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Esser Health: How Your Diet Impacts Your Lower Back Pain

Esser Health: How Your Diet Impacts Your Lower Back Pain

Dr. Michael Derry, DPT, PT, OCS Jacksonville, Florida
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Dr. Stephen Esser M.D. of Jacksonville, Florida Owner of Esser Health

Dr. Stephan Esser, owner of Esser Health, is a sports medicine physician with an overflowing passion for health. He completed his medical school in south Florida, residency at Harvard, and fellowship in sports medicine at Mayo Clinic. For the past 10 years, he has been practicing in the Jacksonville, Florida area, implementing a comprehensive approach to his patients’ concerns by combining foundational concepts of lifestyle medicine with cutting edge technology like PRP.  Patients seeking care at Esser Health can expect a personalized, science based approach that focuses on you as an entire human instead of a diagnosis or injured body part.

Starting on September 1st 2022, patients seeking care from a sports related injury can work with Dr. Esser at Esser Sports.

"Patients seeking care at Esser Health can expect a personalized, science based approach that focuses on you as an entire human."

Dr. Esser’s teeming passion for wellness has spilled over into many outlets such as the Esser Health Ranch, Esser Health Detox, 6 week anti inflammatory program, and many other Esser Health Events. Revision Health Services and Esser Health share a passion for getting you well and keeping you well. Healing our bodies, whether from an injury or chronic disease, starts with what we put in our mouths and how we move our bodies.  Let’s dive into the conversation between Dr. Stephen Esser and Dr. Michael Derry below. 

What role does diet play in low back pain?

The research coming out of places like Harvard and Mayo Clinic is quite fascinating. It is very apparent that there is a clear relationship between the food we consume, its relation to our bodies, and both the onset and chronicity of back pain.

There are 3 major ways in which our food, body, and back pain interact: 1. Biomechanical 2. Biochemical and 3. Inflammation regulation.

3 ways diet and nutrition impacts lower back pain
Biomechanics, Biochemical, Systemic Inflammation
Reach out if you are in the Ponte Vedra and Nocatee Florida area and you are looking for high quality care for your lower back pain.

1. The biomechanical effect:

The alignment of our body parts is important. In physical therapy, we use something called a plum line to see if the ears, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles line up the way that nature intended. While we are all built a little different, any large deviations from this "normal" can cause a different dispersion of load across our muscles, ligaments, and bones.

Plum line to look at posture and biomechanical pressure on the lower back
Postural plum line looking at alignment

The more mass in the front of the line, the more pressure eon your lower back

When we throw off this alignment, such as in pregnancy, we can get an overload to some areas of the spine and pelvis. This can happen anytime we have an increased amount of abdominal mass on the front portion of our bodies, such as with individuals who are overweight or obese. Unfortunately, we currently have an obesity epidemic in the United States with the remaining world not being far behind. By 2030, the New England Journal of Medicine predicts that 50% of every state will be obese, with a large portion being considered severely obese. However, fewer that 15% of people were obese in 1985. That means that these numbers have drastically increased in less than a lifetime!

"By 2030, the New England Journal of Medicine predicts that 50% of every state will be obese, with a large portion being considered severely obese."

The increase in abdominal mass is throwing off our mechanics, just like in pregnancy.  Our bodies are deviating from that plum line, causing a different dispersion of load across our muscles, ligament, and bones. This leads to a whole host of problems, one of which being an overload to the structures of the low back. This can speed up stenosis and facet arthropathy with are common findings as we age. In addition, 1 additional pound added on above the waist leads to a 3 to 10 pound increase on each joint of our lower body (that means each ankle, each knee, AND each hip!!)

It's no surprise that increasing weight on the top half our bodies increases the chance of hip or knee replacement by 500%. Exercise can be a challenge when we are carrying some extra pounds and may require guidance from a professional with a level of knowledge and supervision above what you already know.

