How to Eat to Ease Back Pain

Certain foods can help with chronic back pain while others can harm. Find out how you should be eating.

from Reader's Digest | October 2010

Back pain is hurting us—in the wallet. According to new government numbers, we spent nearly twice as much on the problem in 2007 as we did in 1997: more than $30 billion, up from an inflation-adjusted $16 billion a decade earlier.

Generally, the passage of time and extra attention to body mechanics are enough to ease the discomfort (pain relievers help too). But you may be able to lower your risk of a recurrence by strolling down the right aisle in the supermarket. The research isn’t all in, but intriguing evidence suggests that certain foods can quash inflammation that contributes to some kinds of back pain—especially bouts linked to arthritis. Here, from Kitchen Cabinet Cures (Reader’s Digest, $31.96), foods to eat and to avoid.

Eat more

  • Cherries. One study showed that drinking 12 ounces of tart cherry juice twice a day for eight days reduced muscle pain and strain. Fresh or canned tart cherries are also helpful.
  • Olive oil
  • Canned salmon, sardines packed in water or olive oil, mackerel, albacore tuna, flaxseed, and walnuts—all good sources of omega-3 fatty acids
  • Vegetable protein (such as soy)
  • Vegetables and fruits of every hue (canned or frozen are fine, as long as they’re not packed in heavy syrup or loaded with salt)
  • Nuts of all kinds
  • Green tea
  • Ginger. Try steeping a bit of grated root in boiling water for tea.

Eat less

  • Certain vegetable oils such as corn, safflower, sunflower, cottonseed, or “mixed” vegetable oils
  • Margarine and vegetable shortening
  • Processed foods
  • Products containing high-fructose corn syrup
  • Foods high in saturated fat, including meat, tropical oils, and full-fat dairy products
  • Foods made with trans fats

A lack of vitamin D, the “sunshine” vitamin, may contribute to back pain. In one study, more than 80 percent of people between 15 and 52 with chronic low-back pain were deficient in the vitamin—and when they started supplementing, their back pain improved. Some nutrition experts suggest taking 1,000 IU of D3 daily.