You probably realize that back pain is one of the most ubiquitous complaints, provoking more doctor visits than any other symptom. I have been asked to comment about the role of diet and nutrition in back pain. But first, I want to emphasize the major role of biomechanics in the origin of back pain. The spinal column is a machine, a very complex machine, and like all machines, it has to be used correctly. Unfortunately, there is very little awareness of the proper use of the back, even among health care professionals. I was fortunate to be introduced to the Alexander Technique when I was in my 30s, and I feel that it has helped me greatly in my life. I am now 60, and I have no back problems at all- not the slightest bit of pain. And I am very active, exerting myself in both work and play. So, getting the biomechanics right is the first requirement for a healthy back, and I know of nothing better than the Alexander Technique.
But in regard to diet and nutrition, there are two effects to consider. First is the whole issue of weight. It’s easy to see how excess body weight can strain the knee joints and lead to premature degeneration of that joint. Well, it’s the same for the back. So, the role of a healthy diet in maintaining a healthy weight becomes paramount.
And the second issue relating to diet pertains to the quality of the circulation. Intervertebral disc degeneration is very common. We hear about “slipped discs” but that is a euphemism. There is no way for a disc to slip out of place. It doesn't slip, rather, it crumbles, much how a rotten tree stump crumbles. It “slips” only because its tissues have degenerated. You might say that the disc is dying. Why is it dying? It relates to the fact that there is very poor circulation in a spinal disc. It gets most of its nutrition and drainage by diffusion. The number of blood vessels is so few that as soon as arterial disease sets in, nutrition to the discs suffers greatly. What I am saying is that just as it is said that impotence may be the first sign of heart disease in a man (even though it is far removed from the heart), likewise intervertebral disc disease may be a sign of cardiovascular disease as well. It’s easy to see why smokers have a very high incidence of spinal disc disease that is 3X greater than non-smokers. They choke off the circulation to their discs with every drag of their cigarettes.
So, if you want to avoid back problems, first, learn how to use your back correctly, and the state-of-the-art method for doing that is the Alexander Technique. Second, get lean and stay lean because it reduces pressure on your back. Third, don’t smoke. Fourth, eat a diet that keeps your arteries clear and your blood flowing, which, to my mind, means a plant-based diet emphasizing fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes, and not much of anything else. And let’s face it: if you eat an ample amount of all of the above-mentioned foods, you are not going to have much room left (in your stomach) for anything else. After all, how much food can you eat? Maybe occasionally eat a good piece of fish- if you can get it. Maybe, occasionally, have a free-range, organic egg. But these, and all other animal foods, should be limited. Make plant foods the vast bulk of what you eat. That’s what I do. And my back is strong. Strong like bull.