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How belly fat may be causing your back pain

Jan 9, 2018

Do you feel overworked after Christmastime? Did you eat too much over the holidays? Santa may have the same problem.

In fact, Santa is the perfect candidate for back problems because of his round belly. The same holds true for us mere mortals. 

Angela Thomas

“Sometimes the cause of a back problem is not your back but your front,” says Angela Thomas, Director of Outpatient Rehabilitation. “Your abdominal muscles are actually the front of your back. Therefore, your ‘spare tire’ may be the cause of your aching back.”

The spine is the central support for the entire skeletal system. It is designed for strength – to support your body – and flexibility – to allow movement. When healthy, your spine is S-shaped with three natural curves. When these curves are in balance, your body weight is evenly distributed. To maintain this alignment, you need to have strong and flexible muscles in your back, legs and abdomen. The abdominal muscles are especially important in supporting the spine, Thomas says.

A potbelly changes the curvature of your back. The stomach pulls the backbone forward, stressing muscles and ligaments and putting pressure on discs. For example, if you have 10 extra pounds on your abdomen, you are putting an additional 100-pound strain on your back.

“This additional strain occurs because the lower part of your spine is not receiving adequate support from your weakened abdominal muscles,” Thomas says. “Your back muscles try to maintain the proper spinal balance but often end up strained or sprained.”

Quiz: Are your daily habits causing back pain?

The good news is that you can do something about back pain and it doesn’t have to involve medication or surgery. If you have excess abdominal fat, following a proper diet and exercise program can help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight and strengthen your muscles.

“Develop healthy eating habits that work for you and make exercise an important part of your day,” Thomas says.

How physical therapy can help

If you want individualized care for your back pain or just help getting started with a healthy lifestyle, physical therapy can help. The St. Joseph’s/Candler Physical Therapy centers serve as a resource for all back pain suffers in the community. Services provided include:

  • Individualized physical therapy evaluation
  • One-on-one therapy sessions
  • Modalities for decreasing pain
  • Instructions on treatment methods you can practice at home
  • Tips for preventing future problems

Most sessions occur anywhere from one to three times a week, lasting for about an hour. The total length of physical therapy depends on the extent of the pain.  One-on-one physical therapy is provided in an outpatient setting. Instruction is provided on coping strategies and lifestyle modifications. Posture training and body mechanics are practiced for everyday situations. Physical therapy can help empower participants to be in control and stay in control of their back health, Thomas says.

If you think physical therapy can help with your back pain, a physician’s referral is required. St. Joseph’s/Candler Outpatient Rehabilitation has five locations to serve you – St. Joseph’s Hospital, Candler Hospital, Pooler, Rincon and The Landings. Call 1-800-878-5637 for more information.

Related Article: The dos and don’ts when dealing with back pain 

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