Many people have been knocked down literally by back pain. It can range from dull and nagging occasional pain to chronically excruciating, and ultimately debilitating, pain.
Ow, My Aching Back!
8 out of 10 people suffer from back pain at some point in their life.
Source: National Library of Medicine
The chronic nature of back pain means you probably already know what to do when you it strikes.
“Nonsurgical treatment of back pain is the same for most conditions: pain medications, physical therapy, ice, and heat,” explains Richard Manos, MD, a spinal and orthopedic surgeon at West Valley Medical Center.
“But most treatments should be individualized, depending on the person, the symptoms, etc. And it's important to see a specialist sooner than later,” he cautions.
If you're not quite ready to see a specialist, but you still want relief, take a look at what you're putting in your body. Since a lot of back pain is caused by inflammation in the body, adding inflammation-fighting nutrients to your diet may prove beneficial.
Dr. Manos tackles 4 questions on how proper nutrition may be a step toward reducing back pain and offers important spine health tips.
Q: What nutritional advice would you give to people struggling with back pain?
Dr. Manos: Eat healthy. Make sure your diet contains high protein and low carbohydrates. Avoid processed food, fast food, and saturated fats.
An anti-inflammatory diet can be helpful, but there's no evidence-based science backing it.
That said, filling your diet with tuna and salmon, rich in omega-3s; carrots; beets; sweet potatoes; garlic; cherries; spinach; kale; and avocados can't hurt. Adding in calcium and vitamin D to strengthen bones is also a good idea.
Ways to Maintain Spine Health: Daily Calcium + Vitamin D = spine strength
Source: National Institutes of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
Q: Do vitamins help with back pain?
Dr. Manos: Yes, certain vitamins and minerals can.
Vitamin A is an antioxidant that assists the immune system in fighting off disease. It's good for the back because it helps in the formation of bone and tissue repair. It also helps the body use protein efficiently.
Additionally, the body can convert beta-carotene into Vitamin A. Beta-carotene is found in green leafy vegetables and most orange vegetables and fruits.
It's important not to get more than the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin A. Too much can cause bone to be brittle and fracture. However, beta-carotene does not increase the risk of fractures.
Vitamin B12 is necessary for healthy bone marrow and for the body to grow and function normally.
Vitamin C is necessary for the development of collagen, which is an important part of the process that allows cells to form tissue. This is extremely important for healing problems caused by injured tendons, ligaments, and vertebral discs.
Vitamin D helps in calcium absorption, which is important for the development of strong bone and spine. It also prevents osteoporosis and vertebral fractures.
Vitamin K is needed for bones to properly use calcium, which promotes strong bones.
Iron is needed for cells to remain healthy because it helps them receive oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide. It also aids in the production of myoglobin, an important element of healthy muscles to support the spine.
Magnesium is important for relaxation and contraction of muscles. It helps maintain muscle tone and bone density, which in turn can help prevent back problems. It also assists in the body's use of protein.
And calcium is essential for bone health and helps maintain the necessary bone mass through our lifetime.
Q: Are vitamins an effective form of treatment, or are they more a supplement alongside other interventions?
Dr. Manos: I do not advocate taking vitamins. Vitamin supplements are unregulated and can cause serious medical problems if taken in excess. The best approach is a well-balanced diet, which includes those nutrients that can naturally be used by our bodies.
Add to that regular low-impact exercise three to four times a week for 30 to 40 minutes.
Q: In terms of nutrition and food intake, is there anything you would say to definitely eat or avoid when you are coping with back pain?
Dr. Manos: Drink plenty of water. We are 70% water, including our discs. Quit smoking because it damages the blood supply to our discs, joints, and nerves. And avoid alcohol since it can cause depression and chronic pain.
Also, eating foods with a lack of nutritional value can contribute to weight gain adding excess strain on your spine.
To learn more about how to manage your back pain, make an appointment with a West Valley spine specialist.