Losing weight – Benefits of weight loss on back pain

overweight man and kidney pain

Weight Loss and Back Pain

Many Americans suffer from chronic back pain, and many Americans are also overweight or obese. Are these two things always related? No. Are they often related? Absolutely.  Although there are few definitive studies about the link between excess fat and back pain, studies do show that there is a provable correlation between carrying extra pounds and experiencing trouble with back pain (source). The caring, highly skilled doctors and staff at Colorado Brain and Spine Institute can help you identify the cause and proper treatment for your back pain. But besides surgery and medication, what else can you do to set yourself up for health and success in your quest for a pain-free back? If you are carrying excess weight (particularly around your middle) then, losing fat can help take the pressure off of your spine, and help relieve unnecessary chronic pain.

Benefits of Weight Loss for Your Back Pain

  • Less Chance of Difficult-to-Treat Back Pain

Patients who are obese are more likely to experience chronic issues like sciatica, herniated discs, bulging discs, and pinched nerves (source). Extra fat around the middle can also push into the spaces between the joints in the low spine, and cause painful conditions. A healthy amount of fat in the body won’t cause undo stress on the joints. According to guidelines from the American Obesity association, “Those patients with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of greater than 25 are more likely to develop osteoarthritis than those with a lower BMI. The American Obesity Association recommends modest weight loss as a treatment for some types of osteoarthritis.”

  • Aging Without Spinal Stress

As they age, many patients suffer from pain caused by developing arthritis of the spine. Achieving or maintaining a healthy weight will lessen the aggravation on the spinal chord. Many Americans tend to carry extra weight around their middles, especially as they age. And weight around the core puts specific stress and drag on the spinal column. The leg muscles become overworked, and put the extra stress on the spine. “As you lose weight, the legs are more able to carry your weight and spend more time using their muscles–not locking the knees. This allows the pelvis to resume its natural position thereby allowing the spine to also return to a normal curve with less pain” (source).

  • Better Surgical Outcomes

According to the American Obesity Association’s “What is obesity?” AOA Fact Sheet, even when surgical intervention is necessary in order to provide relief, a healthy BMI (between 18.5 and 25) is actually linked with better healing, and better outcomes in conjunction with surgery. In fact, “obese patients are at higher risk for complications and infections after surgery compared to patients who are not obese.” Any surgery, even a routine one, is serious, and there is some evidence that very overweight patients should attempt to address their excess weight before attempting surgery, in order to increase the likelihood of a successful outcome.

  • Exercise Aids in RecoveryClose up of man on treadmil

When your weight loss program includes regular exercise, you are likely to experience greater healing benefits than when using diet alone. Oftentimes, patients who invest their time in moderate exercise experience less pain than those who are sedentary, because of increased blood flow to affected painful areas, increased flow of endorphins, and resulting better self-esteem. Make sure you are cleared by a doctor before starting an exercise program.



Why Helmets are Critical in Many Recreational Pursuits

The wearing of helmets is more important than most people realize in various recreational pursuits. Most people don’t balk at the notion that helmets save lives and preserve quality of life for motorcycle riders yet balk at the idea of helmets when riding bicycles, roller skating, or snowboarding.

Helmets Save Lives

The truth is that in any of these pursuits, where head injuries are possible, helmets save lives. In fact, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission states that there are 11 deaths per year from skiing and snowboarding activities that are the direct result of head injuries that the proper use of helmets may have prevented. Considering that this number represents nearly half of the 24 deaths that occur each year from skiing and snowboarding accidents, it’s fairly significant.

This number doesn’t include deaths from bicycle accidents, skateboarding, roller skating, horseback riding, and other activities. Keep that in mind as you make decisions about helmets for yourself and for your loved ones. When it comes to bicycles, a sobering 75 percent of all bicycle related deaths each year are the result of head injuries, according to the International Bicycle Fund.

Helmets Preserve Quality of Life

Head injuries, traumatic brain injuries in particular, can be devastating. They can rob you of a tremendous amount of quality of life and render you unable to enjoy activities that once brought you a great deal of happiness. It only takes one head injury to change your entire world and how you relate to it.

