Can Weight Loss Cause Back Pain? (From A Doctor)

Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD
Published by Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD | Medical Doctor
Last updated: February 2, 2024
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If you're grappling with unexplained back pain after shedding some pounds, you've come to the right place.

My extensive experience, coupled with consultations with fitness coaches and medical colleagues, has equipped me with a deep understanding of how significant weight loss can trigger back pain.

In this article, I'll delve into the intricate relationship between weight loss and back pain, pinpointing its causes and offering four practical, medically-informed strategies to alleviate or prevent such discomfort post-weight loss.

Quick Summary

  • Weight loss can lead to back pain due to factors like stress on skeletal muscles, decreased bone density, and weaker bones.
  • Key causes include dehydration, overexercising, and loss of muscle tone, which can all contribute to discomfort in the back.
  • A study in the Journal of Physiotherapy notes that approximately 69% of individuals experience recurrent back pain within a year after recovery.
  • In my medical practice, I've observed that a balanced approach to weight loss, focusing on both diet and exercise, is crucial to preventing back pain.

3 Ways Weight Loss Can Impact Back Pain

A woman suffering from back pain

In 2018, about 75.8 million American adults (29.9% aged 18+) reported lower back pain, according to the CDC [1].

While obesity is a known back pain culprit, as the BMC Journal notes, losing weight can significantly affect back pain too [2].

Here’s why:

1. Stress On Skeletal Muscles

Losing weight means shedding fat layers that once cushioned your body’s insides. This loss can lead to internal movement and shifting, causing pain.

Moreover, the curvature of your spine and your overall body shape change.

Plus, intense workouts for weight loss put extra stress on skeletal muscles, potentially leading to discomfort.

2. Decreased Bone Density

A doctor researching about decreased bone density

In my clinical observations, weight loss strategies often revolve around cutting calories and ramping up exercise, sometimes with the aid of diet bars and shakes.

This can lead to rapid weight loss due to a nutrition deficit, causing the body to lose vital minerals and water.

The result?

A decrease in bone density.

3. Weaker Bones

This decrease in bone density can lead to weaker bones, increasing the risk of spinal instability and back discomfort post-weight loss [3].

As you lose weight, the fat that cushions your belly and hips diminishes, reducing support and potentially causing musculoskeletal pain and affecting spine alignment.

Remember, intensifying exercise without proper care can overstrain specific muscles, adding to back issues.

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3 Causes Of Back Pain After Weight Loss

A woman holding her back due to back pain

Here are three things that could be causing your discomforting back pain after you lose excess weight.

1. Dehydration

Low-carb diets can lead to dehydration, as they work by reducing water weight quickly.

Reflecting on my medical training, it's clear that our bodies, comprising about 70% water, depend on this hydration for spinal disc health and shock absorption. Dehydration leads to reduced fluid in spinal discs, risking their deterioration, bulging, or even rupture.

Plus, dehydrated muscles can become tense and stiff.

If a low-carb approach suits your health goals, ensure adequate water intake to maintain physiological balance and spinal health.

2. Overexercising

A tired woman due to overexercising

Some workout plans focus more on exercise than diet, often leading to high-intensity, frequent sessions aimed at burning calories.

This can sometimes result in overdoing it, putting your health at risk.

In my experience, the back, which is essential for many activities, often signals distress first. Balancing exercise with rest is vital for proper recovery, as I advise my patients.

3. Loss Of Muscle Tone

A woman showing her back

Certain restrictive diets discourage vigorous activity as the body adapts to less fuel (food).

Jumping into exercise too soon can lead to fatigue and setbacks. This sedentary lifestyle can cause rapid weight loss at the expense of muscle tone.

Our back and abdominal muscles work together to support our spine and torso [4].

When these muscles weaken, our posture suffers, leading to tension and stiffness in the neck, shoulders, and back.

3 Ways To Treat Back Pain After Weight Loss

Even though your back is killing you, here are three things you might consider doing to treat and manage the pain.

1. Maintain a proper posture: Many people with back pains could be sleeping or carrying things the wrong way, especially when working out.

An unhealthy posture will lead to back pain, according to WebMD [5]. You may need to maintain a better posture when working out or sleeping.

2. Eat healthier: Exercise without eating healthy will result in complications like back pain. It would help if you stopped eating unhealthy foods like fast food.

Weight loss achieved by eating healthy foods with more nutrients helps gain muscle tone around our back and belly and maintains spine alignment.

"If you maintain good eating habits, you not only will maintain a healthy weight, but you also will not put unnecessary stress on your body,"

- Beth W. Orenstein, MD

3. Get moving: Aside from your fitness routines in the gym, you can also take evening walks on sidewalks and jog around your house or at the park. Such low-intensity exercise can help relieve back and joint pain.

4 Things To Do To Avoid Back Pain After Weight Loss

A person having a checkup with a doctor due to back pain

The study highlighted in the Journal of Physiotherapy reveals a concerning statistic: approximately 69% of individuals face recurrent back pain within a year following their initial recovery [6].

This significant recurrence rate underscores the chronic aspect of back pain, emphasizing the crucial need for implementing effective management strategies.

Based on my medical insights, if you're in the post-weight loss phase, I recommend these four proactive steps to prevent back pain from turning into a recurring problem.

1. Consult a doctor. Based on my professional observations, if you were severely overweight and rapidly lost weight, the likelihood of back pain is higher. Your physical therapist will examine you and provide a better way to maintain your weight while avoiding muscle strain on your back.

2. Start slow. You should exercise slowly without putting too much stress on your body. Starting slow will help you correctly lose weight, with fewer chances of experiencing back pain.

3. Find a gym partner. A motivated gym partner will help develop a better exercise plan. In weightlifting, they will give you support so that you don't strain your body and cause muscular imbalances, which may lead to complications.

4. Cut unhealthy habits. Avoid eating junk food while exercising, and eat more nutritious meals to gain muscle mass around your back. It would help if you also avoided unhealthy sleeping habits and posture.

FAQs

Can Losing Extra Weight Cause Your Back To Hurt?

Yes, losing extra weight can cause your back to hurt. When a person loses weight, their body's gravitational center changes, leading to back strains.

What Helps With Back Pain After Weight Loss?

Maintaining good posture and eating healthy helps with back pain after weight loss.

How Do I Avoid Back Pain After Weight Loss?

To avoid back pain after a weight loss journey, get a partner to exercise with, start slow, and consult your doctor.

What Are The Symptoms Of Back Pain?

The symptoms of back pain are muscle aching, burning, or stabbing sensation around your back.

What Should I Do When My Back Hurts?

When your back hurts, apply heat or ice to the painful area. If it persists for long, consult your doctor.

When Should I Worry About My Back Pain?

You should worry about your back pain when you have been in severe pain for over a week.

Does Weight Loss Cause Back Pain?

Rapid weight loss due to intense workouts and loss of muscular tone can cause back and joint pain. Also, introducing regular exercise too soon may result in weariness and body aggravation.

When you lose weight and body fat by cutting your diet, you risk malnutrition, which affects bone density and can cause back pain.

If you're looking for a way to lose weight without putting too much strain on your musculoskeletal system, check out our top recommended fat-burning creams.

These creams also stimulate blood circulation and accelerate the metabolism rate, helping you recover from back pain more easily.


References:

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis/
  2. https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-015-1362-9
  3. https://www.msdmanuals.com/home/bone,-joint,-and-muscle-disorders/low-back-and-neck-pain/low-back-pain
  4. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Abdominal_Muscles
  5. https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/ss/slideshow-relieving-back-pain
  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1836955319300591
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About The Author

Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
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