By Shelby Stoner, PHASE IV Exercise Physiologist

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Each year, 50% of Americans over the age of 18 develop a musculoskeletal injury that lasts longer than 3 months.

That’s 108 million people.

And the #1 reason for Physical Therapy referral?

Low back pain.

Spinal pathology is seen across ALL demographics and age groups and affects people

throughout their lives. In reality, one of the biggest contributing factors to chronic back pain is excess weight. Studies have shown that people who are overweight are often at greater risk for back pain, joint pain and muscle strain than those who are not. For people who are overweight, attention to weight loss is important as excess weight adds strain to the muscles and ligaments in the back. In order to compensate for extra weight, the spine can become tilted and stressed unevenly. As a result, over time, the back may lose its proper support and an unnatural curvature of the spine may develop.


Being overweight puts extra pressure on your intervertebral discs, which serve as the spine’s shock absorbing system that help protect the vertebrae and surrounding nerves. Think about it this way: Imagine your body as a car, and the tires are the discs of your spine. The more and more weight you add to the car, the more weight is being transferred through the tires until the pressure is too great and the tires begin to bulge. Essentially, this is what happens to your discs when you’re overweight.

What’s causing the weight gain in the first place?

A contributing factor to chronic pain is often tied to sedentary lifestyles and physical inactivity. Weight gain is typically the result of a snowball effect, after a period of inactivity leading to a few extra pounds, motivation drops and the harder it is to engage in physical activity. The result is a vicious cycle of sedentary lifestyle and weight gain, and in more drastic cases, leads to obesity.

Accompanied with low physical activity levels comes making poor food choices. Eating unhealthy foods, and lots of them, can lead to weight gain. Even over eating healthy foods can cause weight gain! Not only do the pounds add up on the scale, they increase the load on your back and place unnecessary pressure on the spine.

And on top of all of that, most Americans are not meeting the minimum sleep requirements. When it comes to weight loss, adequate sleep is just as important as physical activity and proper nutrition. This is because while you sleep, your body regulates important hormones such as cortisol (aka stress hormone). However, if you don’t sleep well or enough, your body produces excess cortisol which promotes fat storage, especially in the abdominal area. A 2008 study in the journal Sleep showed that there is a significant risk of becoming overweight if you’re a short sleeper (less than 7-8 hours a night). In addition, lack of sleep can also lead to unhealthy choices like poor eating habits.


Regular aerobic exercise can help you manage back pain, and of course, your weight. A regular routine of aerobic exercise can help alleviate back pain by:

  • Decreasing the likelihood and/or severity of future flare-ups
  • Keeping the spine functional and mobile, limiting disability caused by chronic pain

In addition to aerobic or cardiovascular exercise, strength and flexibility training is essential to maintain muscle mass and joint mobility. An intelligently designed program of strengthening exercises should be comprehensive, or targeting each muscle group especially those that support the joints and aid in posture. When performed in a controlled and progressive manner, strength (weight) training helps improve many aspects of fitness including:

  • Strengthening the muscles that support the spine, removing pressure from the spinal discs
  • Alleviating stiffness and improving mobility
  • Releasing endorphins, which can naturally relieve pain and reduce reliance on pain medications
  • Reducing the frequency of back pain episodes, and minimizing the severity of pain when it does occur

Along with any exercise program, nutritional guidance plays a major role not only in weight loss but general health and fitness as well. A balanced diet filled with fruits, veggies, lean protein, and nutritious fats can help you lose weight and maintain a healthy body weight. Here are some simple nutrition and lifestyle tips to help get you started on the right foot:

  • Stay away from fried, processed and fast foods (think white bread, pasta, sugary drinks and snacks)
  • Reduce refined sugar and starches (anything with a long shelf-life like chips, crackers and pastries)
  • Include variety and color to your meals (colored fruits and veggies are an integral part of an anti-inflammatory diet)
  • Eat more fresh vegetables and fruits (check out your local farmer’s market!)
  • Don’t starve yourself
  • Drink more water (target at least 64 oz per day)
  • Get more Calcium (helps build and maintain bone mass!)
  • Be positive!!

At PHASE IV, we specialize in creating programs that are tailored to YOUR personal physiology utilizing over 30 years of experience and the knowledge of our highly credentialed staff. With scientific testing like the Resting Metabolic Rate test and VO2 analysis, we pinpoint the exact number of calories your body burns throughout the day and determine how well your body utilizes fat during rest and exercise. It’s time to take the guesswork out of weight loss and improved performance!

To schedule a FREE health and fitness consultation, call 310-582-8212 or email me directly at

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