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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

Obesity and Pain in America continued...

Compared to normal-weight people in the survey, people in the overweight group -- those with BMIs between 25 and 29 -- had about 20% more pain. People with BMIs between 30 and 34 had about 68% more pain. Those with BMIs between 35 and 39 had 136% more pain, and those with BMIs over 40 reported having 254% more pain.

As expected, chronic pain conditions accounted for a good portion of those results.

And researchers recognize that the relationships between chronic health problems and pain and obesity are complex. In some cases, it could be that having arthritis makes a person less likely to move around, which makes them more likely to gain weight. In others, it may be that being overweight puts strain on the joints, which leads to joint problems that cause pain.

When researchers accounted for the influences of other health problems and pain causing conditions, being overweight was no longer associated with being in pain.

But people who were obese still reported more pain than those with normal BMIs. Researchers caution that their findings are just an association. They don’t prove that fat alone causes pain.

But they mirror a handful of other, smaller studies that have also found links between pain and obesity, even when there were no other chronic conditions to explain the findings.

So they say it makes sense that there might be another mechanism connected to having a lot of fatty tissue or to problems with the body's metabolism that might explain the pain.

Can Fat Cause Pain?

The study wasn’t able to explain how fat might cause pain.

But Stone says that fat cells are known to make chemicals that increase inflammation. “And we know that inflammation is very closely linked to pain perception, so there’s the possibility that there’s some connection through that kind of process."

He says those questions will ultimately need to be addressed by other researchers.

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