Keep back pain at bay
Dr Neha Narula, senior spine specialist at QI Spine Clinic, tells you how eating right can benefit you if you are suffering from back pain
Not too long ago, back pain was considered a sign of old age. Today though factors like hectic lifestyles, unhealthy eating habits, lack of physical activity, incorrect posture, weight gain, longer hours at work desk and dependency on smartphones have caused back pain among younger people as well.
Citing some of the reasons that cause back pain, Dr Neha Narula, senior spine specialist at QI Spine Clinic, says that the spine and back are very important in helping us move and carrying out our day-to-day activities. “It is a very complex structure made up of bones (vertebrae), discs, nerves and soft muscle tissues. Any damage to these structures can cause pain and restrict movement. Mechanical back pain (pain originating due to damage in soft muscle tissue) is the most common type of back pain,” she informs, adding, “Poor posture (wrong sitting, twisting and bending habits), lifting heavy weights, long sitting hours and lack of exercise, muscle strain or a ligament sprain, excess use of gadgets (phone or computer), lack of essential vitamins and minerals, poor bone health, dehydration and untreated or recent injury to disc or bone can cause back pain.”
Most people, when they experience back pain, resort to pills that cure the pain temporarily. A few others befriend an ice pack or a hot water bag or seek help from a physiotherapist. But the solution to back pain is closely related to what we eat, says Narula, adding that poor diet or nutrition is the root cause of multiple issues with our spine.
She elaborates saying that our soft muscle tissue carries 70 per cent load of the spine. So poor nutrition and overloading due to excess weight and fat in the back can cause weakness in our muscles, transferring excess load to our bones and discs. “Your discs are jelly-like shock absorbers between bones which are made up of 80 per cent water. Lack of essential vitamins and minerals can dehydrate the discs causing immense pain. The spine is made up of 33 bones (vertebrae) stacked together to allow for mobility and flexibility. Lack of vitamin D and calcium can cause brittle bones and ligament tears. Food can impact how you feel pain since it plays a role in homeostasis (the ability of the body to maintain temperature, hydration, and pH). Food affects your mood, hence you tend to feel more pain when you’re irritated or depressed,” she quips.
Any sort of back pain, be it a muscle strain, a ligament sprain or an open injury, results in inflammation, swelling and redness. Back pain could be of many types, hence the food that may cure it is also varied. Narula informs that while non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs are helpful, it is always better to opt for natural foods which will reduce inflammation in your back and relieve you of the pain. “Dark leafy greens including kale and spinach, blueberries, blackberries, cherries and dark red grapes, give you relief. Nutrition-dense vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower are known to cure inflammation and pain. Beans and lentils are helpful too. You can sip on green tea and red wine in moderation since they too heal pain. Other items like avocado, coconut, olives and extra virgin olive oil, walnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, almonds, cold water fish including salmon and sardines, turmeric and cinnamon, dark chocolate, garlic, onion and leeks, are of great relief in back pain. Anti-inflammatory drugs have long-term side-effects while these foods have anti-inflammatory properties,” she advises.
While including healthy food to your diet, you also need to avoid consuming a few items that can worsen the back pain. Alcohol, caffeine and sugary beverages, processed meats, trans fats found in fried foods, nightshade vegetables (such as tomatoes, eggplant, white potatoes and peppers), white bread and white pasta gluten, soybean oil and vegetable oil, processed snack foods such as chips and crackers, desserts (cookies, candy, and ice cream) and excess carbohydrates are some of the elements that you need to stop consuming if you suffer from back pain or inflammation.
Narula also sheds light on the food items that help when the back pain is due to incorrect posture. “It is important to maintain a good posture. Also consume Omega 3 rich fish (sardine and salmon), legumes, flax and chia seeds, plant-based diet — fruits and vegetables, lean meat (chicken), healthy carbs (whole grains, beans, peas and corn) along with doing regular exercise,” she suggests.
If your back pain is severe, apart from natural food, you can opt for supplements. “You can improve your dietary intake of calcium by including calcium and Vitamin D-rich foods in your daily meals. Calcium-rich food like dairy products, nutrition-rich fruits and vegetables, fish with edible soft bones, in your meal, is a good idea to supplement the loss of the minerals in the body,” she suggests.