Low back pain is the leading cause of disability in the UK, with around 9 million living with it. It’s well known that appropriate physical activity can help reduce back pain, but did you know that what you eat can have an effect on your pain too? Here’s how diet impacts back pain.
The effects of anti-inflammatory diets on back pain
Research carried out by the University of Pittsburgh found that anti-inflammatory diets, that is diets containing whole grains and lots of fruits and vegetables, were better for back pain. The diets of almost 4,000 back pain sufferers were evaluated and each person was given a score depending on how likely their diet was to cause inflammation in the body. Higher scores meant a person consumed more foods that were likely to cause inflammation. Significantly, those who had the most inflammatory diets had a 42% higher chance of having low back pain than those with the least inflammatory diets. Why is this so significant? It’s because pain is commonly associated with inflammation.
The role of inflammation in pain
We tend to think of inflammation as a bad thing. However, acute inflammation in response to injury or illness is an important part of the immune response that kickstarts the healing and repair process. It’s the chronic low grade inflammation that lasts for months or years that can have an incredibly detrimental impact on physical and mental health.
While most peoples back pain is mechanical in nature, the amount of low grade infammation in the body will impact the level of pain we feel from it and how well we recover. Some people’s onset of pain might be the result of an injury sustained in the gym, a car accident, or just from sleeping awkwardly. But it’s worth understanding how diet impacts back pain to make changes that might help recovery.
What foods increase inflammation in the body
Foods that cause inflammation in the body include:
Sugary, fizzy drinks
Highly processed foods. These contain lots of addiatives. that increase inflammation
Refined vegetable oils-these are very processed and contain omega-6 fats which cause
inflammation, especially when heated.
Reduce inflammation in your diet to reduce back pain
Eating lots of anti-inflammatory foods won’t have an instant impact on your pain, but it can help over time. It will also help improve your overall health and help you maintain a healthy weight which can reduce back pain.
Include more of these foods in your diet:
Fruits and vegetables- the more colourful the better for more anti-inflammatory nutrients.
Vegetables like watercress and broccoli have been shown to have strong anti-inflammatory
Omega-3 fats- consuming more omega-3s can help create a healthier balance between anti- inflammatory omega-3s and omega-6s which cause inflammation. Eat more salmon and sardines, and add flax or chia seeds to smoothies and salads.
Virgin olive oil- there’s a compound in virgin olive oil called oleocanthal, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and pain relieving effects. Anti-inflammatory spices- spices such as ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon can help decrease inflammation in the body.
Pay attention to the way you cook foods
So your diet impacts back pain, but the way you cook foods could as well. A 2017 meta-analysis found that frying, roasting, microwaving, searing, or grilling meats, fish, and eggs produces compounds that could trigger an inflammatory response in the body. Sorry, BBQ lovers!
To be on the safe side, steaming, simmering, and braising is better.
That doesnt mean we should never cook in this way or eat these foods. Moderation is key here and understanding these influences to make an informed choice.
Diet is one of many factors of lifestyle that influence pain. To learn more about diet and other aspects keep an eye out on my social media and the betterbackchat newsletter where ill be sharing more info and tips.
Mark – Chiropractor and Lifestyle medicine clinician.