Elevated glycohemoglobin HbA1c is associated with low back pain in nonoverweight diabetics

Alexander Real, Chierika Ukogu, Divya Krishnamoorthy, Nicole Zubizarreta, Samuel K. Cho, Andrew C. Hecht, James C. Iatridis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background Context: Low back pain (LBP) is a common complaint in clinical practice of multifactorial origin. Although obesity has been thought to contribute to LBP primarily by altering the distribution of mechanical loads on the spine, the additional contribution of obesity-related conditions such as diabetes mellitus (DM) to LBP has not been thoroughly examined. Purpose: To determine if there is a relationship between DM and LBP that is independent of body mass index (BMI) in a large cohort of adult survey participants. Study Design: Retrospective analysis of prospectively collected National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data to characterize associations between LBP, DM, and BMI in adults subdivided into 6 subpopulations: normal weight (BMI 18.5–25), overweight (BMI 25–30), and obese (BMI >30) diabetics and nondiabetics. Diabetes was defined with glycohemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) ≥6.5%. Patient Sample: 11,756 participants from NHANES cohort. Outcome Measures: Percentage of LBP reported. Methods: LBP reported in the 1999-2004 miscellaneous pain NHANES questionnaire was the dependent variable examined. Covariates included HbA1c, BMI, age, and family income ratio to poverty as continuous variables as well as race, gender, and smoking as binary variables. Individuals were further subdivided by weight class and diabetes status. Regression and graphical analyses were performed on the study population as a whole and also on subpopulations. Results: Increasing HbA1c did not increase the odds of reporting LBP in the full cohort. However, multivariate logistic regression of the 6 subpopulations revealed that the odds of LBP significantly increased with increasing HbA1c levels in normal weight diabetics. No other subpopulations reported significant relationships between LBP and HbA1c. LBP was also significantly associated with BMI for normal weight diabetics and also for obese subjects regardless of their DM status. Conclusions: LBP is significantly related to DM status, but this relationship is complex and may interact with BMI. These results support the concept that LBP may be improved in normal weight diabetic subjects with improved glycemic control and weight loss, and that all obese LBP subjects may benefit from improved weight loss alone.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-231
Number of pages7
JournalSpine Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2019


  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Low back pain
  • NHANES, Glycohemoglobin, HbA1c, Multivariate Regression
  • Obesity


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