Obesity and pain present serious public health concerns in our society. Evidence strongly suggests that comorbid obesity is common in chronic pain conditions, and pain complaints are common in obese individuals. In this paper, we review the association between obesity and pain in the general population as well as chronic pain patients. We also review the relationship between obesity and pain response to noxious stimulation in animals and humans. Based upon the existing research, we present several potential mechanisms that may link the two phenomena, including mechanical/structural factors, chemical mediators, depression, sleep, and lifestyle. We discuss the clinical implications of obesity and pain, focusing on the effect of weight loss, both surgical and noninvasive, on pain. The literature suggests that the two conditions are significant comorbidities, adversely impacting each other. The nature of the relationship however is not likely to be direct, but many interacting factors appear to contribute. Weight loss for obese pain patients appears to be an important aspect of overall pain rehabilitation, although more efforts are needed to determine strategies to maintain long-term benefit.
Keywords: BMI; chronic pain; comorbidity; fibromyalgia; headaches; lifestyle; obesity; weight loss.