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Can obesity cause degenerative disc disease?

While excess body weight and obesity are not direct causes of degenerative disc disease, both are confirmed to be significant risk factors in the early onset of this common age-related condition. Of course, the natural aging process is an unavoidable cause of spinal degeneration. But, studies indicate that adults who are overweight or obese are much more likely to show evidence of spinal disc degeneration at an early age than their healthy-weight counterparts.

How obesity can influence the development of degenerative disc disease

With regard to degenerative disc disease causes, weight gain can create a vicious cycle. That’s because the spine — or, more precisely, the lower back — must support the majority of the body’s weight through a wide range of motion. Therefore, carrying excess body weight can increase the stress exerted on spinal discs and accelerate their break down. The resulting pain can also restrict physical activity, which can further the cycle of weight gain and spinal degeneration.

Additionally, without proper exercise, the core muscles in the back, pelvic region and thighs can lose strength and flexibility. To compensate, the weakened muscles may shift some of their normal weight load onto the spine, which is not designed to handle it. This can lead to the development of poor posture, which can further stress the spinal discs and lead to even more deterioration.

Treatment for degenerative disc disease

If you’ve been diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, your physician will likely encourage you to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight by exercising regularly and consuming a healthy diet. Chronic back pain stemming from degenerative disc disease causes such as obesity can often be managed with these and other conservative measures.

With that said, you might consider surgery if your pain persists or worsens after several weeks or months of nonsurgical treatment. If you take that route, keep in mind that obesity is not only one of the major causes of degenerative disc disease — it can also increase the risk of surgical complications. Therefore, if necessary, your physician may advise you to lose weight prior to undergoing a surgical procedure.

If you’re interested in learning about minimally invasive spine surgery, contact USA Spine Care to request a no-cost MRI review.* Our team can explain the benefits and risks of our minimally invasive outpatient procedures and help you determine if you are a candidate.

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