2. The biochemical effect:

On a very simple level, what we eat (or our calories in) combined with how much we move (or our calories out) contributes to how many fat cells we have. Our fat cells are little factories called adipokines meaning fat tissue (adipose) that creates inflammatory molecules (cytokines).  They pump out inflammatory molecules all day long. The more adipokines we have, the more factories we have pumping out inflammatory molecules. They circulate through the blood steam all day long and can irritate the little tiny sensory nerve fibers in our back, along with having countless other systemic effects. Also, studies have shown that some pro-inflammatory foods have the ability to decrease blood flow by up to 50%! This is incredibly powerful! Our food isn't simply something to keep our bellies full. Food is a road map at the cellular level. What we put into our mouths has the power to calm or irritate areas of the body. What road map have you been using?

“ For those who are sick and tired of being sick and tired, making meaningful changes can result in powerful, powerful things.”

3. Inflammation regulation:

When we consume products that result in an increased amount of fat cell, that means more inflammatory factories (adipokines) releasing cytokines, which means increases systemic inflammation. This contributes to increased chronic musculoskeletal pain, type two diabetes, heart disease, stroke, GERD, poor sleep, increased plaque in the blood vessels, and more. When we have an increase in the amount of plaque in the blood vessels, it creates a smaller tube for blood to travel through. Picture water flowing through a drinking straw compared to one of those itty bitty coffee stirrer straws. When the vessels cant move as much blood through, we have an increased risk of erectile dysfunction, stroke, heart attacks, AND BACK PAIN! Why? Because every cell requires blood flow to be a happy and healthy cell. Over 50% of Esser Health patients with low back pain have this change in their vessels.

Lack of blood flow = lack of nutrition = lack of oxygen getting to cells = cells can't heal = you don't feel well.

How do we start cleaning up our diet?

When someone is ready to eat well, reduce inflammation, and drop excess weight, they have systemic change and everything improves. The first step is awareness and acceptance. The next step is to make meaningful dietary changes. We have to incorporate more plant based foods. Plant based foods are minimally processed, whole, nutritious foods that are naturally lower in calorie density. Think apples instead of apple sauce, brown rice instead of white rice, etc. Lets look at an example of how making the change to plant based foods can help us to gain more nutrients, stay super full, and lose weight.

Think if we sat down at a restaurant and the starting dish was 5 large potatoes per person. That is a lot of potatoes! I don't think I've eaten that many potatoes on Thanksgiving let alone as an appetizer. So after eating our five large potatoes each, we would never say “okay, now id like to order my main dish” because we would all be so full! However, we eat the same amount of calories in bread dipped in olive oil without a second thought before indulging in our main course, maybe a beverage or two, and dessert "if we can fit it". Plant based food is lower in calories, but higher in volume. 5 large tomatoes takes up more room in our stomach than 1 tablespoon of olive oil, but their calorie content is the same.

Those who consume more plant matter in their diets have on average a 5 point lower BMI.  It is very hard to maintain a very high weight when you are eating these foods because the amount of food you would need to consume is so high, that you would have to eat all day long. A diet where you can eat more, feel full, maximize nutrients, have less pain, AND lose weight? What's not to love?

"Food is a road map at the cellular level. What we put into our mouths has the power to calm or irritate areas of the body. What road map have you been using?"

Onto a better you.

Some people have been dealing with chronic issues (like chronic low back pain) for so long. Now we know that every bite and every step can make a difference, but where do we start??

  1. Start thinking of exercise and food as your medicine. Take your meds! 
  2. Consult a movement specialist for an individualized, one on one, treatment plan to address the biomechanical aspect of what is going on
  3. Check out Esser Health's 4 week nutritional intervention for guidance on taking the first steps towards bettering your nutrition
  4. Check out this watch list for some extra inspiration! Game Changers, Forks Over Knives, What The Health, A Diet for All Reasons, Dr. Clapper
"Give yourself the gift of four weeks and see what can happen. Do it 100% effort and see what can happen to your body." - Dr. Stephen Esser, M.D. of Esser Health

Revision Health Services now offers Telehealth for Florida residents as well as massage and physical therapy locally in Jacksonville, Nocatee, and St. Johns, Florida. To find out if our services could be the best fit for you, reach out and let's chat!

Until next time, stay healthy, keep moving, and take care of yourself.

Dr. Michael Derry is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and board certified in orthopedics. He is very passionate about treating lower back pain and helping people build their resiliency. He has spent time assisting at universities as well as managing large clinics before starting his own practice in Jacksonville, FL.

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