Back pain is one of the most common ailments that humans experience, and despite this, finding a blanket cause for back pain is nearly impossible. The back is an incredibly complex network of muscles, nerves, and bones. You don’t even have to suffer an injury to experience back discomfort. Sometimes it just shows up as an unwanted visitor— and it often overstays its welcome. The good news is that most back pain is temporary and rarely requires surgery. Even better, inflammation, a common cause of back pain, can be remedied by staying away from certain foods and adding others to your diet. Read on to find out how to cure back pain with a whole-food, plant-based diet. Here is my advice, as a D.C., or doctor of chiropractic medicine, and also the founder of Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in Alaska.

Good and Bad Inflammation

Inflammation is typically a good thing since it’s the immune system’s way of dealing with infections, foreign objects, scrapes, chemicals, and harmful bacteria. Inflammation also causes nerve pain— the body’s way of telling you to protect the hurt area until it heals. But sometimes the immune system goes overboard with inflammation, essentially fighting its own cells instead of harmful invaders. When this happens, you pay the price. This type of inflammation is called chronic inflammation, and it can occur anywhere in the body. Most of us experience this at one time or another in our lives— often in our backs.

Maybe it’s because of an old injury, poor posture, sleeping on a too-soft mattress, lifting something incorrectly, or even a degenerative disease like osteoarthritis. Sometimes inflammation just happens out of the blue in healthy adults. There’s always a reason for it, but it may be one that isn’t clear to us at the time. Luckily, changing your diet can do much for inflammation, not just in your back but also throughout your body.

Eating Well Can Help More Than Back Pain

No matter what age you are or how much back pain you experience, eating healthy, in particular, eating plant-based foods that combat inflammation can work wonders for your mind and body. It’s clear from studies that healthy eating can do much for your physical health, including:

  • Reduced risk of heart disease
  • Reduced risk of cancer
  • Stronger bones
  • Reduced risk of stroke
  • Improved memory
  • Weight loss

But that’s not all. One study showed that adults eating healthy, low-glycemic foods reported better moods, energy levels, and depression symptoms than adults eating high-glycemic foods such as refined carbs found in processed foods and drinks.

The science suggests that when the body is healthy, the mind is happy. And when the body is healthy, there’s a dramatic decrease in instances of chronic inflammation, illness, and injury. But it seems that “healthy eating” means something different to everyone, so read on to find out what foods can help your overall health, mood, and back pain caused by inflammation.

Whole, Plant-Based Foods to Eat for Back Pain

Anti-inflammatory foods are generally rich in color and high in antioxidants. They offer a low-glycemic load and a myriad of other benefits.

  • Berries
  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Peppers
  • Bell Peppers
  • Chili Peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Mushrooms
  • Portobello
  • Shiitake
  • Lion’s Mane
  • Grapes
  • Tomatoes
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Cherries
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Nuts
  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Brazil nuts
Picnic table with four bowls of fresh berries
Getty Images/Cultura RF

Herbs, Spices, and Healthy Drinks

When looking for anti-inflammatory, plant-based foods, we can’t forget about herbs, spices, and drinks.

Herbs and Spices:

  • Basil
  • Cinnamon
  • Rosemary
  • Ginger
  • Turmeric
  • Garlic
  • Oregano


  • Green tea
  • Oolong tea
  • White tea
  • Red wine (in moderation)

The foods, herbs, and drinks above provide anti-inflammatory properties while also serving to strengthen bones, increase immune function, and promote healthy joints. If you feel you’re not getting enough nutrients, talk to your doctor before taking any supplements, like calcium. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. If you can, get all your nutrients for whole foods.

Foods to Avoid for Back Pain

While the foods mentioned above are great for decreasing inflammation, there are plenty of processed foods out there that can promote inflammation. It’s best to avoid the following foods for more reasons than inflammatory back pain; they tend to increase the risk of obesity, heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses.

  • Processed meats
  • Hotdogs, bacon, canned meat, beef jerky.
  • Refined Carbohydrates
  • Cakes, white rice, white bread, pasta.
  • Sugar-Heavy Drinks
  • Sodas, energy drinks, sweet tea, sports drinks.
  • Fried Foods & Junk Foods
  • Fries, chips, donuts, corn dogs, egg rolls, fried chicken, fast food.

Other Ways to Eliminate Back Pain

While a good portion of back pain is due to inflammation, there are other non-surgical remedies for back pain. These include lifestyle changes, massages, chiropractic help, and yoga.

Lifestyle Changes

Improving your diet is a big step toward a pain-free life, but there are other things you can do, as well. Such as:

  • Exercise - Proper and regular use of muscles in your body can help prevent back pain and injury. Plus, exercise can help you drop a few pounds, which can reduce strain on your spine.
  • Posture - Slouching can cause back problems, so watch your posture, especially when you’re sitting for long periods. Proper posture takes the strain off your spine and back muscles.


Massage therapy can work wonders for back pain associated with soreness or tense muscles. However, you should consult a chiropractor or doctor before going to a masseuse for back pain. If there’s something else causing the pain, a massage may make it worse.

Chiropractic Help

Perhaps the best way to help non-inflammatory back pain is to see a chiropractor. They can help you determine what is causing the pain, what steps to take, and maybe even align your back properly to eliminate the pain.

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Proper stretching can work wonders for back pain. Yoga also tends to reduce stress and relieve tension throughout the body. It’s a great way to harmonize the body, relax, and eliminate certain kinds of back pain.

Dr. Brent Wells, D.C. founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab and has been a chiropractor for over 20 years, treating Anchorage patients from musculoskeletal problems using chiropractic massage therapy, chiropractic care, and physical rehab therapy designed to help give lasting pain relief. He is a member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians.

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