Which came first, the back pain or the extra pounds? The question may be academic for millions of obese Americans whose chronic spine and joint pain keeps them from getting the exercise that would help them lose weight. Relieving that pain could be instrumental in getting them to exercise more.
The number of states with an adult obesity rate of 30 percent or more has tripled to nine since 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Approximately 75 million Americans - about one in four - are now considered obese.
Excessive weight is not only associated with an increased risk of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, sleep apnea and some forms of cancer, it also can have damaging effects on the nerves, bones, joints and muscles of the body, exacerbating conditions such as osteoarthritis, back pain, neck pain and joint pain, according to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA).
The association is making healthy weight management the focus of its annual observance of National Chiropractic Health Month this October.
“If you're carrying more weight than the load-bearing structures of your body – the spine, legs, etc. – can handle, there’s going to be pain, loss of movement and degeneration in the joints,” explains Dr. James Powell, a doctor of chiropractic (DC) in Canton, Ohio, who serves on ACA’s Wellness Committee. “Particularly if you're carrying most of your weight in your abdomen, the lower back and the spine will need to work harder to hold you upright. This adds extra stress and tension to your muscles, which in turn creates stiffness and pain.”
Muscle tension and stiffness often leads to pain in the back, neck, hips, knees and legs, which causes many people with weight problems to avoid exercising and to look for easy fixes such as diet pills and extreme diets.
“These quick fixes do not offer healthy, long-term solutions,” says Dr. Rick McMichael, ACA president. “Doctors of chiropractic, on the other hand, offer natural approaches such as specific exercise recommendations, dietary advice and hands-on care to help keep people active and able to achieve their weight-loss goals.”
Talking to a doctor of chiropractic about weight management might be news to some, but it's precisely what happens every day in many chiropractic offices.
“DCs are experts at helping patients reduce or eliminate pain naturally – helping them become more active and functional,” Dr. McMichael says. “In addition to their expert structural care, doctors of chiropractic often counsel their patients on enhancing wellness through nutrition, ergonomic and lifestyle recommendations – this has been a part of chiropractic training and education from the start.”
A sensible approach to weight loss
Without exercise, the chances of successfully managing weight problems are greatly diminished. Removing painful back, neck and joint pain – obstacles to exercise – through chiropractic care can be the first step toward winning the battle against obesity.
From there, ACA recommends considering some small but significant ways to become healthier:
Start small. If all you can manage is a five-minute walk, do it. Eventually, you’ll be able to work your way up to 30 minutes or more, and you’ll be taking a big step toward maintaining the flexibility and mobility of your joints and burning calories at the same time.
For those on a time crunch, take small breaks from work.
Simply getting up from your desk and walking around the office or the parking lot, or going up and down the stairs a few times, is enough to get your blood flowing and to trigger feel-good endorphins to get you through the rest of your day.
As for your diet, choose foods high in fiber - fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes - as fiber curbs hunger. Also reduce your simple carbohydrates such as candy, pizza, chips, cookies and bread that is not made from whole grains.
In some people, simple carbohydrates can trigger overeating, as well as blood-glucose slumps, which can lead to fatigue, headaches, craving sweets, depression, irritability and a host of other symptoms.
Eating well does not have to cost a great deal of money. To lower your food expenses, consider buying meats in bulk, buying fruits and vegetables in season and sticking to small serving sizes.
Keep a good variety of low-calorie snacks available to satisfy cravings. Having carrot sticks, apple slices, whole-grain granola, fruit and raisins on hand can prevent you from running to the snack machine or picking up fast food.