Going back to the CPSC report, 53 percent of head injuries for children under the age of 15, and 44 percent overall, could be mitigated with the use of helmets. The International Bicycle Fund discusses the impact of one bicyclists experience with traumatic brain injury related to a bicycling accident. His injuries cost the man, identified as Shaun B. an opportunity to compete in the Olympics and join the U.S. Air Force. Despite his extraordinary recovery efforts, he still suffers from effects of the injury that make emotional control, vision, and employment extremely difficult.

Setting a Positive Example

As more and more people wear helmets, the wearing of them becomes more common and less conspicuous. It sets a positive example that others will become more likely to follow. These are some of the activities in which helmets may prove quite beneficial.

  • Bicycling
  • Snow skiing
  • Snow boarding
  • Roller skating/roller blading
  • Skateboarding
  • Horseback riding
  • Ice skating/figure skating
  • Ice hockey
  • Baseball
  • Softball
  • Football
  • Rock climbing
  • Canoeing
  • White Water Rafting

The list could go on forever. For those of us with clumsy children, it might be tempting to put a helmet on them before walking down the stairs. The key is to always use helmets for activities in which head injuries are likely to occur.

The more people wear helmets for these, and other activities, the better the results will be. Not only will the helmets help to prevent traumatic brain injuries and death, in extreme cases, it will help children experience fewer head injuries over a lifetime. The added, or bonus, benefit is that more people will begin to follow the example and wear their helmets too. Lives, and quality of lives, will be saved as a result of every person’s efforts to wear helmets.

Things to consider when choosing death with dignity

When faced with a terminal illness, many patients prefer the autonomy of being able to choose how they complete their life’s journey. Many do not want to burden their family with their suffering, others simply want others to remember them when they are at their best. While many states are making end-of-life procedures legal, there are still many factors to consider, from managing financial affairs to dealing with family who don’t understand what you are doing.

Pick an advocate

Once you’ve come to a decision about how to proceed, you’re going to want to decide who is going to be your guide and partner on this journey. You’ll want someone clearheaded about your plans, capable of handling your affairs and compassionate enough to provide support. Your first instinct may be to choose a family member, but it doesn’t have to be so.

Make sure the person you choose wants the responsibility, and talk it over with your family.

Make your decisions iron-clad

You’ll need to complete and notarize several legal documents. It’s likely the last thing you want to think about doing; however, it’s necessary. This is why you’ve picked someone to help you. You may already be thinking about writing a will, yet there are other important documents that can impact your health care and your family after you’ve gone.

  • Durable Power of Attorney – There are two common forms of this document that allows others to make legally binding decisions on your behalf. One document gives another power to make health care decisions when you are unable, and another turns over power to make financial decisions for you and family members.
  • Do-not-resuscitate order – will let medical professionals know performing CPR on you is unwanted.
  • Living trust – gives another person instruction on how to manage your estate.
  • These documents are accepted in any jurisdiction. Your home state may have other documents relevant to death with dignity issues.

Know the laws in your state

Several states have passed “death with dignity” laws that set out specific requirements and procedures for terminally ill patients. If you are in a state with such a law on the books, following the procedures dictated will make things easier for yourself and your attending physician.

Talk it through

It may be beneficial to bring in a therapist to discuss the matter before making a final decision on how to proceed. A therapist may aid you in separating feelings of depression regarding your condition from a more positive decision to die with dignity.

Reach out to family

This will be beneficial to you as well as those who may be extremely concerned about the action you are undertaking. Consult with the person you’ve chosen to take point on your affairs and plan out some activities you are able to participate in with a family. You can scrapbook, have a low-key outing or even a party. Take the opportunity to fully explain your plans and your thoughts and perhaps confront those who have doubts.

Leave the hospital

Consider going home or moving into a hospice. The hospital is a place to cure illnesses, and nearly everyone there is working towards that end. Your fellow patients are focused on fighting whatever ails them. In a hospice, you’ll be surrounded with people sympathetic towards your goal, and at home you will be surrounded by loved ones.

Be comfortable until it’s over

A malignant illness is likely to create symptoms that range from annoying to extremely discomforting. You should consider palliative care to help ameliorate the symptoms without any attempt to treat the illness if you are choosing death with dignity. Palliative care specialists can also help with the stress of dealing with your condition.

