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How Obesity Can Affect Musculoskeletal Health

Medically reviewed by Elfred Landas, MD · General Practitioner · Maxicare Primary Care Center

Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated Jul 05, 2021

How Obesity Can Affect Musculoskeletal Health

Obesity is a disease that affects millions of people worldwide. In fact, obesity has been declared an epidemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). While obesity has most commonly been associated with cardiovascular disorders, the link between obesity and musculoskeletal disorders cannot be ignored.

For the most part, people with obesity who also have musculoskeletal disorders might find it difficult to exercise to lose weight. This means that traditional forms of weight loss might not be as effective or as safe for their physical condition.

By understanding the connection between obesity and musculoskeletal disorders, safer and effective forms of treatment can be created to help people with obesity.

What Is Obesity?

First off, let us define what obesity is. Obesity can be defined as having a BMI or body mass that is greater than or equal to 30. You can compute for your BMI by getting your weight in kilograms and dividing it by  your height in meters, squared — kg/m². Or you can get your weight in pounds and divide it by your height in inches, squared, then multiply the result by 703 —  (lbs/in²)*703. You can also use our BMI calculator.

multiplying your weight in pounds by 703, then dividing it by your height in inches. Take the result, and divide it again by your height in inches, and you will get your BMI.

Being obese can cause a number of health problems since the added fat and weight puts extra strain on the body. This means that your heart needs to pump harder, your lungs need to take in more air, and your blood pressure increases in order to compensate for the added mass.

In addition, you are also putting more strain on your muscles and your joints. The heavier you are, the more difficult it will be for your musculoskeletal system to support your weight. This can cause damage to your joints, and can make it difficult for your muscles to support your movement.

Because of this, people with obesity might find it hard to start exercising to lose weight. Some might even injure themselves because their bodies are not capable of handling the movement required for certain exercises.

If people with obesity are not able to exercise, then their condition will just get worse. This is why it is important to be mindful of the connection between obesity and musculoskeletal disorders in order to make it easier for people with obesity to exercise.

Obesity and Musculoskeletal Disorders

What Effect Does Obesity Have on the Musculoskeletal System?

Musculoskeletal disorders are disorders that affect a person’s muscles, joints, bones, ligaments, and tendons. Musculoskeletal disorders can make it difficult for a person to move a certain way, or cause significant pain.

What Are Some Musculoskeletal Disorders Caused by Obesity?

Here are some musculoskeletal disorders that can be caused by obesity:

Obesity Can Increase the Risk of Fractures

Because of the additional weight, they are more prone to having more fractures, particularly in the lower extremities. This stems from the fact that their bones carry a heavier load compared to those with normal weight. The bones are not always able to support this weight, and when an obese person falls or suffers an injury, fractures can happen easier.

It Can Cause Soft Tissue Damage

Soft tissues refer to the tissues that support other organs of the body. In the case of the musculoskeletal system, this refers to tendons, muscles, and ligaments.

And in the case of people with obesity, the additional weight can make it more difficult for these soft tissues to support the body. This can cause inflammation and can make them more prone to being damaged.

Obesity Can Cause Lower Back Pain

Another connection between obesity and musculoskeletal disorders is that obesity can cause lower back pain. This happens because the added weight tends to pull the upper body forward. As a result, the muscles of the lower back are strained in trying to keep the body stable.

This is one of the more common types of problems that people with obesity experience.

It Can Also Cause Ankle and Foot Pain

The ankles and feet support the entire weight of the body when a person is standing up or walking. Obesity can cause ankle and foot pain because of the additional weight that the ankles and feet need to bear.

This can cause the following problems:

  • Flat footedness or a condition wherein the arch of the foot touches the ground, making the foot less stable. This can sometimes cause pain during physical activity.
  • Plantar fasciitis or heel pain.
  • Achilles tendinitis or inflammation of the Achilles tendon.
  • General pain in the feet and ankles

Obesity Can Increase the Risk of Osteoarthritis

obesity and musculoskeletal disorders

Another problem that obesity can cause is an increased risk of osteoarthritis. This is due to the fact that the joints of people with obesity are subjected to a lot more wear and tear compared to those with normal weight.

Your joints have a layer of cartilage that acts as a shock absorber in between your bones. In people with osteoarthritis, the cartilage wears out quickly, and can cause the bones to rub against each other. This can be very painful, and makes movement difficult.

In people with obesity, the hip and knee joints are usually the joints that are most affected by osteoarthritis.

What Forms of Treatment Are Available?

When it comes to musculoskeletal disorders caused by obesity, the best form of treatment would be to lose weight. If a person can get their weight into the normal range, it can significantly improve their condition.

However, this is not always easy. Some people with obesity might find it painful to move around, or prolonged exercise can cause significant pain. In cases like these, specialized forms of exercise are required so that the patient can lose weight, and not injure themselves or cause further damage to their musculoskeletal system.

In some cases, a gastric bypass surgery might be recommended. A gastric bypass surgery makes the stomach smaller, which makes the person feel fuller even just by eating a small amount of food.

Some people with obesity also suffer from a food addiction. For cases like these, therapy is an effective means of treatment, along with joining support groups that help people with food addictions.

How Can Obesity Be Prevented?

Here are some ways to help prevent obesity and maintain a healthy weight:

  • Engage in daily exercise for at least 30 minutes each day. Daily exercise can help keep you healthy and aids in maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables, and eat less meat and processed food.
  • If you are obese or overweight, it would be a good idea to try and lose weight to get as close to your ideal weight as possible.
  • If you suffer from joint pain and overweight or obese, it would be a good idea to avoid high-impact exercises as these can sometimes cause injury.
  • Do not hesitate to get in touch with your doctor if you need help in losing weight.

It is important to know that while the health problems associated with obesity are serious, obesity is a treatable condition. The key is to make positive lifestyle changes that allow you to stay fit and healthy.

Learn more about Obesity here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Elfred Landas, MD

General Practitioner · Maxicare Primary Care Center

Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated Jul 05, 2021

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