Weight Loss with Low Back Pain: Finding the Right Program

Weight loss can help relieve low back pain, and a weight loss program can be a useful way to go. But not every program is the same, and it may be hard to figure out which one is recommended.

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Many Americans are overweight or obese and find low back pain is a debilitating issue. Research has shown that losing weight can have a significant impact on curbing low back pain.1 Weight loss programs can be very helpful for patients who are overweight or obese and who also want to relieve their low back pain.

weight loss ahead sign against a blue skyIt’s important to do some research to find the right weight loss program before signing up and spending any money.However, there are a multitude of weight loss programs to choose from, and they all have their differences. Some are commercialized, others managed by a physician. Some programs endorse supplements; others prescribe medication. Some are covered by insurance companies; many are not.

With all these factors to consider, it’s important to do some research to find the right weight loss program before signing up and spending any money. Some weight loss programs may not follow the best practices recommended by doctors, and it could be hard to tell by just looking at their websites.

Hard-pressed for Details
A recent study looked at 191 different weight loss programs in the Maryland—Washington, DC—Virginia region. The overwhelming majority of programs did not offer enough relevant information on their websites.

The type of diet, the amount of exercise, kinds of behavioral therapies, use of medications—these are all essential details that were missing online. Many websites are not designed to provide details of a program, but rather to provide contact information for potential clients.

Find the Right Weight Loss Program
A comprehensive lifestyle program should feature:

  1. A moderately-reduced caloric meal plan
  2. A regimen for increased physical activity
  3. A behavioral therapy strategy

These are three essential aspects to an effective weight loss program, as recommended by the American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology, and the Obesity Society (AHA/ACC/OBS).2 FDA-approved medications to help treat obesity are available, but must be prescribed by a licensed physician.

Some programs may incorporate weight loss supplements; again, information that may not be mentioned on a website. Patients should be careful with products not approved by the FDA. Some substances could be ineffective or potentially harmful, which is why it is essential to consult a physician before taking something to lose weight.

Seek Professional Advice
Many weight loss programs are commercialized products or services that do not meet professional standards. According to Dr. J. Michael Gonzalez-Campoy, MD, PhD, FACE, a specialist in obesity medicine, patients should first seek guidance from health care professionals who are trained to treat obesity and overweight.

“With the epidemic of overweight and obesity in this country, two-thirds of Americans will seek help managing their weight. The point is well taken that there is too much commercialism—selling products with a promise of unrealistic achievements. It is best for each patient to address weight management with their personal health care professional first.” Speaking to a licensed expert is a far safer and more effective route. Patients can find obesity medicine doctors through the website of The American Board of Obesity Medicine (ABOM).

How To Be Physically Active With Low Back Pain
Many patients may find it difficult to be physically active with low back pain. However, inactivity may lead to stiff back and weak muscles, and core strength is necessary to help support the spine. Walking or exercising in a pool (aquatic therapy) is low-impact movement that may be a good choice to help reduce weight and strengthen muscles.

Patients with obesity are more likely to have weak muscles in their lower back, making it hard to walk on a treadmill or step mill.3 A good approach to staying active with low back pain is to talk with a specialist—such as a primary care doctor, physician assistant, or physical therapist. Although overweight or obesity can cause/contribute to pain in the low back, It may be advisable to obtain an accurate diagnosis if pain worsens, and/or is accompanied by weakness, numbness or tingling sensations.

Regular Exercise is Beneficial
Regular exercise may help you avoid exacerbating low back pain during intense or prolonged physical activity. Over time, regular exercise can increase flexibility, strength and endurance.

The study referenced in this article was supported by the Medical Student Research Program in Diabetes at Johns Hopkins University – University of Maryland Diabetes Research Center from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The authors shared no conflicts of interest.

Updated on: 08/21/18
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J. Michael Gonzalez-Campoy, MD, PhD, FACE
Chief Executive Officer
Minnesota Center for Obesity
Metabolism and Endocrinology
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