Back pain is a common problem that many of us will experience at some point in our lives. And we tend to feel it more in winter!
The cause of back pain can sometimes be difficult to determine, which also makes it difficult to resolve. Often we’re just told to go away and take painkillers. But what else can we do?
Physical therapies such as physiotherapy, osteopathy or chiropractic therapy can be helpful, of course, especially if you have acute pain or if an injury has caused the problem. For chronic pain, some people also find exercise-based therapy like Pilates or gentle yoga helpful.
It’s also possible to help yourself by eating a healthy diet, and taking a few well-chosen supplements. Here are our top suggestions to get you back on track.
1. Get your omega-3s
As well as having known benefits for your heart, brain and eyes, the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA in oily fish may help to manage and reduce pain and inflammation, including back pain. Aim to eat three servings a week of oily fish, which include salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines. (See our previous post ‘Why are oily fish so good for us?’ for more info on their benefits.)
Fish oil supplements can also provide these specific omega-3s, and may be particularly helpful if you struggle to eat fish on a regular basis, or don’t like the taste. You could benefit most by choosing a high-EPA supplement such as Wiley’s Finest Peak EPA Fish Oil.
Flax seeds and chia seeds and their oils also contain omega-3s, although a different type to those found in oily fish. They can be beneficial to include on a daily basis if you can’t eat fish or take fish oils.
2. Eat plenty of vegetables
Vitamin C is vital for the cartilage in our joints, including those between the bones of the spine. Rather than oranges, the best sources of vitamin C are actually vegetables, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, peppers and red cabbage. Other plant compounds such as flavonoids and carotenoids in veg and fruit can also have anti-inflammatory properties. Ideally, don’t stop at five portions; aim to eat seven portions of a variety of fresh vegetables and fruit per day, of which the majority should be vegetables.
Taking some extra vitamin C with bioflavonoids or rosehip in supplement form may also be beneficial, especially if you struggle to eat enough vegetables. Try Quest’s Bio C Complex or BioCare’s Vitamin C Rosehip Complex.
3. Reduce sugar, caffeine and unhealthy fats
Whereas vegetables tend to be anti-inflammatory, some foods can be pro-inflammatory, worsening pain and inflammation. These include foods high in refined sugar such as sweets and sugary drinks, as well as refined carbohydrates (e.g. white bread), coffee and too much alcohol. As far as you can, replace refined foods with whole foods, including vegetables and fruit, fish, eggs, good-quality meat and whole grains. Keep the caffeine and alcohol in moderation.
Avoid frying or cooking foods in vegetable oils too, as this can create free radicals that could contribute to inflammation in your body. Replace them with a good-quality coconut oil (go for an odourless coconut oil for if you don’t want the coconut taste and smell) or a small amount of organic butter; or use cooking methods that don’t require fat or oil, such as steaming.
4. Make sure you’re well hydrated
Because your joints and spinal discs are partly made up of water, chronic dehydration could start to cause pain and stiffness. Aim to drink 1.5 to 2 litres of water or herbal teas throughout the day. This is another reason to avoid too much coffee and tea, which can contribute to dehydration.
5. Get plenty of magnesium
The mineral magnesium has many important roles in the body, and one of them is to support healthy muscle function. Muscle weakness can contribute to back pain, as can having tense and tight muscles. The best natural sources of magnesium are whole plant foods – especially green vegetables, nuts and seeds, fish and whole grains. Taking extra magnesium in supplement form could also help. Try Quest Synergistic Magnesium, taking one tablet daily.
Using magnesium topically in a bath or as a spray or lotion on the skin may also help your muscles. Try a bath with Ancient Minerals Magnesium Bath Flakes two or three times a week, or use their Magnesium Oil daily on tight muscles.
6. Love turmeric and ginger
Both these super-spices have natural anti-inflammatory properties. Make homemade curries with lots of turmeric powder (or fresh turmeric) and fresh ginger. Or make fresh ginger tea by grating fresh ginger into a mug and pouring over hot water – steep for at least five minutes, and sip.
7. Try devil’s claw
Lastly, consider trying a devil’s claw herbal remedy to relieve symptoms such as backache, rheumatic and muscular pain, such as Lamberts Devil’s Claw. Make sure you take it regularly for at least one to two months to assess whether it’s helping, as its effects may not be as immediate as a painkilling medication.