I went to the doctor for back pain and came away with a new diagnosis: metabolic syndrome. She said any time someone my age (66-years-old) who is overweight (which I am) develops back pain, she checks for metabolic syndrome. What is this new problem I've developed and what can I do about it?
Metabolic syndrome is a combination of medical disorders that, when occurring together, increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Different groups (e.g., American Heart Association, International Diabetes Federation, National Cholesterol Education Program) have varied criteria to define metabolic syndrome. Most at least include these three: 1) raised blood pressure, 2) central obesity (increased waist circumference), and 3) abnormal cholesterol levels.
Studies show there may be a link between metabolic syndrome and low back pain. Any condition (e.g., being overweight or obese) that can reduce or restrict physical activity has the potential to contribute to metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and low back pain. In this study from Japan, researchers investigate the relationship and prevalence between metabolic syndrome and low back pain.
There isn't clear evidence yet to say for sure that low back pain is a factor that leads to the development of metabolic syndrome. Nor has the opposite been proved: that metabolic syndrome leads to low back pain.
But we do know now that any one who has low back pain should be evaluated for the presence of metabolic syndrome. This is especially true for women who have metabolic syndrome as they seem to have a greater chance for developing low back pain. Treatment to address the metabolic problems may contribute to protecting and restoring normal musculoskeletal function.
Lifestyle changes are key to treating metabolic syndrome (and back pain for that matter). Increasing physical activity, eating healthy, and weight loss are key components of any treatment plan to address being overweight, experiencing low back pain, and developing metabolic syndrome.
You don't have to do all this alone. Ask your physician for help (e.g., referral to a nutritionist, physical therapist, behavioral counselor). It may take some time but changes in lifestyle and choices can yield some long lasting improvements in health and prevent future problems from developing.