Food for Thought: Diet and Nutrition for a Healthy Back

As most patients are well aware, good nutrition and a balanced diet are important components of overall health. What may surprise people with back problems is that diet, nutrition and maintaining a healthy weight also play a major role in the back - including preventing many problems and healing from injuries.

The bones, muscles and other structures in the spine need good nutrition and vitamins so that they are strong enough to support the body and to perform their other functions. Using these nutritional guidelines, patients can integrate back-friendly vitamins and nutrients into their diets.

Choosing the Right Foods for Optimal Nutrition

Eating a balanced diet that includes the right amount and variety of vitamins and nutrients will reduce back problems by nourishing the bones, muscles, discs and other structures in the spine. Particular importance is given to calcium, which can be obtained through a variety of healthy food choices as well as nutritional supplements.

While a healthy diet calls for many vitamins and nutrients, this partial list highlights a number of healthy choices that can be directly beneficial for helping back patients.

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Role of vitamin or nutrient Food sources
Vitamin A is an antioxidant that assists the immune system in fighting off diseases. It is good for the back because it helps repair tissue and in the formation of bone. It also helps the body use protein effectively.

Additionally, the body can convert beta-carotene into vitamin A. Beta-carotene can be found in dark green leafy vegetables and most orange vegetables and fruits. It's important not to get more then the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A, as too much can promote bone fractures. Beta-carotene does not increase the risk of fracture.1
Vitamin A can be found in beef, calf and chicken liver; dairy products like milk, butter, cheese and eggs; orange fruits such as apricots, nectarines and cantaloupe; orange or green vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes and spinach.
Vitamin B12 is necessary for healthy bone marrow and for the body - and the spine - to grow and function normally. Vitamin B12 can be found in meat products, such as liver, fish, red meat and poultry; dairy products, such as milk, yogurt and cheese; and eggs.
Vitamin C is necessary for the development of collagen, which is an important part of the process that allows cells to be able to form into tissue. This is extremely important for healing problems caused by injured tendons, ligaments and vertebral discs, as well as for keeping bones and other tissues strong. Vitamin C can be found in fruits, such as strawberries, kiwi fruit and citrus fruits (e.g. oranges, guavas, grapefruits) and tomatoes; many vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach, red and green peppers, sweet potatoes and white potatoes.
Vitamin D helps improve calcium absorption, which is important for the development of strong and healthy bones. Adequate calcium absorption is particularly important to help prevent development of osteoporosis, a disorder characterized by weak and brittle bones in the spine that can results in painful vertebral fractures. Vitamin D is naturally occurring in egg yolks and fish oils; also found in most brands of fortified milk in the US; can also be obtained by spending time in the sunlight.
Vitamin K is needed for the bones to properly use calcium. The combination of vitamin K and calcium works to help bones throughout the body stay strong and healthy. Vitamin K is found in liver, pork, green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and broccoli, and dairy products.
Iron is needed for cells to remain healthy as it helps them receive oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide. It also aids in the production of myoglobin, an important element of healthy muscles that are needed to support the spine. Iron is found in meat products such as liver, pork, fish, shellfish, red meat and poultry; lentils, beans, soy, eggs, grains, and green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and broccoli.
Magnesium is important for the relaxing and contracting of muscles. It also helps maintain muscle tone and bone density, which in turn can help prevent back problems. Further, it assists in the body's use of protein. Magnesium is found in whole grains and whole-grain breads, beans, seeds, nuts, potatoes, avocados, bananas, kiwi fruit, shrimp, and green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and broccoli.
Calcium is essential for bone health and helps maintain the necessary level of bone mass throughout the lifespan and especially in old age. Adequate calcium intake is particularly important to help prevent development of osteoporosis, which results in weak and brittle bones in the spine that can results in painful vertebral fractures. Calcium is found in dairy products such as yogurt, cheese and especially milk; dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and kale; tofu, peanuts, peas, black beans and baked beans; some types of fish (salmon and sardines); a variety of other foods such as sesame seeds, blackstrap molasses, corn tortillas, almonds and brown sugar.

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Other Sources of Vitamins and Nutrients

If one is not able to incorporate sufficient amounts of certain vitamins and nutrients into the diet through food, then nutritional supplements can usually be taken to make up the deficit. Patients should take care to always consult a medical professional before changing their diet or taking dietary supplements, natural supplements or vitamins.


  1. Harvard School of Public Health. “Calcium and milk: What’s best for your bones?” 2004.
  2. Arthritis Foundation. “Alternative Therapies: Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate.” 2004.