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Overweight Adults Are More Likely to Have Lumbar Disc Damage

Overweight Adults Are More Likely to Have Lumbar Disc Damage

One of the largest studies done to investigate lumbar spine disc degeneration called The Association of Lumbar Intervertebral Disc Degeneration on MRI in Overweight and Obese Adults: A Population-Based Study , revealed that overweight or obese adults are significantly more likely to have lumbar disc degeneration than those with a normal body mass index (BMI).

According to MRI scores, a high BMI is associated with an increase in the number of degenerate disc levels and a greater severity of disc degeneration, including disc space narrowing. Details of this study were recently published in Arthritis Care & Research , the journal of the American College of Rheumatology.

Previous research has already linked a higher BMI to lumbar pains, which are often debilitating and may limit the motor function, impacting the psychological well-being and diminishing the quality of life. Low back pain is also associated with substantial socioeconomic and health costs. Experts suggest that disc degeneration is a cause of low back pain and therefore BMI could be involved in the development of degenerative disc disease.

To expand knowledge about this important health problem, a team of researchers at the University of Hong Kong investigated the association between a high BMI and the presence, extent, and severity of lumbar spine disc degeneration in adults.

Since overweight and obesity are a concern worldwide, The researchers recruited 2,599 participants aged 21 years or older in southern China between 2001 and 2009. The participants were from diverse social and economic backgrounds and were recruited independently of having had back pain or not. The study group included 1,040 men and 1,559 women who had a mean age of 42 years. The researchers conducted radiographic and clinical evaluations, as well as lumbar spine magnetic resonance imaging.

Findings from the study revealed that 73% of the participants had lumbar disc degeneration. Men had a significantly higher prevalence of degeneration than women: 76% to 71%, respectively. Not surprisingly, as the participants' age increased, there was also an increased prevalence of disc degeneration. The BMI assessments from the study group showed that 7% of the subjects were underweight, 48% were in the normal weight range, 36% were overweight and 9% were obese.

The research confirmed that with high BMI there is a significant increase in the severity, extent and overall disc degeneration. In fact, the final phase of disc degeneration - with disk space narrowing - was more pronounced in obese individuals.

Since overweight and obesity are a concern worldwide, the results of the study are significant public health implications. With the rising incidence of overweight and obesity threatening all nations, spine health is at risk across the globe. Many problems arising from weight gain will arise and worsen.

Lumbar disc degeneration is a complex process involving both chemical and structural changes. We need more studies investigating the risk factors for disc degeneration, taking into account the impact of overweight and obesity on the disease. A greater understanding of how high BMI contributes to disc degeneration and the onset of low back pain may aid in the development of new interventions that can improve the quality of life of people with these disabling conditions.


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