Doctors have long felt that being overweight can lead to degenerative disc (DDD) disease of the spine, often causing lower back pain. Statistics show that as a patient’s BMI (Body Mass Index) climbs, so does the incident of their lower back pain. Patients with a BMI greater than 25 are more likely to develop osteoarthritis than those with a lower BMI. This is the deduction from observing the biomechanical action of body weight on the discs of the spine, where bearing years of extra pressure will often take its toll on the bones and cartilage of joints.
But, what about degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, or the neck? Is that part of the spine also affected by a patient’s weight?
This has long been a contentious topic, but recent findings by researchers have shed some light on the answer to this question.
The Biomechanics of the Cervical Spine
The cervical spine, or neck, is a delicate area which houses the spinal cord that sends messages to the brain to control all aspects of body function. It is both strong and flexible, allowing for movement in all directions.
Many see the spine as a column supporting the weight of the body. It seems logical that the more weight there is to be supported, the greater chance the discs of the spine will degenerate. Since the neck or cervical part of the spine is at the top of the spinal column, it does not support the same amount of body weight as the middle or lower spine. The neck basically supports the weight of the head. So, the theory has been that a patient’s BMI would not affect degenerative disc disease in this area of the spinal column, as there is little to no discernable biomechanical effect of body weight on the discs of the cervical spine.
Weight May Affect Cervical Disc Degeneration Indirectly
Recent studies have researchers reconsidering a link between obesity and disc degeneration of the spine…including the cervical or neck portion of the spine…that does not have to do with the spine supporting body weight, or the biomechanics of the spine. It has to do with the affect obesity has on the metabolic state of the body, and inflammation. Here are some of their findings:
· Increased Inflammatory Agents: Obesity has been found to be associated with a chronic low-grade inflammatory response in the body, causing abnormal production of substances in the body that increase reaction to inflammation.
· Increased Inflammatory Signaling Pathways: Obesity activates inflammatory signaling pathways in fat tissue. This causes the fat, or adipose tissue, to be a better conductor for inflammation to travel throughout the body.
· Fat Tissue Acts as an Organ: Recent reports indicate that fat tissue functions as an endocrine organ, producing substances which are thought to be associated with obesity, insulin resistance, and other inflammatory disorders.
· Cartilage Inflammation: It has also been suggested that obesity can be correlated with cartilage inflammation.
Patients with degenerative disc disease have low-grade systemic inflammation. This, and other genetic situations may lead to a positive correlation between obesity and DDD.
So, studies continue to prove what previous research seems to have intimated…that obesity has been linked to metabolic changes that directly influence the condition of discs, even those located in the neck, or cervical area of the spine.
If you have literally been experiencing a pain in your neck, please call (636) 229-4222 or make an appointment online to see one of the orthopedic doctors at Advanced Bone and Joint in St. Peters, Missouri. Taking into account a thorough patient exam and consultation to diagnose your pain, they can devise a plan to successfully treat you.