Can a Big Belly Cause a Pinched Nerve?

Due to extra weight in the waist area

illustration of a big belly
illustration of a big belly (unsplash.com/Towfiqu barbhuiya)

A bulging belly is not only associated with aesthetic issues, but also health concerns. One of the looming risks is a pinched nerve or herniated nucleus pulposus (HNP).

HNP is a condition in which the vertebrae pads shift and press on the spinal nerves. This disease can cause symptoms of back pain in the waist, upper back, or neck.

Additional load

back pain
illustration of back pain (vecteezy.com/kwanchai chai-udom)

A beer belly is usually based on the size of the waist circumference. In men the size is more than 90 cm, while women are more than 80 cm. This condition is also called central obesity, which is excess weight centered in the waist area.

This condition causes additional load on the vertebrae of the lumbar segment and pressure on the intervertebral discs, making it prone to nerve impingement in the lumbar region (Scientific Journal, 2021).

Carrying extra weight on the body can cause pressure on the intervertebral discs, it can also affect posture and the way those who are obese position the spine, according to Verywell Health.

Changes in the position of the pelvis and lower spine can lead to the loss of the jelly-like outer fibers called nuclei, at the back of the intervertebral discs.

These outer fibers contain soft material that is responsible for cushioning and shock absorption of the spine. Over time, wear and tear on the fibers can cause problems.

Microscopic radial tears can lead to rupture of the material, allowing the soft material on the inside to escape and land on the nerve roots.

Therefore, surgeons should incorporate weight loss counseling into preoperative discussions with patients (PubMed, 2010).

How to prevent nerve pincers

illustration of posture lifting heavy objects
illustration of posture lifting heavy objects (pexels.com/Ketut Subiyanto)

To help prevent nerve pincers, keep these tips in mind as reported by the Mayo Clinic:
  • Exercise: Strengthening the muscles of the torso will stabilize and support the spine
  • Maintain good posture: This will reduce pressure on the spine and discs. Keep your back straight and aligned, especially when sitting for long periods of time. Also, lift heavy objects correctly. Make sure your legs-not your back-do most of the work.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight will put more pressure on the spine and discs, making them more susceptible to pinched nerves.
  • Quit smoking: Avoid the use of tobacco products of any kind.

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