commonly prescribed ways to overcome pain from degenerative disc disease is with exercise and stretching. This is especially true among patients who are obese, as exercise can both help with weight management in addition to improving core muscles and blood flow. Along with exercise, most doctors will recommend the following actions to help patients lose excess body weight:

  • Restrict calorie intake and reduce carbohydrates
  • Eat nutrient-rich foods, especially fruits and vegetables
  • Have a support system of friends and family to keep you on track and motivated
  • Consult with a registered dietician to optimize a diet plan for your needs and lifestyle
  • See a personal trainer or physical therapist to ensure exercise is performed safely
  • Receive lab tests to rule out other conditions as the underlying cause of obesity

When to consider herniated disc surgery

If weight management combined with conservative treatments like pain medication, hot and cold compression, epidural steroid injections and massage do not relieve herniated disc pain, your doctor may recommend you see a spine specialist for a surgical consultation. It’s important to understand the full range of surgical options before consenting to a highly invasive traditional open spine procedure.

Laser Spine Institute’s team of board-certified surgeons+ perform minimally invasive spine surgery that is an alternative to the risks and difficulties of a traditional open back procedure. By using a less than 1-inch incision and other muscle-sparing techniques, we can treat herniated discs on an outpatient basis.

To learn more, reach out to our dedicated team of Spine Care Consultants today for a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.

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