Top Ways to Reduce Body Weight and Back Pain

August 14, 2015

Episodes of musculoskeletal pain, and specifically, back pain, are prevalent among the nearly one-third of Americans classified as obese according to the American Obesity Association.  What are some practical tips and guidelines for overweight people to use exercise, diet and weight loss to reduce their back pain?

Why does excess body weight result in physical pain for some people?  “If you are carrying an extra fifty to hundreds pounds of weight, imagine that weight in two suitcases that you have to carry around every day,” says Carolyn Dean, MD ND, Medical Advisory Board Member, Nutritional Magnesium Association. “The pounds of pressure every minute of every day on your spine, hips, knees and ankles add up to chronic stress, deterioration of the bones and poor alignment.”

Go High Protein with Lower Calories

Reducing daily calories and increasing exercise are recommended.  “A diet high in protein and vegetables with low simple carbohydrates and no gluten” is recommended by Dr. Dean to jump-start the weight loss process.

Avoid Processed Foods

Don’t let mild to moderate pain get in the way of keeping up an active lifestyle.  – “My top tip for safe weight management, which leads to pain relief, is to eat whole foods, not processed foods,” says Barbara Searles, a holistic pain relief coach and author of “Kick Pain in the Kitchen: Holistic Pain Relief You Can Eat,” who turned to nutrition and the lowest dose possible of medication (no NSAIDs, prednisone or biologics) and Salonpas, an OTC topical analgesic line of products, to overcome body pains.

Barbara Searles, a holistic pain relief coach and author of “Kick Pain in the Kitchen: Holistic Pain Relief You Can Eat."

Barbara Searles, a holistic pain relief coach and author of “Kick Pain in the Kitchen: Holistic Pain Relief You Can Eat.”

“I eat primarily whole, non-processed, home cooked foods. I initially minimized wheat and am now completely gluten free,” says Searles. “Many of the ingredients in processed foods such as gluten and MSG are known to contribute to pain and inflammation. Switching foods that are sold in boxes and bags for foods cooked from the whole ingredient will give someone a big boost in weight loss.  I recommend that my clients focus on vegetables and lean proteins instead of pizza and burgers.”

Courtney Wyckoff , founder of

Courtney Wyckoff, founder of Momma Strong

“I do not support typical diets because they rarely are sustainable,” says Courtney Wyckoff,  a mother of two and a  Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist who created an online fitness and health program for women that focus on mental and physical strength and resiliency called Momma Strong.  “I believe, though, that it is essential for anyone trying to change their eating habits to first undergo a 3-day sugar detox in order to diffuse the typical cravings associated with weight loss and because sugar is usually the number one cause of obesity and its reduction is absolutely essential to healthy, sustainable weight loss.  I’ve helped clients lose 150 pounds in 9 months simply through escorting sugar out of their diet.”

Exercise Away the Weight and Pain

Regular exercise is an important part of the equation for both weight loss and reduced back pain.  People suffering from pain while exercising should work with a physical therapist, recommended by their physician, to ensure they are working out without injuring themselves.

“Start by walking,” advises Dr. Dean.  “If you are in too much pain to walk, find a pool and start swimming.  If you can’t do that, get a mini trampoline with a bar that you can hold onto and start bouncing.”

“Hands down, high intensity interval training is the most effective way to reduce body fat,” says  Wyckoff.   “There have been significant studies that show that even just a 7-minute high intensity interval workout is vastly more effective at targeting excess body fat than any other form of exercise.  The fundamental reason behind this is that a high intensity interval workout involves a relatively short, but intense burst (usually 1 minute) of exercise followed by a tiny rest (usually 10 seconds), which forces the body to use a considerable amount more energy (calories) than just a typical cardio workout.  Coming to a rest and then going back up to full speed means that your entire system has to amp back up from rest to full expenditure very quickly.  Think about it like the useage of gas in your car.  The reason your car can go a lot further on freeways is that it is not having to start and stop constantly like when you are doing city driving.  It’s that initial pump on the gas that requires the most energy and most fuel.”

