Does obesity directly cause chronic pain? Well, no, obesity is not a direct cause of pain. However, many conditions that cause chronic pain are far more common in people who are obese, and obesity and chronic pain often exist side by side.
What comes first, obesity, or chronic pain? The answer is that both conditions often lead to the other. If we use arthritis as an example, someone who is not obese might develop arthritis and experience chronic pain from this condition, and then stop exercising or moving much to avoid feeling pain, which causes weight gain and leads to obesity. In this case, the chronic pain came before the obesity. On the contrary, someone might be obese, which causes strain on their joints, and causes them to develop arthritis and then chronic pain from arthritis. In this case, it was the person’s obesity that led to their chronic pain. This is why these two conditions are so closely linked- because either condition has been shown to lead to the other more often than not.
Let’s explore obesity as the initial condition leading to chronic pain. It’s common knowledge and scientific fact that being obese makes a person more likely to develop a myriad of medical conditions. Some of the most common health conditions that obese people develop include depression, fibromyalgia, type 2 diabetes, and back pain. All of these conditions can, and often do, lead to the development of chronic pain. Obesity also causes pain by adding stress to a person’s joints, especially in the knees, hips, and spine. Researchers have said that a mere ten pound weight gain can put the additional force of 30-40 pounds on your knees. Obesity and weight gain also causes inflammation and swelling of a person’s joints, which causes immobility and chronic pain, ultimately causing arthritis.
Now we’ll look at a person who was of normal weight and developed chronic pain that led to obesity. This dynamic is common in people who suffer catastrophic injuries, or any injury severe enough to prevent a person from being as mobile as they once were. For example, if a person of average weight is in a terrible car accident, injuring their back and knees, they will be limited on what they can do for exercise and how much they can move around in their daily life, which can lead to weight gain and eventually, to obesity. The mental effects of being in pain or injured and not being able to participate in the same activities a person once did can also lead to weight gain via depression, eating to cope with emotions, or having medication with weight gain as a side effect. Chronic pain leading to obesity doesn’t only occur in those who are injured either- any health condition that someone is born with or develops that causes chronic pain and/or loss of function can lead to weight gain simply because someone may move much less than they did before, or become unable to exercise. This person will not be burning as many calories as they used to due to their chronic pain condition, and this can lead to weight gain and obesity.
So how do you prevent chronic pain and obesity from becoming partners in your body? The first and most obvious solution is not to become obese, which is most easily accomplished by getting daily exercise of some kind and maintaining a healthy diet full of nutrient rich foods. Keeping yourself in shape will keep a plethora of diseases away from making your body their home. When it comes to injury or disease that prevents exercise which can make someone obese, the injured or diseased person needs to pay close attention to their diet and make sure they are not routinely consuming more calories than they burn. This means they likely have to eat healthier lower calorie foods, or decrease the amount of food that they’re eating in order to match their new lower activity level. It sounds simple- because it is! Weight gain is simply a product of consuming more calories on a consistent basis than your body burns in a day. To maintain a healthy weight, you can balance your calorie and activity intake by eating less or healthier while moving less, or moving more to make up for an increase in food or calorie dense food. If everyone maintained an exercise routine and a healthy diet, we would be able to eliminate so many painful conditions and diseases people face. A healthy balanced diet and a consistent exercise routine is the best medicine out there, and the best way to keep yourself pain free. Contact the physicians at Pacific Pain Physicians to learn more about the link between obesity and pain, and how to combat these two conditions so that you don’t have to suffer from either of them.