Study Shows That Obesity, Smoking and Physical Work Boost Risk of Lower Back Pain

Though an estimated 80% of all adults in the United States will experience lower back pain at some point in their lives, a recent study published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research has identified three lifestyle factors — smoking, obesity, and strenuous physical work — that make people far more vulnerable to the condition.

The same study also identified specific steps that can reduce the chance of experiencing lower back pain, both for those who fall into the high-risk category and those who do not.

The study was conducted by Rahman Shiri, MD, PhD, of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, who set out to learn whether any types of leisure-time physical activities could prevent or have an impact on lower back pain, as well as whether obesity and workload factors would effect the impact of those leisure time activities.

In order to reach his conclusions, Shiri and his team took advantage of the data collected in two previously-conducted longitudinal studies conducted on the Finnish population: the health 2000 Survey which stretched from 2000 to 2001 and included data on nearly 8,000 adults’ health, work and lifestyle, and the Health 2011 Survey which returned to nearly half of those original 8,000 participants and asked them questions specifically about their experience of lower back pain.

Upon review of the data that relied on interviews as well as clinical data and testing, the researchers made a number of significant observations.

Among the most notable findings was the fact that lower back pain and lumbar radicular pain were more likely to occur in women than in men. They also found that though the incidence of lower back pain decreased slightly as participants aged, the opposite was true of lumbar radicular pain, which is pain caused by nerve impingement following damage to a disc between two vertebrae.

Notably, the group found that participants who had characteristics of abdominal obesity or BMI-based obesity had an increased risk for lower back pain and for lumbar radicular pain.

The same was true for both smoking and for strenuous physical work. Working with vibrating tools also increased the chances that a participant would experience lumbar radicular pain.

One offsetting bit of news was the finding that among workers who either walked or rode bicycles to work, the risk of lower back pain was significantly reduced.

This was particularly true for participants whose obesity was not abdominal and for participants whose workload was not especially strenuous. Summing up his findings, Shiri said, “Walking and cycling to work are regular low-level physical activities that do not strain the lower back. Walking and cycling can be recommended for the prevention of low back pain in the general population.”

If you are personally suffering from lower back pain, our lumbar spine specialist can help. We will conduct a thorough examination to provide you with an exact diagnosis, as well as to identify non-invasive treatment options and lifestyle changes that can provide you with relief. Call us today.

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