Look at your decision to die with dignity as another health care decision. You want to be fully informed and give careful consideration before proceeding.


Getting in Shape for Ski Season

Winter is coming, which means that it’ll soon be time to dust off your skis and snowboards and hit the snowy slopes. But the last thing that you want to have happen on your big annual ski trip is to feel like a rubber band after a day out on the slopes, so much so that you’re not sure if you’ve got it in you to get up again the next day and ski again. But then again, that’s just what might happen if you’re out of shape and pushing it on the slopes, as skiing even takes its toll on the muscles of even conditioned athletes. Even worse, failure to properly prepare your body for the rigors of the mountain could open yourself up to injury, sidelining you indefinitely for the ski season.

With that being said, it’s best to start preparing now for a fun and successful ski season. And the best preparation isn’t done from your couch – it’s done at the gym. Here’s a look at some exercises you should be doing now to condition your muscles for the slopes:

Getting in Shape for Ski Season: Exercises

Conditioning for the ski season doesn’t just help you get ski better and avoid muscle fatigue, but it can also help prevent injuries while you’re out on the slopes. Here’s a look at some easy and effective exercises to start doing now:

  • Eccentric leg press: Skiing is pretty much all eccentric, so it makes sense to work your lower body out with this in mind. For instance, get on a leg press machine and load it anywhere from 50 to 70 percent of what you can lift with both legs. Use one leg to lower the plate down, then push back up with both feet. Go slowly to better resist the weight coming down, but be sure to keep movement smooth.
  • Pump squats: Your back, glutes and quads are essential for skiing – and that’s why pump squats are a great exercise, as they work out muscles in these three important areas. Start by doing pump squats (i.e. pushing down about an inch so that the muscles are always contracting) and then work a medicine ball into your squats over time. If you want to really push it, you can even do squat jumps.
  • Aerobics: Injuries are more likely to occur when your muscles and your body are tired. That’s why it’s important that you’re conditioning your body from an endurance perspective in addition to toning your muscles for the looming ski season. Running, interval training and jumping rope and doing more exercises to elevate the heart rate can help increase stamina.
  • Deadlifts: Some of the most common injuries that skiers encounter are hamstring injuries and injuries to the knees. That’s where deadlifts come in handy, as they help work out the hamstring muscles and also help prevent ACL and MCL injuries. We’d recommend starting with an 80-pound dumbbell and gradually increasing the weight you lift as you get further into the training regimen for the best end result.


Ski season is nearly upon us, so if you haven’t started working out in preparation for the big trip you’ve got planned after the New Year, there’s no time like the present to begin. Getting in shape conditions your muscles and body for the slopes so that you can have fun spending more time skiing and snowboarding and less time recovering in the lodge.

Consider These Conservative Treatments Before Spine Surgery

Not everyone who suffers from back pain needs surgery to find relief. In fact, there are many different types of conservative, less invasive treatments that your doctor will most likely recommend before suggesting surgery. Surgery is a serious procedure that often carries risks and requires a great deal of recovery time. Conservative therapies such as medications or injections can often remedy the issue before surgery becomes a necessity.


Below we discuss a few conservative treatment options you should consider before spine surgery:


Epidural Steroid Injections

When nerves in the spine become inflamed or irritated, they can cause a person to feel acute, severe, or chronic back pain. This condition can also result in pain, numbness, and weak muscles in other areas of the body such as the legs or hips. Epidural steroid injections are delivered directly to the epidural space, or the area that covers the spinal nerves and roots. Typically, this conservative method does not cure the condition, but it is used to treat the symptoms while the doctor addresses the problem that has caused the pain through other non-surgical methods such as exercise or physical therapy.


Pharmacological Therapy

Medications are another conservative treatment option that you may consider before opting for spine surgery. Though these medications will not solve the issue that is causing pain, they can help patients reduce irritation and manage pain symptoms. There are various medications that a doctor might suggest to regulate and aid in the treatment of chronic back pain. These include:

  • Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS) – NSAIDS and acetameophen can be very effective in treating acute muscle and bone pain. These medications can also be obtained over the counter.
  • Antidepressants – Using smaller doses than what is needed to treat depression, these medications can be effective in treating pain.
  • Anticonvulsants and Neuropathic Drugs – These medications help treat those who experience a burning or shooting nerve pain.
  • Muscle Relaxants – This medication helps treat muscle spasms.
  • Opiods – Though less effective in treating nerve pain, opiods can help in the treatment of chronic pain when used effectively.



