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Open Access Highly Accessed Commentary

Body mass index and musculoskeletal pain: is there a connection?

David R Seaman

Author Affiliations

National University of Health Sciences, SPC-Health Education Center, 7200 66th St, Pinellas Park, FL 33781, USA

Chiropractic & Manual Therapies 2013, 21:15  doi:10.1186/2045-709X-21-15

Published: 20 May 2013

Abstract

Background

Back pain is one of the most common complaints that patients report to physicians and two-thirds of the population has an elevated body mass index (BMI), indicating they are either overweight or obese. It was once assumed that extra body weight would stress the low back and lead to pain, however, researchers have reported inconsistencies association between body weight and back pain. In contrast, more recent studies do indicate that an elevated BMI is associated with back pain and other musculoskeletal pain syndromes due to the presence of a chronic systemic inflammatory state, suggesting that the relationship between BMI and musculoskeletal pains be considered in more detail.

Objective

To describe how an elevated BMI can be associated with chronic systemic inflammation and pain expression. To outline measurable risk factors for chronic inflammation that can be used in clinical practice and discuss basic treatment considerations.

Discussion

Adiposopathy, or “sick fat” syndrome, is a term that refers to an elevated BMI that is associated with a chronic systemic inflammatory state most commonly referred to as the metabolic syndrome. The best available evidence suggests that the presence of adiposopathy determines if an elevated BMI will contribute to musculoskeletal pain expression. It is not uncommon for physicians to fail to identify the presence of adiposopathy/metabolic syndrome.

Conclusion

Patients with an elevated BMI should be further examined to identify inflammatory factors associated with adiposopathy, such as the metabolic syndrome, which may be promoting back pain and other musculoskeletal pain syndromes.

Keywords:
Back pain; Body mass index; Obesity; Metabolic syndrome; Inflammation