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ASK THE EXPERT: Is Back Pain and Genetics Related? Shedding Excess Weight Can Minimize Pain

Question [Mary L.]: Everyone in my family seems to have problems with their neck and back.  Both of my parents have had spine surgery and I am worried that this may happen to me.  I have two young children and never lost the weight after my pregnancies.  Will losing weight make it less likely that I will need back surgery?

Answer [Dr. Christopher Good]: It is absolutely true that degenerative disc disease and spine trouble are based on genetics, meaning that they tend to run in the family. Genetics may increase your chances of having spine troubles, however, there are actions that you can take to prevent or decrease these odds.

First and foremost, we know that smoking causes severe rapid degeneration of the discs in the back and for people who have spine problems in their family, avoiding smoking and all nicotine products can greatly reduce the chances that you will need future surgery.

In addition to putting extra strain on your neck and back, extra weight increases stress on other organs and can lead to medical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. Losing weight can help to protect your spine, and at the same time benefit your overall health and well-being.

Shedding those extra pounds can decrease the amount of stress that is put on a herniated or degenerative disc and may protect it for years to come. Imagine a car that is packed full of people.  When all of the people are in the car, the additional weight causes the tires to flatten and the bottom of the car is closer to the ground.  When everyone gets out of the car, the bulging of the tires goes back to normal again. This is one way to visualize the improvement of bulging degenerative discs in people who are able to lose weight.

Weight loss is based on a nutritious, healthy diet as well as healthy lifestyle and exercise routine.  For people with spinal troubles, it is important to focus on low impact aerobic fitness and core strengthening in order to prevent an injury while you are getting in shape.

Talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise program.

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