Prolotherapy, also known as regenerative injection therapy, is another conservative treatment option for those experiencing back pain. This procedure works by stimulating the body’s natural healing process. The procedure involves an injection of dextrose solution into an injured tendon or ligament. This causes irritation, which stimulates the body’s natural repair mechanisms in order to strengthen these weakened areas and reduce pain. This results in the repair and growth of ligament and tendon fibers, which help strengthen tendons to restore function. This simple procedure can be performed in the office and aids in the treatment of pain in the neck, back, knee, shoulder, elbow, and hip.


It is always best to consider non-surgical treatments before undergoing spine surgery. Overall, the best type of conservative, non-invasive treatment options for you will depend on the type and severity of your condition and level of pain that you are experiencing. Consult with a doctor about all of your non-surgical treatment options before you consider spine therapy to relieve your back pain.


How Much Does Running Help (or Hurt) Your Back Health?  

Good health is the image of someone running—at least, that’s what most commercials, articles, and stock photos websites would have you believe. And that’s not totally untrue; running boosts lung capacity, bolsters the immune system, relieves stress, burns calories, strengthens joints, and more!

Running, however, is not entirely without its drawbacks. When practiced too often or without care, it can inflict damage on your back.

How Running Affects the Back

Running is a repetitive activity; by virtue of this, it repeatedly strengthens and weakens areas progressively more over a time.

Often, running involves high amounts of stress and impact over a long period of time—both in individual run sessions and over the course of weeks or months of these sessions. These sessions can directly affect back comfort and pain in two ways: exacerbating pre-existing back conditions and temporary spine shrinkage.

Back pain has many possible causes; these can include:

  • Muscle strain
  • Spinal disc damage
  • Weight gain
  • Joint and ligament damage

Due to its high-impact nature, running would only serve to exacerbate these concerns. Repeated, consistent pressure over a long period of time would cause further strain and damage to any part of your back; though running may promote general wellness, it can’t fix targeted pain or issues outright.

This is partially facilitated by spine shrinkage that comes with running at a fast pace over long distances. According to various studies (especially one by Sunderland Polytechnic in Great Britain), the spine shrinks to a small degree while running. In the Sunderland Polytechnic study, researchers found that, on average, heights of marathon runners shrunk (temporarily) by half of an inch after 30 minutes of running at the marathon pace.

Subsequent studies have found, overall, that this should not cause much concern for runners in the long-term; the body is generally well-prepared for running over long distances. With that said, it is a bodily occurrence that can worsen pre-existing conditions.

Exercises that Strengthen the Back

Fortunately, there are a great many accessible exercises that do strengthen one’s back; when paired off with running in a general sense, they can make for a holistic, body-positive regimen.

Yoga and Pilates

Though they’re two totally separate activities (the former is an Indian-based philosophy and physical exercise fusion, the latter is explicitly a physical fitness regimen), both yoga and Pilates emphasize meditation, core strength, and balance. Individual exercises within each activity help promote bone growth and muscle strength—especially in the center of the body. By focusing on the core, both yoga and Pilates build the back into something sturdy, strong, and durable.

Lunges and Planks

When people imagine a fun time at the gym, they don’t often picture lunges and planks. Both are difficult exercises that require patience, fortitude, mental strength, and discipline—especially planks.

Fortunately, that work pays off. They’re short and snappy (if strenuous) exercises that will rapidly build core strength and help prevent any casual back injuries. By pairing these up regularly with a running regimen, you can expect to have a more balanced and holistic body improvement routine.

The Many Important Health Benefits of Yoga and Pilates

Most people have a general idea of what yoga and pilates are; they involve stretching, calculated breathing, and are supposed to be beneficial in some vague way. To those who don’t actually practice either activity, knowledge is limited beyond those fairly basic ideas.

In truth, both yoga and pilates are complex activities that offer a variety of very specific health benefits. Keep reading to learn more.

What are Yoga and Pilates?

