5 February 2018

Unexpected pain relief from obesity management

Obesity Pain

Weight loss in people with obesity does more than just reduce joint pain, it’s can also dull dispersed pain, a study finds.

Many people with obesity experience pain around weight-bearing joints and the lower back due to increased mechanical load. But obesity-associated pain is not always limited to the knees, hips or lower back; it can be more evenly distributed around the body.

An observational study of 123 people showed that shedding kilos lowered pain levels in unexpected locations, including the abdomen, chest and jaw.

Even a 10% weight loss over a three-month period substantially reduced the spatial distribution of pain in patients with an initial BMI of 28 or more. “We know when people lose a lot of weight they tend to feel better,” Andrew Schrepf, the lead author and a researcher at The University of Michigan. “But astonishingly, no-one ever looked at where in the body the pain gets better.”

Patients were given a calorie-restricted diet in the form of total liquid meal replacement and encouraged to increase their physical activity to more than 40 minutes per day. The vast majority of participants lost at least 10% of their body weight, with the average loss being 16%.

The weight-loss regimen was also associated with reductions in comorbid symptoms commonly seen in patients with obesity, including fatigue, sleep difficulties and depression. The treatment seemed to ease pain in the lower back and lower legs, which had been observed in previous studies.

Those patients who lost more than 10% of their body weight showed greater improvement in pain and somatic symptoms. Men tended to do better than women.

“These results appear to be the serendipitous result of weight loss because the participants were not seeking treatment for pain [or] somatic symptoms,” the researchers said.

“It is … plausible that similar interventions could positively affect pain and somatic symptoms in clinical populations.”

The Journal of Pain, online January