The aim of this study was to assess the associations of overweight and obesity with lumbar radicular pain and sciatica using a meta-analysis. We searched the PubMed, Embase, Scopus, and Web of Science databases from 1966 to July 2013. We performed a random-effects meta-analysis and assessed publication bias. We included 26 (8 cross-sectional, 7 case-control, and 11 cohort) studies. Both overweight (pooled odds ratio (OR) = 1.23, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.14, 1.33; n = 19,165) and obesity (OR = 1.40, 95% CI: 1.27, 1.55; n = 19,165) were associated with lumbar radicular pain. The pooled odds ratio for physician-diagnosed sciatica was 1.12 (95% CI: 1.04, 1.20; n = 109,724) for overweight and 1.31 (95% CI: 1.07, 1.62; n = 115,661) for obesity. Overweight (OR = 1.16, 95% CI: 1.09, 1.24; n = 358,328) and obesity (OR = 1.38, 95% CI: 1.23, 1.54; n = 358,328) were associated with increased risk of hospitalization for sciatica, and overweight/obesity was associated with increased risk of surgery for lumbar disc herniation (OR = 1.89, 95% CI: 1.25, 2.86; n = 73,982). Associations were similar for men and women and were independent of the design and quality of included studies. There was no evidence of publication bias. Our findings consistently showed that both overweight and obesity are risk factors for lumbar radicular pain and sciatica in men and women, with a dose-response relationship.
Keywords: back pain; hospitalization; intervertebral disc displacement; obesity; overweight; sciatica.