Though they are frequently mentioned together, both of these activities are distinct from one another.

Yoga is a spiritual, mental, and physical discipline that originated in India. It comes in a variety of schools and has a storied history around the globe. The aspect of yoga most familiar to people in the West is the physical exercise, which is both low-impact and therapeutic.

Pilates is a specifically physical fitness regime designed by a 20th German man by the name of Joseph Pilates. Pilates is somewhat similar to yoga exercise, but it places a greater emphasis on the body’s core and is more similar to a general workout.

Benefits of Yoga and Pilates

As a philosophy and as a therapeutic exercise, yoga often advances mental health just as much as it does physical health. Immediately after practicing yoga, a person will likely experience increased flexibility, improved brain function, and lowered stress levels. It’s a popular morning activity because it helps people start their days off on the right foot.

After months and even years of practicing yoga, participants will experience lower blood pressure and blood sugar, improved balance, anxiety relief, bolstered lung capacity, reduced muscle pain, stronger bones, and a lowered risk for heart disease.

Pilates shares many benefits with yoga practice, but features a heavier emphasis on strength building. While general muscle training often targets specific muscles, pilates helps to make the entire body strong. Pilates exercises often work out entire muscle systems including connective tissue between muscles. It also promotes better posture and burns calories. Like yoga, it reduces tension in stress-bearing muscles.

How Yoga and Pilates Reduce Back Pain

Both activities come highly recommended for reducing back pain—whether its chronic or sporadic.

In general, back pain stems weakened lower back muscles; this could be onset by stress, weight gain, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, strenuous work, and mental illness. There’s no cureall for back pain, but yoga and pilates do help strengthen the areas it affects.

Yoga and pilates both emphasize holding specific positions over designated periods of time. By repeatedly practicing those positions, you strengthen the muscles and bones in the designated areas. Even in the face of stress, a fortified body can manage a lot of good.

Additionally, these exercises promote posture, balance, body alignment, and a generally heightened awareness of body. They’ll condition you to carry yourself better and limit how often you move in potentially pernicious ways.

Lastly, the stress reduction inherent to both exercises will reduce your overall risk. Stress is among the most prevalent causes for back pain; simply taking the time to meditate on a regular basis will keep that risk very much at bay.

For more information on reducing back pain through yoga and pilates, consider reaching out to the Colorado Brain and Spine Institute.


Swimming benefits overall health, back and sense of well-being

People of all ages and at all levels of ability enjoy swimming, which offers a variety of health benefits. It’s a fun activity and is the second-most popular sport in the United States.

Most children love swimming, but adults who take part in the sport end up healthier and happier than those who remain sedentary. In addition to general mental and physical benefits, swimming also can help ease back pain.

Psychological benefits

People feel better mentally after swimming, which triggers a positive response to spending time in water. Swimming with other people also creates a sense of community and provides the opportunity to form new relationships. In addition, spending time with loved one at a pool or beach can create new shared memories that increase intimacy and social interaction, leading to improved mental health.

Positive feelings during and after swimming may be due to the release of endorphins, chemicals in the body that cause feelings of happiness. Swimming also can cause people to feel a deep sense of relaxation in the same way that yoga does, largely due to the relaxing and stretching of muscles combined with deep breathing.

Participating in competitive swimming also can foster a sense of well-being and improve mental health, research shows.

Overall physical benefits

Swimming, an aerobic exercise, strengthens the heart and leads to more efficient pumping and improved blood flow throughout the body. In addition, aerobic exercise can decrease inflammation, which can contribute to heart disease.

Asthma also can improve with regular swimming, experts say; working out in the moist air associated with a pool can assist in reducing symptoms of exercise-induced asthma. Studies also have shown that swimming can help improve asthma overall.

Of course, swimming burns calories and can assist with weight reduction. For each mile swum, about three calories per pound of body weight are burned. Swimming also works nearly the entire body with very little strain on joints, and the buoyancy it provides can improve the pain of arthritic joints.

Better strength, muscle tone and flexibility

Compared to a number of other forms of aerobic exercise, swimming works exceptionally well for improving strength and muscle tone. Swimming also can help improve bone strength.

