How your diet affects your back pain

How your diet affects your back pain

When it comes to inflammation resulting in back pain, it’s true that you are what you eat. Many foods have been shown to reduce inflammation, while others increase it. Diets high in sugar and fatty foods also increase the risk of obesity, which contributes to back pain. 

Tamer Sabet, a specialist Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist says: “Unhealthy dietary intake is known to be a contributing factor to the development of being overweight and obese. Additionally, an increased prevalence of back pain has been reported to be associated with obesity although the causes of this relationship are not yet clear.” 
Spine Specialist at Q1 Spine Clinic in Mumbai, Meenaskshi Sharman says: “Your lower back and abdominal muscles provide a base of support for your spine, holding your body upright. The muscles of the lower back and abdomen are meant to work together to support the upper body and the spine’s alignment. As these muscles might not get the essential nutrients required, their ability to repair may become poor. At the same time the amount of time taken for these muscles to recover from injury may increase.” 

To keep your back healthy and reduce any aches and pains, it’s important to eat a balanced diet including appropriate amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fat. Ensuring you are getting enough water is also important. Make sure you drink eight to 10 glasses of water daily. If you’re dehydrated, you lose many important nutrients which are required for the body and the spinal discs.

Reducing inflammation
A considerable amount of back pain is the direct result of inflammation. 
The causes of inflammation vary. Often it is a defensive response to infection or some foreign substance in our bodies. However, this defensive response can become chronic, and can be triggered when there is no infection or other immediate cause. 

Recent studies have shown a number of foods are pro-inflammatory. For example, foods high in trans fats, saturated fats, sugars and white flour can trigger inflammation through a complex series of bio-chemical and hormonal processes. 

Consequently, if you do suffer from on-going back pain it is sensible to reduce the amount of pro-inflammatory foods you eat. Things to cut down on:
  • Red meat
  • Highly processed foods and foods with added sugars
  • White bread, pasta and rice
  • Whole-fat dairy
  • Sugary drinks and snacks
  • Fried foods
What should you eat to help with your back pain?
No diet by itself is the answer to chronic back pain. But by reducing your intake of pro-inflammatory foods and eating those that that are known to counter and even reduce inflammation you will definitely be doing your back – and your general health – a big favour.

The best foods to counter inflammation are those that contain high levels of anti-oxidants, lean protein and unsaturated fats. Foods that have these qualities are often found in the “Mediterranean” diet, which compromises plenty of fish, raw vegetables, fruit, whole grains and olive oil.
  • Aim for two or three servings of omega-3-rich fish each week. Tuna and salmon are both good sources of omega-3.
  • Beans (e.g. kidney beans), pulses, grains, seeds and nuts should all be a part of your daily food intake.
  • Poultry and eggs can be eaten every other day. It’s okay to cook chicken with the skin on, but remove it before eating
  • Try to limit your meat intake to once a week
  • Red wine is allowed! A glass a day provides a healthy anti-oxidant boost

A diet like this will not only help limit inflammation, it will also help to keep the kilos off, which of itself will help your back. But it is important to stress that diet alone is not the whole answer to back pain. Exercise, posture, good sleeping position, and, if necessary, medical treatment all play their part.

Keep your bones strong
Osteoporosis is a weakening of the bones, which begins in your early twenties. This condition has a tendency to compromise the vertebrae in your spine, leading to back problems.

When young, it is important to bank enough calcium to delay the onset of osteoporosis. You can also slow down the process (even in middle and old age) by continuing to ensure you have a good calcium intake.

Women are recommended to get 1200 to 1500mg of calcium a day. Men should target 800 to 1000mg. Popular sources include calcium fortified milk and other dairy products, e.g. yoghourt, whole grain breads and soy milk. Fortunately, there are plenty of calcium supplements to make sure you reach your optimum intake, but it is always better to get your calcium from good, healthy food. It is also worth remembering your body can absorb only about 600mg of calcium at one time.

Proper hydration is key for nearly every process our body performs. It is also important for your back.


Your vertebrae have cushions, known as discs, between them. These discs are made up in part of a jelly-like substance which is 90% water. Ensuring your body has steady stream of fluid coming in may help to keep this cushioning gel functioning as it should.

However, drinking copious quantities of water will not of itself repair damaged discs, and you should seek medical advice for back pain you believe may be associated with a disc in your back.

If you think you need to change your diet, we recommend consulting with a health professional such as a nutritionist to find the best solution for you.
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