Disc degeneration of the lumbar spine in relation to overweight

Int J Obes (Lond). 2005 Aug;29(8):903-8. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0802974.


Objective: To study the association between overweight and lumbar disc degeneration.

Design: Population-based 4-y follow-up magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study.

Subjects: The subjects were 129 working middle-aged men selected to the baseline magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study from a cohort of 1832 men representing three occupations: machine drivers, construction carpenters, and office workers. The selection was based on the paticipants' age (40-45 y) and place of residence. MR images of the lumbar spines were obtained at baseline and at 4-y follow-up.

Measurements: Signal intensity of the nucleus pulposus of the discs L2/L3-L4/L5 was visually assessed by two readers using the adjacent cerebrospinal fluid as an intensity reference. The weight (at age 25 and 40-45 y) and height of the subjects, history of car driving, smoking, and back injuries were assessed by questionnaire.

Results: Multiple regression analyses allowing for occupation, history of car driving, smoking, and back injuries showed that persistent overweight (body mass index (BMI) > or =25 kg/m(2) at both ages) associated strongly with an increased risk of the number of lumbar discs with decreased signal intensity of nucleus pulposus at follow-up, adjusted odds ratio (OR) being 4.3 (95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) 1.3-14.3). Overweight at young age (risk ratio (RR) 3.8; 95% CI 1.4-10.4) was a stronger predictor of an increase in the number of degenerated discs during follow-up than overweight in middle age (RR 1.3; 95% CI 0.7-2.7).

Conclusions: The study provides evidence that the BMI above 25 kg/m(2) increases the risk of lumbar disc degeneration. Overweight at young age seems to be particularly detrimental.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Disease Progression
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc / pathology*
  • Low Back Pain / pathology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / pathology*
  • Occupational Diseases / complications
  • Occupational Diseases / pathology*
  • Occupations
  • Spinal Diseases / complications
  • Spinal Diseases / pathology*