If you have 10 people in a room the chances are that 8 of them will have low back pain. That number sounds super high and maybe even unbelievable, but unfortunately it is all too real.
Low back pain is a common problem that will affect most of us at some point in our lives. Typically hard to diagnose, and often even more challenging to treat, there are a whole host of reasons why people struggle with this debilitating disease.
The Link Between Nutrition And Low Back Pain
While the exact causes of low back pain can be difficult to determine, research suggests that there may be a link between nutrition and lower back pain.
There may not be a lot of clear cut evidence to show direct causality between what we eat and how bad our low back pain is, but research has found that people who eat a very nutritious diet seem to have less low back pain than those who don't eat a lot of nutritious food.
9 Ways Nutrition And Back Pain Are Connected
One of the main ways that nutrition may be linked to lower back pain is through the role of inflammation. Inflammation is a natural response to injury or infection in the body but when it becomes chronic, inflammation can contribute to the development of chronic pain conditions like low back pain.
Certain foods have been shown to trigger inflammation, and this increase in inflammation can have a negative impact on low back pain by increasing pressure on the nerves and muscles in the back.
The types of foods most often associated with inflammation include:
Processed Foods: Processed foods contain high levels of sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats that can trigger inflammation in the body.
Sugary Foods: Foods high in sugar can cause inflammation in the body and can also contribute to obesity, which is a risk factor for low back pain.
Trans Fats: Trans fats are commonly found in processed foods and can contribute to inflammation in the body.
Fried Foods: Fried foods contain high levels of unhealthy fats and can contribute to inflammation and pain in the body.
Red Meat: Red meat contains high levels of saturated fats, which can contribute to inflammation in the body and increase the risk of developing low back pain.
2. Nutrient Deficiencies
Nutrients are essential building blocks of the food that we eat. Studies have found that when our bodies lack certain nutrients, like calcium and vitamin D, it can lead to weak bones and an increased risk of back pain and injury.
Some key nutrients that play a role in low back pain are:
Vitamin D: Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with chronic low back pain. Vitamin D is important for bone health, and low levels can lead to weakened bones and an increased risk of fractures.
Magnesium: Magnesium plays an important role in muscle function and relaxation. A deficiency in magnesium can lead to muscle tension and spasms, which may contribute to low back pain.
Calcium: Calcium is important for building bone health, and a deficiency can lead to weakened bones and an increased risk of fractures, which may contribute to low back pain.
Iron: Iron is important for oxygen transport in the blood, and a deficiency can lead to anemia, which can cause fatigue and muscle weakness that may contribute to low back pain.
Eating foods that are high in these nutrients can help fight low back pain. What sort of foods can help?
Cod liver oil.
Orange juice fortified with vitamin D.
Dairy and plant milks fortified with vitamin D.
Obesity is a major epidemic that currently affects four out of 10 Americans. While weight and overall health aren’t always connected, obesity is often considered to be a cause of several chronic medical conditions, including type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer, and low back pain.
Being overweight (or obese) often puts extra strain on the back, which can lead to low back pain. Some of the main ways in which obesity can contribute to low back pain include:
Increased pressure on the lower back: Having excess weight around your waist pulls your pelvis forward, increasing the curve of the lower back and putting extra pressure on the lower back muscles, ligaments, and spinal discs.
Changes in spinal alignment: Carrying excess weight can cause changes in the natural curvature of your spine, which can lead to misalignments and can put extra strain on your lower back.
Reduced flexibility: Obesity can lead to reduced flexibility, which can make it harder to move your lower back and can increase your risk of injury.
Reduced physical activity: Obesity can make it harder to exercise and often leads to a sedentary lifestyle, which in turn can weaken the muscles in the lower back and increase the risk of injury.
Losing weight through diet and exercise can help alleviate low back pain caused by obesity.
Additionally, strengthening the muscles in the lower back through exercise and physical therapy can help reduce pain and prevent future injury. Research has shown that even low impact exercise, like walking, can have significant benefits for low back pain.
Dehydration can have a negative impact on low back pain for several reasons. When you are dehydrated, your body may not have enough fluids to support the intervertebral discs that cushion the vertebrae in your spine.
Some of the main ways in which dehydration can impact low back pain are:
Reduced flexibility: Dehydration tends to make your muscles and ligaments stiffer and less flexible which makes it harder to move your spine and increases the risk of injury.
Increased risk of muscle strain: Dehydration makes your muscles more prone to strains and sprains, which can lead to low back pain.
Reduced shock absorption: The intervertebral discs in your spine act as shock absorbers, but when you are dehydrated, these discs can lose their fluid content and become less effective at absorbing shocks. This can lead to increased pressure on the spinal joints and muscles, which can cause pain and discomfort.
Reduced blood flow: Dehydration can reduce blood flow to the muscles and tissues in your back, which can slow down the healing process and increase the risk of injury.
Increased inflammation: Dehydration can increase inflammation in the body, which can exacerbate low back pain and other chronic pain conditions.
Muscle Cramps: Dehydration can cause muscle cramps and stiffness, which can contribute to back pain.
To help prevent dehydration and reduce the risk of low back pain, it's important to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day and to avoid prolonged periods of sitting or standing without taking breaks to stretch and move around.
Stretching and exercise can also help improve flexibility and reduce the risk of muscle strain and low back pain.
