A network of nerves in the neck form important connections between the brain and the muscles that support the cervical spine. Inflammation, poor circulation, and other issues that affect these nerves have the potential to contribute to pain. When you factor in daily stress from waking and sleeping movements, it’s easy to see the importance of doing everything possible to keep tissues, joints, and bones in this area healthy. One way to do this is by paying attention to the foods you eat. The Beverly Hills spine surgeons at The Spine Institute want to share a handful of ways a healthy diet plays a role in preventing neck pain.
1. Reduces Inflammatory Chemicals
Histamine and other chemicals are sent to irritated tissues as a defense mechanism to prevent further injury. However, this tissue swelling can also aggravate nerves in the neck. Opting for foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids can lower the amount of inflammation-causing chemicals. Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids with a diet that includes:
- Mackerel, salmon, sardines, and herring
- Wild rice
- Tofu and flax seeds
- Brussels sprouts
2. Boosts Antioxidant Levels
Antioxidants neutralize irregular molecules called free radicals and the resulting oxidative stress that can increase pain sensitivity. Leafy, green vegetables and bright-colored fruits are among the foods that can naturally increase levels of anti-inflammatory antioxidants that ease lingering neck pain. Aim for five servings of veggies and two servings of fruit as part of the meals and snacks you eat throughout your day. Antioxidant-rich foods also include:
- Prunes, plums, raisins, and berries
- Kidney beans
- Sweet potatoes and orange vegetables
- Dark chocolate
3. Helps with Nutrient Absorption
Fiber is believed to help the body absorb beneficial nutrients easier. There are also studies suggesting high-fiber foods may reduce levels of C-reactive protein, a substance the liver produces in response to inflammation. Get the recommended daily allowance of fiber by incorporating the following foods into your diet:
- Fruits and vegetables*
- Black beans
- Whole grains
*One study suggests men who eat plenty of fruits and veggies may be able to lower their c-reactive protein levels by a third.
4. Increases Bone and Muscle Strength
If the tissues that make up your neck’s seven vertebrae and the supporting joints are weakened, you’ll be at an increased risk for fractures and underlying issues like osteoporosis. Maintain the strength of the bones in your neck by including foods rich in calcium and vitamin D in your diet. Strive for 1k to 1.5k mgs of calcium and 400-800 IU (international units) of vitamin D per day. Get more calcium and vitamin D* in your diet with foods that include:
- Chinese cabbage, broccoli, and other leafy veggies
- Low-fat dairy products
- Almonds and Brazil nuts
- Certain fortified cereals
- Egg yolks
- Tuna and sardines
*Since it can be difficult to get sufficient amounts of vitamin D from diet alone, talk to your doctor about supplements. This is especially important for seniors.
Found in whole grains, nuts, fruits, veggies, and beans, magnesium is another important nutrient that may minimize neck-related discomfort. This essential mineral helps muscles that support the bones in the neck contract and relax.
5. Hydrates Neck Discs and Tissues
Discs that support the cervical spine need to be sufficiently hydrated to maintain their sponginess. If spinal discs don’t have enough water, the resulting friction could contribute to existing neck pain as well as new issues. Drinking at least eight, 8-ounce glasses of water per day also keeps the neck’s muscles healthy by maintaining a proper balance of minerals and electrolytes while also boosting circulation.
Get additional pain management benefits from the foods you eat by knowing what to avoid. In addition to fried foods and sugary snacks, processed foods and high-fat dairy products can also make inflammation worse. Couple smart diet choices with equally healthy lifestyle habits like quitting smoking and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption (which also contributes to the loss of beneficial nutrients through urination) to further keep your tissues well-nourished.
Following a healthy diet can also prevent severe pain in the back. However, it’s not necessarily the be-all end-all solution. There may be a need for a procedure such as laminectomy back surgery. Beverly Hills patients who are living with chronic pain can rely on the expert surgeons at The Spine Institute to help them find relief. Give our office a call today at 310-828-7757.