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Is Your Diet Affecting Your Back Pain?

Are you one of the 53 million people in the UK who suffer from chronic back pain?  And not all back pain is chronic as 60% of people suffer from some form of back pain at one time or another, according to the NHS. While chronic back pain sufferers are aware of the usual suspects like slipped discs or trapped nerves, many aren’t aware that diet and nutrition are contributing factors to back pain.

How does my diet affect my back pain?

Diet and nutrition can influence your back pain by exacerbating inflammation or by reducing it. Reducing inflammation in cartilage and muscles is the key, particularly in and around the spinal column, to control back pain and stiffness.

Diet also plays a role in supporting good blood circulation, which is a factor because it helps get nutrients and oxygen to the muscles and joints that contribute to back pain, helping in the healing process.

Finally, the production of collagen, a protein in the human body that holds the whole body together, is key to keeping our joints healthy and supple. Collagen is also found in skin, muscle and tendons and if we don’t have enough it can make our bones brittle.

What foods do I need to eat?

Any food that is anti-inflammatory, improves your blood circulation, or promotes and protects collagen is good for back pain. These include:

  • Oily fish. These contain good essential fatty acids and are a great source of anti-inflammatory agents. This includes salmon, tuna steaks, and trout.
  • Herbs like cayenne pepper, ginger, rosemary and turmeric. These herbs are high in anti-inflammatory agents, as well as help with circulation that aids healing. A word of caution, taking a high dose of turmeric can cause nausea due to its spicy nature, so limit your intake to 4 grams a day.
  • Collagen-friendly foods. Orange produce like carrots and sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamin A, which restores collagen in your body that has been damaged. Garlic provides lipoic acid that helps rebuild collagen fibres. Egg whites and bone broth also restore collagen.
  • Dark, leafy green vegetables. The greener the better. The green part of kale, spinach and broccoli contain anti-oxidants that help prevent the breakdown of collagen.
  • Tea. Green oolong and white tea both have anti-inflammatory properties.

Are there foods that hurt your back pain?

The following foods can either exacerbate the inflammation associated with your back pain, or inhibit other functions that help alleviate the pain:

  • Caffeine. This reduces our ability to make endorphins, which are the body’s natural pain-killing chemical. The body releases these chemicals when it is under stress or pain as a natural painkiller. Therefore, limit your intake of coffee to 1-2 cups a day (or drink decaffeinated coffee).
  • Sugar and processed food. Promotes inflammation everywhere in the body, including the back.
  • Alcohol. High in sugar (see above).
  • Bread. Highly acidic, which fuels inflammation.
  • Poly-unsaturated fats and oils. Again, can cause inflammation and inhibit circulation in the long run. Use poly – or monounsaturated oils like sunflower or olive oil instead.

Drink water!

Back pain can be a result of dehydration. Not drinking enough water can put your kidneys under a tremendous amount of stress, which is another possible cause for pain around the lower part of the back. I have seen people admitted into hospital and being put on a drip because of dehydration. Dehydration can also be a contributing factor for urinary tract infections which can also cause lower back pain or discomfort.

What supplements can you take?

Sometimes even the best foods are not enough to fill the nutritional deficiencies in your diet. Supplements can fill the nutrition deficiency gaps. The best ones for back pain include:

  • Vitamin C is one of the best vitamin supplements to take because it helps with blood circulation.
  • MSM with glucosamine is one of the best minerals you can take to help restore the gelatinous areas of fluid and tissue around the joints and spine. You can get this from any good health food store.
  • Magnesium and calcium work well to reduce muscle spasm. So, when you feel your muscles twitching you’ll know that it’s time to take these minerals. Calcium also helps strengthen the bones of the spine.
  • Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium.

What natural remedies can you take for back pain?

Having a warm Epsom salts bath can do you wonders, as Epsom salts is a form of magnesium and can help draw out toxins from the body which will help reduce inflammation in your back, which is the source of most of the pain you feel.

You can also use arnica which is a natural anti-inflammatory. Arnica comes in three different types of remedies: 1) a gel, which is easily absorbed by the skin; 2) a cream, which is a little denser but does the same job; and 3) a homeopathic type of arnica that comes as a small pill. For faster relief, you can take arnica internally and externally at the same time and it will reduce pain and inflammation.

Boswellia serrata is a plant native to India, which is very beneficial and efficient at reducing inflammation. You can get this in a tincture from a good health food store or from a holistic online site.

You may need to be adjusted by an osteopath

It may also be worth seeing an osteopath or chiropractor if your pain persists. Along with this, you may try exercises and stretches for back pain. Activities like walking, swimming, yoga and Pilates may also be helpful, but it is always good to consult with your GP or osteopath/chiropractor before doing anything to exert yourself, or if you experience other symptoms in addition to back pain.

Other ways to minimize back pain

Ideally, you should be standing up and moving or stretching every hour or so. If you remain inactive for long periods of time, this can sometimes lock up your joints; that’s why when you have a good stretch you will sometimes hear the bones cracking.

Have you had your eyes checked lately? Poor eyesight can cause you to adjust your body to compensate, like leaning in to see what is on your computer monitor. Also, if you tend to work from the sofa with a laptop on your lap, you should not be looking downwards for a long period of time. Easier said than done, I know, if you have a work deadline or working and watching television while you type.

Eliminating the pain

As chronic sufferers know, back pain can grow into a debilitating condition that affects all aspects of your life. However, most of us feel back pain at one point or another. Taking care of what we eat can help. If you start to feel like your pain persists without getting better, then seek advice from an osteopath or GP.

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