Dietary Considerations for a Healthy Spine




In this brief post, I am going to discuss theDifferent considerations for a healthy diet and eight in the recovery for patients for spine problems. We will also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of dieting versus lifestyle changes.

First off, there are three main considerations to achieve and keep a healthy spine and to minimize your discomfort level. Think of it as a three-legged stool: exercise, posture control, and weight control.  This is borrowed from my fellowship director, and he espoused it to every patient.

The first leg is exercise. This is one of the more difficult things to achieve especially with so many of us working more hours in the day.  Exercise can take many forms and the main goal is to elevate your heart rate for about 30 minutes 3 to 4 times a week. This can take any form including light weightlifting, the elliptical, Or the recumbent bike. Many folks also like to do road biking, Ice skating, Basketball with friends or even ice hockey with a league. But really low impact sports in general aerobic conditioning even be replaced by simply walking. A lot of us tend to make things more complicated than they actually are. Simply going for walks to be a tremendous boon to your cardiovascular health and for releasing natural endogenous opiates; not to mention it can help your bone health and those of us with osteoporosis.  

Posture control is the second leg.  Exercise that stresses good spinal alignment is very important for keeping the stresses on your back muscles and disks balanced.  Activities such as Pilates and certain forms of yoga encourage core strength.  After spine surgery, many patients have physical therapy.  Core retraining is the man thrust of physical therapy after spine surgery.  Most patients have 1-2 months of quality physical therapy, either land or water-based after many kinds of spinal surgery.  Afterward, transitioning to a yoga or Pilates program might help maintain gains made in therapy.

The final leg, weight control is another difficult achievement.  Many of us struggle with weight loss.  Obesity is a worldwide epidemic and predictions are, within the next 20 years, over 50% of the world's population will be obese.  Predictably, spine problems will be more and more prevalent.  Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is doable, but one's eating habits are what we will focus on.  I recommend a book by the late Dr. David Servan-Schreiber.  

It stresses foods that are natural anti-oxidants and low glycemic foods.  Anti-oxidants are foods that observe free-radicals, or molecules that damage the DNA of cells.  The malfunction of these DNA mechanisms is what people think can cause damage to cells.  These foods will NOT prevent cancer, and NOT prevent your body from aging, but they can slow down the natural processes that damage cells.  These foods include green leafy vegetable, dark-skinned berries, and some supplements.  A warning:  consult with your doctor BEFORE you change your diet, as some of your medications may be affected by dietary changes.

Reducing the amount of red meat may be beneficial as well.  Other supplements such as Krill Oil may reduce the inflammatory power of substances called arachidonic acid byproducts and may be beneficial for those of us with chronic back pain.  Again, consult with your doctor prior to starting any supplements.  

Changes to the way you eat should not be considered a diet.  One might consider them to be a permanent alteration to the way you eat.  Beware fad diets, as the weight loss is often temporary and the weight loss may easily be regained.  

With spinal problems regaining health is a challenge.  After surgery, pain and immobility are prevalent but with some effort and a desire to get back to life, you will maximize your chances of getting back to where you want to be.


Brian R. Gantwerker, MD, FACS, FAANS Brian R. Gantwerker, MD, FAANS, FACS specializes in the treatment of degenerative and traumatic diseases of the spine through minimally invasive techniques. He also treats many patients for concussion and its after-effects and educates on its prevention. Dr. Gantwerker is committed to providing newly advanced techniques for the treatment of brain and spine diseases. He is proficient in both minimally-invasive and complex brain and spinal surgeries. He is diplomate of the American Board of Neurological Surgery. Dr. Gantwerker is a Chicago native who attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he earned his pre-medical education and graduated magna cum laude with honors, majoring in psychology. Dr. Gantwerker received his medical degree at Rush Medical College in Chicago where he focused on peripheral nerve regeneration research. Dr. Gantwerker is a member societies, and a member of the CNS, AANS, and serves as a director at the California Association of Neurological Surgeons.

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