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Obesity and Painful Disability Connected in New Study

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Researchers Spotlight Need for Better Pain Management

A new study shows that chronic pain is a major underlying mechanism driving disability in elderly people who are grossly overweight. The finding helps explain why obesity puts people at risk for a variety of health issues. Adding a lot of extra pounds is like throwing gasoline on a fire, accelerating pain symptoms throughout the body.

The researchers point out that chronic pain is often an unrecognized connector or “mediator” behind a wide range of issues in the elderly from basic mobility to chronic conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease.

“If pain is a significant mediator of obesity-related disability and poorer physical function in older adults, then pain management might be an effective target to mitigate this problem, “ write the researchers.

The study appeared in the December 2013 Journal of the American Geriatric Society and focused on the health status of 736 elderly adults in Boston, Massachusetts. Their ability to perform a variety of everyday tasks was measured and compared according to their weight.

It’s well known that obesity puts a painful burden on the body. However, this study suggests that pain and too many pounds is a formula for disability. Since this is a complex problem, the researchers rightly suggest a comprehensive approach.

Specifically, the research found that older women considered obese had more difficulty carrying out basic activities like taking a bath, getting dressed and walking compared to those who weren’t grossly overweight.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control a person 5 feet nine inches tall weighing 203 pounds or more is considered obese. Overall, thirty-seven percent of US men and 34 percent of US women fall into that category.

The more pain locations in the body—the greater the overall disability. In other words, it’s not just gross weight that’s the problem, but how widespread the pain.

While this study shows that chronic pain amplifies the damage from obesity, it also raises the intriguing question of how destructive the pain factor is to overall health.

The researchers cite a previous study noting that pain and other serious medical conditions could worsen the impact of obesity. The new research shows that the pain factor dials up obesity’s damage as much as 44 percent of total disability.

The good news is that pain is treatable in many ways. Some patients may choose the latest medical technology to deal with their problem; others may prefer safe and effective natural treatments as an alternate approach, and still others may combine the old and the new. Whatever the treatment choice, there is an excellent chance the patient will have a good result.

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