News Video | Policy | GPs | Hospitals | Medical | Mental Health | Welfare | Search


Pain is the hidden side of the obesity epidemic

Pain is the hidden side of the obesity epidemic

People who are obese are more likely to suffer from chronic pain and need special help to manage it, an international speaker told a meeting of Australian and New Zealand pain specialists today.

“Obesity is a risk factor for developing chronic pain and has a particularly strong impact on those with knee problems. Every time you take a step, the entire weight of your body comes crashing down on that joint,” says Dr John Pereira, a staff physician at Canada’s largest chronic pain treatment centre. “Fortunately, losing even a small amount of weight can result in improvement.”

Obese people can also develop structural pain in the hips, ankles and spine. “They are also more likely to suffer chronic pain in unexpected places – such as osteo-arthritis of the hand – because fat is metabolically active and seems to increase inflammation and pain throughout the body.

“Even when weight loss is elusive, consuming more fruits, vegetables and good fats such as omega-3s, as well as supplements such as curcumin, can help combat inflammation.”

Dr Pereira says that obese people who are given medication for chronic pain often find themselves in a bind, as many of these drugs can also cause substantial weight gain, “but there are some prescription options with a much lower risk of this”.

Dr Pereira spoke in Auckland today at a scientific meeting of the Faculty of Pain Medicine of the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists. He was joined by bariatric surgeon Mr Grant Beban, who discussed which obese people in pain can be helped by gastric procedures, and by physiotherapist Mr Murray Hames, who talked about physical rehabilitation.

Mr Beban says that around 80 per cent of obese patients in pain who are given gastric surgery manage to keep more than half of their excess weight off long-term. “The other components are a sensible diet and adequate exercise. The operation doesn’t make you watch your weight, it just stops you eating large amounts of food at one time.”

But he warns that surgery is not a widespread solution in western populations where one-third of adults are overweight and another one-third are obese. “How many operations can a health system afford?” he asks.

“The people most likely to be morbidly obese are the disadvantaged, living in areas with the higher concentrations of fast food outlets; they are people with the lowest repertoire of resources for dealing with our obesogenic environment. This has got to be dealt with as a population problem – we need to look at housing design, cooking skills.”

We also need to look at graduated exercise, says Murray Hames, senior physiotherapist at the Auckland Regional Pain Service. He says obese people in pain who come to his clinic often have trouble exercising; partly because it hurts, partly because they are physically weak, but often because they fear exercise will aggravate their pain.

“Beliefs are a big issue,” he says. “The person may interpret discomfort when beginning an exercise program as a sign of further injury or damage, rather than as a natural consequence of inactivity. This can lead to anxiety and to avoiding activity, limiting how they are willing to reach and move, and holding back their return to normal daily activity and work.

“The person might be worried that exercise ‘might snap my back!’ Or a doctor once told them their bones were grating together, and they fear they might wear out. A chiropractor might have told them not to bend if it hurts – but this is years down the line, and they still haven’t ventured to put on their socks. So a big part of helping people back into exercise is helping them regain their confidence.”


© Scoop Media

Culture Headlines | Health Headlines | Education Headlines


Howard Davis: Emerald Fennell's Promising Young Woman'

The Guardian needed not one, but three reviews to do justice to Fennell's unsettling approach, which indicates exactly how ambiguous and controversial its message really is. More>>

Howard Davis: Jill Trevelyan's Rita Angus

Although Angus has become one of Aotearoa’s best-loved painters, the story of her life remained little known and poorly understood before Jill Trevelyan's acclaimed and revelatory biography, which won the Non Fiction Award at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards in 2009, and has now been republished by Te Papa press. More>>

Howard Davis: The Back of the Painting

Painting conservators are the forensic pathologists of the art world. While they cannot bring their subjects back to life, they do provide fascinating insights into the precise circumstances of a painting's creation, its material authenticity, and constructive methodology. More>>

Howard Davis: Black Panthers on the Prowl

A passionate and gripping political drama from Shaka King, this is an informative and instructive tale of human frailty that centers around the charismatic Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, who was murdered at the age of twenty-one during a police raid. More>>

Howard Davis: Controlling the High Ground

Stephen Johnson's raw and angry film not only poses important questions with scrupulous authenticity, but also provides a timely reminder of the genocidal consequences of casual bigotry and xenophobia. More>>

Howard Davis: Dryzabone - Robert Conolly's The Dry

After the terrible devastation caused by last year’s bushfires, which prompted hundreds of Australians to shelter in the ocean to escape incineration and destroyed uncountable amounts of wildlife, The Dry has been released during a totally different kind of dry spell. More>>

Howard Davis: Hit the Road, Jack - Chloé Zhao's Nomadland

Nomadland is perhaps the ultimately 'road' movie as it follows a group of dispossessed and disenfranchised vagabonds who find a form of communal refuge in camp sites and trailer parks after the economic contraction of 2008. More>>



  • Wellington
  • Christchurch
  • Auckland