Back Pain? Joint Pain? Let's take a look at your diet.

It may be an obvious statement to some, but there may be a few of you out there scratching your head.  What the heck does what you put in your mouth, have to do with how your back feels?  EVERYTHING!  Some of you may believe that spine and joint pain is solely part of aging or heredity.  Not true. 

I have been teaching in the fitness industry for over 3 decades. Two of my passions are Pilates and spin (group indoor cycling classes).  Both keep you strong and fit and help ease joint and back pain.  My Pilates students often hear me say, “You’re only as old as your spine”.  Of course I promote and teach specific movement and exercise for spine health, but something else I encourage that is surprising to some, is a healthy diet involving a few key guidelines to move towards a pain-free body. 

In a typical Pilates class, I teach very specific movement and stabilization exercises to meet your body where it’s at, with the goal being improved posture, alignment, power and for many, decreased pain.  Poor alignment and posture usually occur over time and are the result of repetitive positions and movements that are not uniform.  This wreaks havoc creating an imbalance in muscle length and strength and inferior alignment leading to an inefficient muscular and skeletal system. With proper movement strategies to keep your body flexible and strong you can keep your posture in check, which adds power to your core and your limbs AND may keep you out of pain.  Unfortunately, you can do this type of exercise until the cows come home but if you are eating the wrong foods, you will continue to experience pain.   

Here are a few do and don’t diet suggestions (and a few non-diet suggestions) that will move you closer to a pain-free body.


1.     Avoid refined sugar!  Refined sugar is highly addictive.  Keep in mind that the less you eat, the less you crave. If you have back pain or swelling, omitting sugar will change your world. Sugar releases chemicals in your system that cause inflammation. This can then lead to pain and stiffness. Surprisingly, you may feel pain as soon as 20 minutes after ingestion of refined sugar. Dr. Jeffrey A. Morrison, award-winning physician, nutritionist, and author of “Cleanse Your Body, Clear Your Mind” says “…people who have inflammation in their bodies are more susceptible to prematurely develop worn-down joints.”

(Harvard research, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition). 


2.     DO eat foods high in antioxidants. Top choices for joint and spine pain: pineapple, turmeric, papaya, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, ginger, apples, oranges, olive oil, green leafy vegetables, nuts & fatty fish.  These foods will reduce inflammation, joint pain & swelling.  They will also help with circulation and therefore oxygenation. (Harvard Health Publication, Memoria Sloan Kettering Cancer Center)


3.     Avoid foods that are high in gluten & refined carbohydrates like pasta, breads, muffins etc.  These can cause inflammation and are best eaten in moderation or avoided all together.  (Scientific American, Arthritis Foundation)

4.     Try to cut down on foods cooked at high temperature (grilled, broiled and fried).  Foods cooked at high temperature (often meats, fish & eggs) create specific toxic chemicals.  High levels of these toxins lead to swelling and can add to back pain, joint pain and arthritis.  Steaming, stewing, braising in liquid or simmering in a sauce will lower levels of these toxins.  (Mount Sinai School of Medicine)

5.     DO detoxify your system periodically.  Cleansing or detoxifying is a way to rid your body of harmful waste.  “Detoxifying might be critical for you to get healthy and feel good again,” Says Dr. Mark Hyman, American physician, founder and medical director of the Ultra Wellness Center.  Many of my clients in the past have felt relief from back pain after only one day of juice cleansing.  It’s worth trying an organic juice cleanse for 1-5 days or a clean eating detoxification for up to 30 days. 

6.     DO try omitting ‘nightshade’ vegetables such as tomatoes, potatoes, peppers & eggplant.  Research suggests that up to 90 percent of individuals who suffer from any form of pain or discomfort in the body are sensitive to nightshades (Dr. Norman Childers of Rutgers University).

I would recommend cutting these out for 30 days to assess whether nightshade vegetables effect your pain level.

7.     Avoid ‘processed food’ and ‘trans fats’.  Avoid fast foods, fried foods, processed snack foods, donuts, crackers, most margarines, etc. Check out labels and run for the hills if you see ‘partially hydrogenated oils’ on the label.

8.     DO eat 100% organic:  The more toxins you consume (those found in non-organic foods) the higher chance of cellular inflammation which can lead to spine & joint pain. Ouch! Not only is 100% organic food higher in nutritional value - it’s tastier as well. 

9.  DO drink water:  Adequate hydration helps with removing toxins from your body.

Non-diet ways to decrease spine pain

1.     DO exercise regularly.  Cardiovascular exercise is great for circulation which oxygenates your cells. Sweating helps to release toxins and exercises like Pilates and yoga help with alignment and building strength and power. Impact, strengthening and stretching exercises are also important for bone density. 

2.     DO meditate & relax.  “Meditation provides lasting pain relief, promotes healing, creates better health and relieves stress, which is the major cause of many ailments including back pain,” says the Brainwave Research Institute of London.

Long story short, the food you eat may be adding to your spine or joint pain. If your goal is a pain-free body, it is important to eat a healthy diet high in antioxidants and low in inflammatory foods and move your body to assist with circulation, detoxification, strength and alignment. 

Like I always say though, don’t believe anything I say.  Try these things and see if they help with your pain level.  I’d love to hear if you notice any difference.

Questions, comments, concerns, queries, conundrums?  Don’t hesitate to ask.

Yours in health & vitality,

Kathi Ells
Holistic Nutritionist

Shelby Stewart