Effect of obesity and low back pain on spinal mobility: a cross sectional study in women

J Neuroeng Rehabil. 2010 Jan 18;7:3. doi: 10.1186/1743-0003-7-3.


Background: obesity is nowadays a pandemic condition. Obese subjects are commonly characterized by musculoskeletal disorders and particularly by non-specific chronic low back pain (cLBP). However, the relationship between obesity and cLBP remains to date unsupported by an objective measurement of the mechanical behaviour of the spine and its morphology in obese subjects. Such analysis may provide a deeper understanding of the relationships between function and the onset of clinical symptoms.

Purpose: to objectively assess the posture and function of the spine during standing, flexion and lateral bending in obese subjects with and without cLBP and to investigate the role of obesity in cLBP.

Study design: Cross-sectional study

Patient sample: thirteen obese subjects, thirteen obese subjects with cLBP, and eleven healthy subjects were enrolled in this study.

Outcome measures: we evaluated the outcome in terms of angles at the initial standing position (START) and at maximum forward flexion (MAX). The range of motion (ROM) between START and MAX was also computed.

Methods: we studied forward flexion and lateral bending of the spine using an optoelectronic system and passive retroreflective markers applied on the trunk. A biomechanical model was developed in order to analyse kinematics and define angles of clinical interest.

Results: obesity was characterized by a generally reduced ROM of the spine, due to a reduced mobility at both pelvic and thoracic level; a static postural adaptation with an increased anterior pelvic tilt. Obesity with cLBP is associated with an increased lumbar lordosis.In lateral bending, obesity with cLBP is associated with a reduced ROM of the lumbar and thoracic spine, whereas obesity on its own appears to affect only the thoracic curve.

Conclusions: obese individuals with cLBP showed higher degree of spinal impairment when compared to those without cLBP. The observed obesity-related thoracic stiffness may characterize this sub-group of patients, even if prospective studies should be carried out to verify this hypothesis.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena / physiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / complications
  • Low Back Pain / physiopathology*
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Posture / physiology*
  • Range of Motion, Articular / physiology
  • Spine / physiology*