While weight machines at a gym typically isolate one muscle group at a time, swimming works the body’s entire range of motion, helping ligaments and joints stay flexible and loose. With each swimming stroke, the body lengthens, becoming more efficient in the water and providing a head-to-toe stretch.

Swimming provides a workout for all the muscles in the body and helps improve overall strength and endurance. Swimming is not a weight-bearing exercise and so does not help improve bone density, however.

Swimming to improve back pain

Swimming also can provide a number of benefits for individuals suffering from back pain. Swimming also helps many injured athletes stay active since it does not cause excess strain to the back.

Water therapy, including swimming, also works well for strengthening the neck and back. Water’s natural viscosity adds resistance to activities performed in the pool, making it easier to build muscle than with other forms of exercise.

Proper swimming form is vital, especially for individuals who already have suffered a back injury. Swimming is much less jarring to the joints and spine than high-impact activities, but it is still possible to cause injury through overdoing it or using improper swimming technique.

Swimming for a healthy back, body and mind

For overall health and fitness, swimming offers a number of benefits. It also can serve as an ideal form of exercise for individuals with back pain. For more information about swimming and other methods of relief for back pain, please contact Colorado Brain and Spine Institute.


Benefits of minimally invasive spine surgery

Spinal surgery has changed significantly over the past decade, providing a number of benefits to patients. Minimally invasive spine surgery has decreased the need for cutting of muscles, large incisions and lengthy recovery periods. Instead, surgeons use advanced imaging technology and instruments to access the spine through tiny incisions of less than an inch.

Surgeons who practice minimally invasive procedures focus on minimizing bleeding and tissue trauma, controlling infection risk and allowing the body to use its own healing processes to full advantage. The University of Chicago Medicine and Biological Sciences notes that minimally invasive spine surgery provides numerous benefits to patients.

Less-noticeable scars

In minimally invasive surgeries, surgeons make smaller incisions, resulting in scars that are smaller and less noticeable. Scars that do appear as a result of the surgery tend to have a smoother edge than scarring from other types of surgery.

No cuts through muscle

Historically, surgeries have required long incisions to allow surgeons ample room to work. In traditional surgeries, incisions typically go through muscle, which needs a long healing time after a procedure. However, minimally invasive spine surgery does not require long incisions. As a result, the surgery often does not require cutting muscle, which results in less damage to muscle and a faster recovery period.

Less stress to the body

With minimally invasive spine surgery, patients generally lose much less blood, and stress on the body is reduced. The risk of infection and nerve damage also decrease.

Reduction in pain

Patients who undergo minimally invasive spine surgery experience less pain than patients treated with traditional surgeries. As a result, patients of the minimally invasive procedures need smaller doses of pain relievers.

Less time in the hospital

Patients undergoing minimally invasive spine surgery need less time in the hospital, and they return to their normal lives sooner. With traditional spine surgeries, patients typically need to stay in the hospital for four or five days after surgery. With minimally invasive spine surgery, patients often can go home the same day.

In many cases, patients can resume their normal activities and go back to their jobs much more quickly than would be the case with traditional surgeries.

Better surgeon visualization

Minimally invasive spine surgeries incorporate video-assisted equipment, which provides surgeons with better magnification and view of internal structure and organs. Patients benefit because procedures typically have a higher degree of accuracy than do traditional surgeries.

How does minimally invasive spine surgery work?

Minimally invasive spine surgery involves the use of cameras placed inside a tube that is inserted via a tiny incision. In addition to visualizing the procedure using the camera, a surgeon may also view a patient’s spine as a 3D computer model.

Clamps, screws and rods that must be implanted to stabilize or realign the spine also may be inserted through the small incisions. In addition, damaged discs are removed through small incisions.

Minimally invasive spine surgery can be used to treat disorders including:

  • Fractures.
  • Degenerative spinal disease.
  • Disc herniation.
  • Instability of the spine.
  • Tumors.
  • Spinal column injuries.

Is a minimally invasive approach right for you?

In some cases, standard surgical techniques may be the best approach. But for many spinal problems, minimally invasive spine surgery is an option that benefits patients in many ways, including reduced hospital stays, less pain, quicker recovery times, less noticeable scarring and better surgeon accuracy. For more information about minimally invasive spine surgery, please contact Colorado Brain and Spine Institute.