Nutritious diet may prevent back pain symptoms

Aug 29 2011
Certain health conditions that lead to chronic back pain may be unavoidable due to genetics, but environmental factors also contribute to back or neck discomfort, and they can be influenced.

When it comes to these modifiable conditions, most people have heard of lifestyle changes such as a better posture, especially for those who work desk jobs. Much has also been said about getting enough regular exercise to keep core muscles strong and able to optimally support the spine.

But what about that other healthy lifestyle ingredient - the diet? As some 60 percent of Americans are either overweight or obese, eating low-fat, nutritious diets full of fruits and vegetables has become more important than ever. It is a frequent topic of TV programs, it is routinely recommended by many physicians and it has become the focus of First Lady Michelle Obama's efforts to reduce childhood obesity.

It turns out that proper diet is healthy for the spine in more than one way. While it is true that losing extra pounds takes a lot of the burden off bones and joints - thus lowering the risk of degenerative conditions - nutrition can also be used as a powerful weapon to prevent back problems in the first place.

Let's consider osteoporosis, a condition that affects some 10 million people in the U.S., according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. It manifests itself as the thinning of bone tissue and loss of bone density over time due to calcium deficiencies.

Individuals who have osteoporosis are at a significantly higher risk of experiencing falls and fractures, which can impair their quality of life. Extremities and hips are at the greatest risks of breaking, but hairline fractures of spinal vertebrae are also of substantial concern. Moreover, they often go undiagnosed - and if they are, it's usually because a doctor orders an x-ray for an unrelated reason - but all the while they may cause substantial pain and increase the risk of further back complications.

Osteoporosis is also known to increase the risk of spondylolisthesis, a situation in which a vertebra in the lower part of the spine slips out of the proper position onto the bone below it. It can also cause significant pain symptoms and posture as well as gait changes.

Given all this, what can individuals do to reduce their odds of developing osteoporosis? There are many drugs that have been launched in recent years, including biophosphonates, but these medications can cause serious side effects, ranging from mild ones such as upset stomach, to severe adverse conditions like osteonecrosis of the jaw.

However, people who have not yet began showing symptoms of osteoporosis may benefit from dietary changes that include greater consumption of calcium-rich foods such as dairy products, broccoli, kale, sardines, tofu and figs.

Individuals who like prunes may be happy to learn that a study conducted at Florida State and Oklahoma State Universities recently found that post-menopausal women who consumed 100 grams of dried plums a day had significantly higher bone mineral density than the control group.