How an Anti-Inflammatory Diet Can Help Your Back Pain

April 01, 2019

A man suffers from back pain at work
Stephanie Dwilson

If you're looking for foods to alleviate back pain, consider trying an anti-inflammatory diet. Eating the right foods might not cure all your back troubles, but what's on your plate can play a role in mitigating future issues. Here's a look at how that can work, what foods you should avoid and which foods you might want to pick up the next time you're going to the grocery store.

Why Anti-Inflammatory Foods Can Help Your Back

Back pain — and other types of pain — can sometimes be the result of chronic inflammation, Harvard Health reported. Inflammation is the body's way of defending against disease and injury. But sometimes even after the disease or injury is healed, the inflammation might not go away. Long-term inflammation can cause chronic muscle pain and joint pain. It can even lead to other issues, such as increasing your risk of heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses. In fact, an increased cortisol level in the body can sometimes lead to tissue inflammation by itself, Elle noted. A diet focused on anti-inflammatory foods can help decrease inflammation, but a diet with foods that increase inflammation or cortisol levels can make things worse.

Foods to Try

There are many foods with anti-inflammatory properties that you can try, but you'll likely need to stick to the diet for two to three weeks before you can tell if it's helping, Cleveland Clinic reported. Polyphenols are antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties, so that can be a good place to start, Harvard Health suggested. Polyphenol foods include dark chocolate and cocoa powder, berries (like strawberries and blackberries), certain other fruits (black currants, apples and plums for example), beans, nuts and certain vegetables like artichokes and spinach. Soy, black and green tea and red wine are also good sources.

Cleveland Clinic noted that cruciferous vegetables are among the best in terms of having anti-inflammatory properties, followed by fruit. In fact, focusing on a mostly plant-based diet is a great way to get started, Everyday Health noted. Combine that with omega-3-rich foods for better results.

Foods to Avoid

To try to get the best anti-inflammatory effects, you'll need to eliminate a lot of foods that you might really like. If you're in severe pain, go for a strict diet with no simple carbs (no flour or sugar), no dairy and no red meat, Cleveland Clinic suggested. Of course, you'll also want to see a doctor if you're experiencing severe pain.

Avoiding fast food, fried foods, white bread and white flour products, and processed foods can help. You'll also want to avoid sugary sodas and alcoholic drinks, along with hydrogenated oils, Elle added. While you can't have simple carbs and white flour, you can have complex carbohydrates like whole grains, brown rice, quinoa and oatmeal. When you're trying this diet, avoid other actions that can increase cortisol, like eating large portions or skipping meals.

An anti-inflammatory diet might be able to play a role in mitigating back pain. But sticking to a diet of foods to alleviate back pain can be tough, so set yourself up for success. You might need to cook at home or go to vegan restaurants so that you don't accidentally get dairy in your meal. Keep tempting food that's off your diet out of your home. Or start small by just cutting out a few things and work your way up. Remember, if you're experiencing pain, talk with a doctor before starting your diet to make sure nothing else is causing your pain that needs addressing.

Sign Up to Receive Our Newsletter & Get the Best Ergonomic Tips