David Crooch is a biomechanics specialist and  owner and founder of Osteobroth

David Crooch is a biomechanics specialist and owner and founder of Osteobroth

“Increasing skeletal muscle can increase the number of calories burned in any activity,” says Biomechanics specialist and Chicago-based entrepreneur, David Crooch, the owner and founder of Osteobroth, a chicken bone broth that contains amino acids to improve joint health and aid in osteoarthritis relief.  “The goal for exercise becomes to gain muscle therefore gaining the ability to burn more calories and lose more fat.  Exercising the larger muscle groups can lead to greater calorie consumption.   Body weight squats, for example, target the glutes and quads, two of the largest muscle groups in the human body.   The bigger the muscle the more calories burned when you make it work.”

Go Planking

‘Low-back pain is a potentially debilitating issue,” says Pete McCall, MS, CSCS, an ACE Certified Personal Trainer.  “One major downside of having low-back pain is how difficult it is to exercise and achieve your fitness goals.  There is one exercise that can reduce low-back pain while simultaneously flattening your stomach—the plank.”

“Because the plank exercise requires minimal movement while contracting all layers of the abdominal fascia, it is an excellent way to strengthen the core, which, in turn, helps reduce low-back pain,” says McCall. “As the deep abdominal muscles become stronger, your mid-section tightens. When done properly, the plank not only uses the deep abdominal muscles, it also recruits the hip, shoulder and upper-back muscles.”

Weight Bearing Exercises

“Weight bearing exercise is absolutely essential for weight loss,” says Wyckoff.  “Our bodies are animals primed and wanting of survival, plain and simple.  We depend on the integration and communication that happens via the nervous system for all survival functions.  Your nervous system lives in your spine and your spine is only as effective as it’s consistent use and mobilization.  If you are not bearing weight during exercise, than you are not inciting the nervous system to respond to the cue that you need to function in a strong upright position, with an integrated core.  The motto, ‘use it or lose it’ is entirely true here.

Now, for extremely overweight people or morbidly obese people, weight bearing exercise may not be feasible.  In this case, some level of transition through dynamic breathing and supine (lying down) calisthenics is adequate and appropriate, all with the end focus being getting to a weight bearing standing position quickly.”

Pay Attention to Mind-Body Connection

“Low-back pain—or any kind of physical pain, for that matter—can either be exacerbated or alleviated by our mental and emotional responses to it,” says 51WJmwAAA9L__SX409_BO1,204,203,200_Nicholas A. DiNubile, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon and author of “FrameWork for the Lower Back: A 6-Step Plan for A Healthy Lower  Back.” Dr. NiNubile recommends a number of mind-body treatments including relaxation breathing, identifying one’s stress buttons so that we can train ourselves not to react to them, open our relief valves by exercising, writing, or even juggling if that works for you.

Dr. Nubile also is a believer in positivity.It might not be in your nature to be optimistic, but its proven benefits are so huge that it pays to learn to suspend your disbelief or cynicism,” says Dr. Nubile.  “Guided imagery (used for centuries by yogis to control heart rate and body temperature) is a form of positive thinking. Studies have shown that an aquarium in a room can lower blood pressure and that conjuring a tranquil place or activity in your mind can have the same effect. Stay with the image, make it real and don’t be surprised if your tension eases.”

After the person has lost weight, how can they keep it off?  “Don’t stop doing what got you there,” says McCall.  “Health and fitness are a lifestyle not a fad.  It’s great to have the goal of losing a certain amount of weight, but a better goal is to lose that weight and keep it off.   If you quit smoking, quit, and never smoke again.  If you want and need to lose weight, lose weight, and never gain it back.   Motivation is great but it’s fleeting, commitment is the true goal.”

Carolyn Dean, MD ND, Medical Advisory Board Member, Nutritional Magnesium Association.

Carolyn Dean, MD ND, Medical Advisory Board Member, Nutritional Magnesium Association.

Dr. Dean concurs that people should “continue moving the body with exercise and carry on with their diet.”  Dr. Dean also advises that people should  review their medication as it can be a trigger for weight gain. “If you are obese, you are often depressed and anxious and if you are treated with drugs, those drugs can have the side effect of weight gain,” says Dr. Dean.  “I recommend magnesium citrate powder in water, sipped throughout the day for energy, to increase metabolism, to help sleep at night and for a dozen more reasons.”

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