Doctor measuring overweight man

The Role Obesity Plays in Chronic Pain

Chronic pain and obesity often go hand in hand. Research indicates many people with chronic pain conditions are obese: a condition defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. It’s not always clear which condition comes first — chronic pain or being overweight — but we do know the two can contribute to each other in significant ways.

Although these conditions have an adverse relationship — each makes the other worse— this also means that addressing one can also help to alleviate the other. Here’s a closer look into how pain and obesity are related.

How Obesity Can Cause Chronic Pain

There are several ways in which extra weight can lead to chronic pain. For one, fat deposits release pro-inflammatory factors. It’s well established that all chronic pain has an inflammatory profile, with conditions like arthritis, back pain, neck pain, and others worsening when inflammation is higher. Adding inflammation produced by an increased number of fat cells may therefore intensify this existing pain.

In addition to influencing systemic challenges like inflammation, obesity also creates structural changes to the body which can lead to pain. Specifically, carrying extra weight can lead to damage in the joints, especially osteoarthritis, particularly in the hips and knees.

Each excess pound of body weight can place as much as four to six pounds of extra pressure on each knee joint. This amount of pressure on the knee can add up quickly. We’ve observed that patients struggling with obesity may be up to 20 times more likely to need a knee replacement than others.

How Chronic Pain Contributes to Obesity

While being overweight can lead to chronic pain, the opposite is also possible, with chronic pain in many cases leading to obesity. Being in chronic pain, for example, can make exercise feel physically impossible. Without adequate pain control, effective lifestyle changes and thorough rehabilitation can be dramatically inhibited in patients who are significantly overweight. Moreover, obesity can also contribute to depression, which may also lead to inactivity.

Approaching Obesity & Chronic Pain Together

Since obesity and chronic pain often coexist, researchers have been studying the best ways to treat the issues together. Many pain management specialists agree that weight loss is the best approach to take first: when patients lose weight, pain relief will ultimately follow. Of course, there are many exercises that someone suffering from chronic pain will need to avoid, including high-impact moves that strain the joints, such as jumping and running. But there are still plenty of ways to get active and strengthen your body without adding to chronic pain, and our specialists can help craft the right regimen for you.

Dietary modifications are another important way to lose weight. Experts recommend focusing on increasing the intake of certain foods – such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins, and low-fat dairy — while at the same time decreasing the amount of heavily processed foods you consume. These include those that are high in additives, sugar, refined grains, salt, and sodium. Doing so provides an added bonus, because limiting processed foods also reduces dietary sources of inflammation, helping you control your chronic pain even further.

If you’re living with chronic pain, obesity, or both, allow Alliance Spine and Pain Centers to help. We offer a wide range of treatments to effectively address the source of your suffering. Schedule an appointment with us online or by calling 770-929-9033.