When suffering from low back pain or neck pain, one of the last areas you might think about is your lifestyle, including diet, smoking habits, physical activity, and alcohol intake. While clear connections have been made between lifestyle factors and diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes, healthy lifestyle behaviors have not usually been a consideration as a treatment for pain, especially nonspecific pain like low back pain. Though they seem unrelated, research has shown a correlation between back pain and lifestyle choices.
Healthy Lifestyle Behaviors and Preventing Low Back Pain
One Swedish study revealed that lifestyle factors, such as smoking, alcohol consumption, activity levels, and fruit and vegetable consumption, influenced participants’ risk of developing low back pain over a 4-year period. The study included almost 4000 men and a little over 5000 women, with participants ranging in age from 18 to 84. Researchers constructed guidelines for healthy lifestyle behaviors, including not smoking, low consumption of alcohol, at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week or 75 minutes of high intensity exercise/week, and at least 4 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
The study results showed that incorporating healthy lifestyle behaviors over a 4-year period reduced women’s risk for developing low back pain by 35 percent for participants who only followed one healthy lifestyle guideline and up to 52 percent for women who followed all four healthy lifestyle behaviors. Interestingly, male participants had an overall reduced risk of developing low back pain, regardless of lifestyle choices, but even so, healthy lifestyle behaviors had a positive impact on their risk of developing low back pain, albeit less dramatically than women.
Healthy Lifestyle Behaviors and You
In light of the research, here are some practical steps you can take to prevent the onset of low back pain:
- Stop smoking. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that researchers could most easily predict which participants would report low back pain simply based on their smoking habits.
- Limit alcohol consumption. While some alcohol consumption was permitted in the study, participants followed the “less is more” axiom.
- Move more. As noted, study participants included at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. Other studies also document the importance of exercise in treating low back pain as well as its prevention.
- Eat healthfully. Even though the Swedish study quantified healthful eating as at least four servings of fruits and vegetables per day, a healthy diet typically also includes lean protein and good fats such as olive oil. Other studies linking diet with serious diseases like cancer suggest that maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI) is optimal, and having excess weight can affect posture and other physiological factors.
Healthy lifestyle behaviors have far-reaching impacts, and as the Swedish study shows, these choices can also prevent low back pain. Consider giving up a smoking habit, limiting alcohol consumption, exercising more, and eating a more healthful diet to avoid low back pain. Doctorpedia encourages you to check with your doctor for more ideas about how to promote health and avoid low back pain!
- Bohman, T., Alfredsson, L., Jensen, I., Hallqvist, J., Vingård, E., & Skillgate, E. (2014). Does a healthy lifestyle behaviour influence the prognosis of low back pain among men and women in a general population? A population-based cohort study. BMJ Open, 4(12), e005713. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-005713
- De Gregori, M., Muscoli, C., Schatman, M. E., Stallone, T., Intelligente, F., Rondanelli, M., … Allegri, M. (2016). Combining pain therapy with lifestyle: the role of personalized nutrition and nutritional supplements according to the SIMPAR Feed Your Destiny approach. Journal of Pain Research, 9, 1179–1189. doi:10.2147/JPR.S115068
- Holtzman, S., & Beggs, R. T. (2013). Yoga for chronic low back pain: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Pain Research & Management, 18(5), 267–272. doi:10.1155/2013/105919
- Skillgate, E., Pico-Espinosa, O. J., Hallqvist, J., Bohman, T., & Holm, L. W. (2017). Healthy lifestyle behavior and risk of long duration troublesome neck pain or low back pain among men and women: results from the Stockholm Public Health Cohort. Clinical Epidemiology, 9, 491–500. doi:10.2147/CLEP.S145264
Nan Kuhlman is an author, freelance writer, and part-time university professor based in Los Angeles, CA. She currently works full-time as a technical writer in Los Angeles and part-time as an online adjunct writing instructor. She has written for scholarly publications like the University of California, Davis Writing on the Edge and Chapman University’s Anastamos Interdisciplinary Journal, among others.
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