Cry Me a River; Why Hydration is Affecting Your Low Back Pain

Aug 3, 2023

 by Liz Rodriguez

I remember waking up after a night of drinking a few years ago and feeling my back being even stiffer than it was the day before. I immediately drank some Gatorade and water and by the next day my back had returned to its normal 4 on a scale of 1-10; 10 being excruciating and 1 being nothing.  As many of you have heard on my Reels or read on my website, I was in chronic pain off and on for the better part of 6 years.

In the later years leading up to my surgery I began to notice and increased sensitivity to certain foods as well as alcohol intake that would affect the state of my low back pain.  Many of us are well-versed in the notion that a weak core can lead to low back pain or that lifting things "the wrong way" can lead to back pain.  This blog is going to expand that notion to include other areas, including hydration, alcohol as well as certain foods.  Let's get into it.

Let's first break down what inflammation is. Essentially our immune system creates inflammation to protect the body from infection, injury, or disease.  We can have both acute (short-term) and  chronic (lasting longer than 6 weeks) inflammation.  As we specifically look at chronic inflammation we know that the causes can be certain conditions, medications and also foreign materials the body cannot easily eliminate.  This leads us to the part of the conversation with food.

So what foods can cause inflammation?  This list includes sugar, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, processed meats and trans fats.  One of the first things I do with new clients who suffer from low back pain is to do a deep dive into how much water they drink as well as their diet.  If they are taking in this list of foods on a regular basis I have them work on removing immediately.  You'll also notice that that list of foods are all foods we can agree we should all be eating less of not more.  

When we begin to eliminate those foods and they notice a difference they are always surprised.  When I remind them that their body is fighting inflammation in their backs, eliminating foods that can inflame them is going to help reduce the body's overall inflammation levels.  It also can play into the fact that increases in inflammation can exacerbate stress levels and the two can sort of wind up in a loop, egging on the other issue.

It's then that my clients learn that we need to treat chronic inflammation like chronic stress.  These issues are not something the body is accustomed to dealing with which is why your body recognizes stress all the same. Whether you are putting your body through the agony of a marathon or attending a funeral, the body reacts the same way.  Both of those situations cause stress.  So learning to reduce types of stress on the body is absolutely going to play a role in how your back feels, especially when you deal with chronic pain.

As we look at the hydration piece, let's take a step back and talk about the spine's anatomy.  First off, the body itself is made up of 50% water.  Crazy right?  Second, when we look at the back we have both bone (the vertebrae) and the discs (spongy sacs of fluid).  As you can imagine, having a spongy sack of fluid can be directly affected by the overall hydration intake of that individual.  Water helps to keep the spinal discs full of fluid so they can properly cushion the spine during movement.  

The reason I bring up both water and food when it comes to hydration is because they play off of each other.  What I mean is there is no point in drinking just 8 glasses of water a day if you plan on consuming alcohol numerous days per week or eat a diet high in processed foods and sugar.  It would be much more advantageous to try reducing some of those foods in your diet and aiming for at least 6 glasses of water a day.  This goes onto the bigger question of how much water is enough?  That really is all dependent on the size of the individual, their activity levels, body composition as well as diet.  This blog is more geared towards increasing your awareness so that you are giving yourself more knowledge and opportunity to reduce your low back pain.

In reality, suffering from low back pain is a common thing.  It affects both active and sedentary individuals.  Arming yourself with more tools such as increasing hydration and improving diet  treat your low back pain  is just as important as doing core exercises and walking. 

An estimated 75-85% of Americans experience some form of back pain during their life. 5% of people struggling with back pain will go on to have it chronically throughout their lives.  Arming yourself with better tools can help you avoid that pain as well as the consequences that follow chronic issues.  Missing out on vacations, avoiding fun activities and exacerbating other issues (gaining weight, increased stress) from skipping workouts are just a few things I myself have dealt with as I am sure many of you have as well.  

I hope you found this blog helpful!  If you are ever curious about working together and you are struggling on how to reduce your low back pain, schedule a free call here.