It is estimated that around 78.6 million Americans, or more than a third of the population, are obese.
Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) equal to or more than 30. An elevated BMI is considered as a significant risk factor for a variety of different diseases related to chronic pain, such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer, to name a few. Obesity is now commonly seen as an important and identifiable risk factor for chronic pain development that, fortunately, can be prevented. Medical science has determined that obesity is a known risk factor for Type II Diabetes, and almost half of all patients diagnosed with Type II Diabetes will develop neuropathic pain.
Extra body fat can apply pressure and cause undue stress to different parts of the human body. Extra weight can negatively affect a person’s joints, muscles, organs and spinal column. The ongoing pressure and strain on these areas causes stress and eventually long-term damage. Mechanical disruption occurs as a result of the build-up of fat in the area, leading to misalignment and joint compression.
A positive correlation between obesity and increased musculoskeletal pain has been demonstrated by a number of medical studies. This is likely due to overloading different structures of the human body with unintended weight, causing injury and degradation. The damage on these areas and on the nerve endings often results in pain.
It is also found that individuals with obesity experience pain at a higher rate than those who are of normal or low weight. Based on research conducted by Donald Scott McVinnie, a medical student of the University of Glasgow, obese individuals exhibit higher levels of different inflammatory markers like tumour necrosis factor α (TNF-α), interleukin 6 (IL-6), and C-reactive protein (CRP).
However, there is still very little evidence when it comes to linking obesity and pain through cytokine production. Fat can also affect the management of pain, reducing the benefits of common pain management strategies. Pain management strategies see reduced efficacy when utilized by obese individuals – this is a common frustration among pain clinicians.
Weight loss is seen as an opportunity to reduce pain among individuals with obesity. An integrative approach to weight loss is commonly accepted as the most effective way to help reduce the suffering of chronic pain patients. This combines lifestyle changes to nutrition, exercise habits and behavioral modification strategies.
As the individuals weight decreases, the experience of pain is frequently lessened.
Adherence to healthy lifestyle changes is often a challenge – but for those who stick with it, it affords a dramatic opportunity for pain relief.
Despite the other factors that are seen as the cause of chronic pain, an individual’s obesity is an underrecognized, but potent, risk factor for individuals with chronic pain. With the complex and interwoven relationship of obesity and pain, it is necessary for pain management clinicians, and the individual themself to take stock of their weight and truly consider whether it is partly, or even wholly, responsible for their condition.
Pain clinicians are sensitive to how difficult it can be for individuals with obesity who suffer from chronic pain to exercise.
Continuous support should be provided to these individuals to ensure continuous progress. Any positive change from weight loss will likely motivate further gains and help to reduce the severity of their suffering.