5. Digestive Issues
Research has found that the presence of certain digestive issues, like inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease, can lead to nutrient deficiencies and inflammation, which can contribute to back pain.
There are several ways that digestive issues can make back pain worse. Some of these are:
Inflammation: The digestive system and the back are connected through the nervous system, and certain digestive issues can cause inflammation and nerve irritation that can contribute to back pain.
Digestive diseases: Chronic inflammatory diseases like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), celiac disease, and leaky gut syndrome can cause inflammation throughout the body, including in the back. Inflammation can irritate the nerves and cause pain and discomfort.
Nerve irritation: Digestive issues can cause nerve irritation in the back and other parts of the body. Irritated nerves can often cause pain, numbness, tingling, and other sensations.
Muscle tension: Digestive issues such as constipation or diarrhea can cause the back muscles to tense up, as well as muscles in various other parts of the body. Tense muscles not only tend to cause pain and discomfort but they can also be more prone to injury.
Nutrient deficiencies: Over time, certain digestive issues can lead to nutrient deficiencies that can weaken the muscles and bones in the back, increasing the risk of injury and pain.
Reduced physical activity: When our body is dealing with digestive issues it can make us feel tired and not very energetic. This can cause us to exercise less and to be less physically active, which can weaken the muscles in the back and increase our risk of injury.
To help alleviate back pain caused by digestive issues, it's important to address the underlying digestive issue and to take steps to reduce inflammation and nerve irritation.
Steps to address digestive problems may include changes to your diet, like avoiding foods that trigger inflammation, taking supplements to address nutrient deficiencies, and practicing stress-reducing techniques such as meditation or yoga.
Stress is a major factor when it comes to causes of low back pain. Research has shown that stress often leads to muscle tension and can trigger back pain.
There are several ways in which stress and nutrition are linked to higher rates of low back pain.
Diet and stress: A poor diet can actually make our stress levels worse by causing blood sugar imbalances, reducing energy levels, and promoting inflammation. On the other hand, a healthy diet rich in whole foods and nutrients such as magnesium and vitamin B can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being.
Stress and dietary habits: It seems like a vicious cycle. A poor diet makes stress levels worse, but when we are stressed we don't eat as healthy as we could.
Stress often drives us to poor eating habits like overeating or eating our feelings (a pint of ice cream while binging Netflix - we know you do it - we do it too!).
These unhealthy habits just end up increasing inflammation (which is often already high because of stress) and then ultimately making our back pain worse.
7. Joint Health
Certain nutrients are essential for joint health, including vitamin D, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients help support the structure and function of joints, including those in the back. A deficiency in these nutrients can increase the risk of joint damage, inflammation, and back pain.
8. Muscle Health
Healthy muscles are strong enough to support our spines and prevent us from using the wrong muscles to compensate which often leads to muscle strains or sprains, and ultimately, low back pain.
How can you maintain healthy muscles?
Protein: Protein is essential for building and repairing muscles. If you don't have enough protein in your diet it can cause muscle loss and weakness. To keep your muscles healthy it's important to consume proper amounts of high-quality protein sources such as lean meats, fish, eggs, beans, and legumes.
Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates provide energy for exercise and are essential for fueling muscle growth and recovery. A diet low in carbohydrates can lead to decreased muscle mass and strength. Getting the right amount of complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can help keep your muscles healthy.
Fat: Healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation and support muscle health. Foods like fish, nuts, and seeds are full of healthy fats and they can help promote muscle health.
Micronutrients: Certain micronutrients such as vitamin D, calcium, and magnesium are essential for muscle health. A deficiency in these nutrients can also lead to muscle weakness and loss. Fruits and vegetables are a great source of essential micronutrients.
To promote muscle health through diet, it's important that we eat a balanced diet that is rich in high-quality protein sources, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and essential micronutrients. Staying properly hydrated and maintaining a healthy body weight can also help support muscle health.
When we have a diet that is lacking in nutrition, it can also lead to low energy levels. When our energy is low is can be hard to find the motivation to exercise. If we don't exercise enough guess what happens? Yup - more low back pain!
A balanced diet provides the energy we need to maintain an active lifestyle and to reduce the risk of back pain that is caused by inactivity.
So, How Can You Improve Nutrition And Help Your Low Back Pain?
Eat Healthy Foods
The good news is that just as there are certain foods that make inflammation worse, there are also foods that have been found to have inflammation-fighting properties.
Research has shown that nutrients and food compounds, like omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and phytochemicals, have anti-inflammatory effects and can help reduce inflammation in the body.
What sort of foods should you eat to help fight inflammation?
Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, as well as flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts. Berries, leafy greens and other colorful fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals.
While the low back pain market is flooded with gadgets and gismos to help you manage your low back pain, the answer might be hiding out in your pantry or fridge.
We get it. We hate the word "diet" as it has so many negative connotations, and "diets" have notoriously been used to punish our bodies in many ways.
When we think about the word "diet" in more neutral terms, we can think of it simply as a noun that describes our food, rather than a verb - where we have to do something (generally something we don't like).
We can also put a more positive spin on the word, and look at adding delicious nutritional things, rather than denying ourselves things. Healthy food doesn't have to be boring or taste like cardboard.
If you are looking for some fun and delicious ways to boost your anti inflammatory foods a great place to start is by checking out our blog on summer smoothies. They are super easy to make, a great way to boost antioxidants, and they taste fabulous!
Try some out and let us know if you like them!