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Pain Management Health Center

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Does Obesity Cause Pain?

Study: Obese People Are in Pain More Often, Even if They Are Healthy
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Jan. 30, 2012 -- A large new study shows that obesity and pain often go hand in hand. That appears to be true even if an obese person is otherwise healthy.

Researchers say that begs some questions: Can extra pounds cause pain? If so, how does fat make us hurt?

A slew of chronic conditions that cause pain are also more common in people who are overweight and obese. Those conditions include arthritis, depression, fibromyalgia, type 2 diabetes, and back pain.

So the assumption has been that being obese makes a person more likely to have multiple medical problems, and many of these conditions may cause pain.

The new survey, however, which included responses from more than 1 million Americans, found that the relationship between obesity and pain persisted even after researchers tried to account for the influences of other pain-causing health problems.

“Being sick can cause pain, but that doesn’t necessarily take care of the relationship between obesity and pain,” says researcher Arthur A. Stone, PhD, distinguished professor and vice chairman of the department of psychiatry at the Stony Brook University Medical Center in Stony Brook, N.Y.

The study is published in the journal Obesity.

Obesity and Pain in America

For the study, researchers relied on data collected by telephone surveys conducted by the Gallup organization from 2008 to 2010.

The majority of survey participants were white (85.1%) and had at least a high school education (94.2%).

Every survey participant was asked to report their height and weight. Based on that information, 36.8% of people in the study fell into the low or normal body mass index (BMI) category, 38.3% were considered overweight, and 24.9% were considered obese.

People were asked if they had experienced physical pain the previous day. They were also asked if they had neck, back, leg, or knee conditions that had caused pain during the last 12 months, or if they’d experienced any other condition that caused recurring pain.

They were also asked about the presence of a variety of other medical conditions, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, diabetes, heart attack, and depression. Researchers found that as weight increased, so did the likelihood that a person would be experiencing pain.

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