Newswise — Eating a more pro-inflammatory diet was associated with higher incidence of low back pain, according to a new study presented this week at the Association of Academic Physiatrists Annual Meeting.

Low back pain is a common and often chronic condition worldwide, and the leading cause of disability. The mechanisms for developing low back pain are still unclear. Could systemic inflammation be the chief contributing factor in some adults, and what role does their overall diet play?

“This study was performed in response to the growing body of research that points at systemic inflammation as a leading cause to a variety of chronic diseases, with low back pain being one of them,” said Valerio Tonelli Enrico, PT, MSCE, Research Assistant and doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh. “It is relevant to know that pro-inflammatory diets may be associated with painful conditions, because that could pave the way to novel dietary intervention approaches. Traditionally, diet has been mostly just looked at as a means to lose weight, but its potential could extend way beyond that.”

Researchers used the Dietary Inflammatory Index (DII), a score that assesses the tendency of a particular diet to cause inflammation, to examine diet and health data on a sample of 3,966 U.S. adults taken from 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination (NHANES) survey database from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The researchers analyzed simple, bivariate associations between the patients’ DII scores, low back pain incidence, and other covariates.

They found that higher DII scores were significantly associated with low back pain prevalence: Eating a more pro-inflammatory diet was still significantly associated with developing low back pain when the data was adjusted for gender, physical activity level, health status and family income.

“For patients, the idea of transforming one’s food intake into an intervention that could help cope with pain is both simple and empowering. As we all depend on food, and consume it multiple times a day, knowing that adjusting this intake could help reduce inflammation and pain is fascinating,” said Tonelli Enrico. “Similarly, this finding also has positive implications for physicians. It opens the doors to a complementary intervention that is drug-free and thus, yields no side effects. Moreover, an anti-inflammatory diet has been shown to help a spectrum of health-related outcomes, preventing a variety of chronic diseases that plague our society. Our study puts a spotlight on diet in the clinical approach for chronic low back pain, calling physicians for a more thorough screening on food consumption, and opening up the potential for fruitful multi-disciplinary cooperation that are pivotal to addressing complex pain syndromes. It also opens the door for physicians to have an open dialogue with their patients about the important role of diet and health, which is a crucial step not only towards recovery, but also towards prevention.”



The Association of Academic Physiatrists (AAP) is a professional society with a mission to create the future of academic physiatry through mentorship, leadership, and discovery. Its members are leading physicians, researchers, educators and in-training physiatrists from over 40 countries. The AAP holds an Annual Meeting, produces a leading medical journal in rehabilitation: AJPM&R, and leads a variety of programs and activities that support and enhance academic physiatry. On February 9-13, 2021, the AAP is hosting its first-ever virtual Annual Meeting, Physiatry ‘21. To learn more about the association, the specialty of physiatry and Physiatry ‘21, visit and follow us on Twitter at @AAPhysiatrists.

Meeting Link: Physiatry '21, February 2021