Bone health and back pain are intertwined in myriad ways. Many of the things that contribute to poor bone health are also factors in joint and spine problems. Furthermore, porous bones, fractures, bone inflammation and bone remodelling can trigger back pain. Conversely, back pain can lead to decreased bone density and poor bone health.
If you have issues with bone health and back pain, or are worried about either or both, read on!
Connections Between Bone Health and Back Pain
Some bone problems have a fairly direct link to back pain. It seems fairly obvious, for instance, that a spinal fracture might result in back pain.
Many people don’t realize, however, that porous bones in the spine can cause pain themselves. Porous bones are weaker and less able to withstand stress, which can trigger the production of pain-inducing molecules.
Spinal fractures may also cause pain in a less direct fashion. For example, a fractured vertebra may result in spinal slippage, which can lead to compression of spinal nerves. Osteoporosis in the spine can also lead to vertebral compression, where the height of the vertebra shrinks as the bone collapses into itself. This kind of compression decreases the space for intervertebral discs and spinal nerves. It can also cause instability in the spine that triggers back pain.
Bone remodelling and back pain
Although we may think of bones as being static things, the truth is that our bones are constantly remodelling themselves. Cells called osteoclasts break down bone, while osteoblasts build new bone. This process relies on proper signalling between cells, as well as the presence of certain nutrients.
For example, imbalances in calcium, magnesium, and vitamins D and K can cause decreased bone density. A lack of these nutrients also contributes to muscle cramps and spasms, and ligament calcification. Too little vitamin D, magnesium, and vitamin K may also contribute to arterial calcification and even autoimmune issues related to back pain.
Making sure to eat a healthy diet that includes leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and whole grains can help ensure you get sufficient amounts of calcium and magnesium. As it can be hard to get enough vitamin D safely from sunlight, most people are recommended to take a supplement year round. Vitamin K can also be found in leafy greens, as well as in fermented foods like natto, tempeh, and kimchi, and even in cranberries.
Bone health, back pain, and exercise
Load-bearing exercise tells our bones to increase mineralisation for added strength. Conversely, being sedentary can lead to a loss of bone density and an increased risk of fracture and bone pain.
People with osteoporosis or its pre-condition, osteomalacia, may be reluctant to exercise due to concerns about broken bones. This lack of physical activity not only increases the loss of bone density, it also undermines overall health and wellbeing. The more sedentary you are, the higher your risk of back pain.
It is important, therefore, to engage in regular exercise that is safe for those with bone issues. This might mean going swimming regularly, cycling, or doing other low impact activities.
Other links between bone health and back pain
Bone health and back pain are linked in terms of causality, and bone problems can also hinder recovery from back pain. People with osteoporosis may, for example, be considered poor candidates for certain types of back surgery, such as fusion. This is partly because it is harder to attach hardware such as screws and plates to porous bones. Weaker bones are more liable to fracture during spinal fusion surgery and are less likely to create a solid fusion.
All in all, it’smart to look after your bone health if you have back pain, and to consider how back pain might affect your bone health.
In addition to getting regular exercise and eating well, here are some other top tips for bone health and back pain:
- Quit smoking – chemicals in smoke interfere with bone mineralisation, raise the risk of bone infection, and can prevent you from getting back surgery!
- Cut down on caffeine and alcohol – both of these deplete calcium from bones, while alcohol increases your risk of accidents and fractures.
- Gain some weight (if you’re underweight) – too little padding can increase your risk of fracture. Eating a little more (and continuing to exercise) can also help increase your intake of much-needed bone-building nutrients.
- Skip the animal proteins, sugar and sweeteners – these acid-forming, pro-inflammatory foods can cause the body to leach calcium from bones to alkalize the blood. Over time, this may lead to poor bone density, as well as damage from ongoing inflammation.
If there is bone disease in your family, or if you’ve been diagnosed with osteomalacia, take steps now to improve your bone health. Your skeleton and your spine will thank you for it!