31 million Americans suffer from chronic back pain, and according to one recent study, up to 80 percent of Americans will experience an episode of low back pain during their lifetime. Many chronic back pain sufferers undergo extensive therapy, even surgery, to find relief. Others seek alternative methods of healing because their current medication regimen fails to work, or because they find getting pain relief from traditional painkillers burdensome or invasive.
However, there is good news. Much back pain can be alleviated simply by making some simple changes to your diet. Often, we fail to eat enough of the foods our musculoskeletal system needs and eat too much of foods that can damage our bodies. Here's how to fix up your diet and help your back in five easy steps.
Get Your Calcium
This seems obvious, but you need to consume adequate calcium to have healthy bones. Calcium is the building block of our bones and teeth. Failure to consume adequate calcium can lead to stress fractures or even more serious bone injury. Consuming sufficient amounts of calcium is particularly imperative for women, who run a higher risk of osteoporosis than men.
The obvious way to up your calcium intake is to increase the number of dairy products you consume. However, cheese, milk, and yogurt are far from the only calcium-rich foods out there. If you're a vegan or simply conscious of how many animal products you consume, there are a ton of nuts and veggies rich in calcium. Broccoli, sesame seeds, Bok Choy (Chinese cabbage), oranges, and almonds are but a few of the calcium-rich food sources out there.
If you still struggle to get enough calcium, consider a supplement. This isn’t costly—many people find that they can adequately supplement their calcium intake with a simple and inexpensive antacid. However, if you prefer chocolate to chalk, there are ample quality calcium supplements out there in flavors to delight even picky eaters.
Magnesium Matters, Too
Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Inflammation is a major cause of back and neck pain, which is why most medications work so well—they are anti-inflammatory. If you don’t want to turn to a pill to decrease inflammation, you can choose to include more anti-inflammatory foods in your diet.
Load up on just about any type of fruit or vegetable—they all have anti-inflammatory properties, some more than others. Kale, spinach, and broccoli, for example, have superb anti-inflammatory properties. Other foods to consider are nuts such as almonds, lean proteins such as chicken and fish, and, a popular favorite—cocoa!
Avoid Processed Foods
However, just because cocoa has anti-inflammatory properties doesn't mean you should chow down on the nearest candy bar. Many include multiple preservatives and other ingredients which may worsen inflammation instead of alleviating it.
If you eat chocolate for the health benefits, stick to organic dark chocolate with no chemicals added. Likewise, do your best to avoid heavily processed fast foods, junk foods such as chips and pretzels, and anything that contains an ingredient list you can't decipher, as many artificial additives and even food colorings have been found to worsen inflammation all over the body. You'll do your body good by cutting out, or at least cutting down, on these foods.
Soak Up Some Sun
Finally, while you may supplement with calcium, your body can't absorb even the least amount without enough essential vitamin D. The best source of this nutrient? The sun. So go for a walk outdoors and soak up that natural vitamin D. The exercise will benefit your back and neck, too. There are also many foods and supplements you can add into your diet to get your vitamin D naturally.
When To See A Doctor
While natural remedies are helpful, and may even cure mild back pain, long-term persistent pain should be evaluated by a medical professional. Seek medical help immediately if along with your back pain, you experience dizziness, loss of sensation in the legs, or severe abdominal pain.
Even if you do use medical means to control your pain, why not try giving these nutritional tips a try, too? You may just find they complement your medication regimen perfectly and help you progress more quickly back to health.