My chronic back pain to total wellness journey
If you suffer from chronic and mysterious back pain, I wrote this article for you.
In this post, I’d like to share with you my experiences living with chronic mysterious back pain for 8 years, and how I finally cured myself for good.
In the process of curing my back pain, I also (rather effortlessly and fast) managed to shed 50 pounds. I’ve kept almost all of this weight off for over 2 years now without any dieting, and I feel amazing.
Hopefully, reading about my back pain experience will help you to understand your own back pain. Because if you have similar symptoms as the ones I had, my story may help you finally solve your own back problems.
This article is rather long and detailed to be of as much help to others who are suffering as possible. First I’ll discuss symptoms and what the doctors told me, then I’ll share the easy lifestyle changes I made to reclaim my health, plus plenty of resources that I hope can help you.
This post contains affiliate links, meaning I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you for products you purchase via this website. For more information click here.**
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The first time I hurt my back
The first time I pulled my back out, I did so by stepping out of the shower.
I had barely reached for a towel when out of nowhere, a severe and excruciating jolt of pain knocked me to my knees.
I could barely breathe, shocked by the intensity. Somehow, I managed to get dressed, grab my phone, and go lay down on the bed to call my husband.
He left work to come to help me. I was terrified. I could not move without intense spasms of pain vibrating throughout my body. We called 911, and they gave me morphine. The doctor at the hospital prescribed me Vicodin and Flexeril.
A few days later, I began physical therapy. It took 4 weeks before I was fully recovered, and I had no idea how or why the whole thing even happened.
At this time, I was only 28 years old; young, and healthy. I was in nursing school and working as a CNA, so I had some medical knowledge. I hadn’t had my kids yet.
Despite almost having my RN license, I did not know why I hurt my back. I thought the pain-attack was a random fluke. Until it happened again. And again. Then spiraled out of control.
Mysterious back pain episodes
Over the next 8 years, at least once or twice a year, a seemingly random acute back pain episode would hit straight out of nowhere. I had my first child during those first back pain years.
When this back pain would attack, it was absolutely horrendous. I’d almost rather have another natural childbirth than a back pain attack.
Caring for my daughter for the first 3 days after a pain attack was totally impossible. My husband would have to call out of work to help because all I could do was lay in bed drugged up on Flexeril and Vicodin.
Usually, by day 4, I was off the painkillers and just taking ibuprofen. I couldn’t move normally for weeks after one of these episodes, but I still had to try to live as normally as possible with the residual pain.
I went to many different doctors and Chiropractors over the years and received various advice.
What the doctors said about the cause of my back pain and how to cure it
Firstly, let me say that all this all started around 2011. Medical knowledge has come a long way since. So I’m not trying to blame these docs for misinformation. This is simply the information I received at the time.
The first doctor I went to was into Chinese medicine along with chiropractic stuff. He told me that my spleen was off, and to eat more coconut curry soup. “Eat warming foods,” he said. I left feeling very confused as to how that would help my back.
I went to physical therapy next and learned some exercises that I still do every week. Those were and are helpful, but I would quickly learn that strength training alone is not a cure for back pain.
Another doctor told me I only had back pain because I had a small child. “It’s normal that you would have back pain, chasing around a one-year-old,” he had said. I stopped seeing that guy. I knew back pain wasn’t a normal part of motherhood.
I also went to a naturopathic doctor who taught me about The Blood Type Diet, (I’m an O negative.) She advised me towards a meat and potatoes heavy paleo-ish diet, (though I don’t think the term paleo was used much then.)
I had just read the book Skinny Bitch and was all about being vegan. So I was skeptical. I didn’t want to switch my diet from all the rice, pasta, tofu, and bread.
Skinny I was not
With 20+ extra pounds on me, I felt like crap, despite going to the gym all the time back then. I was not happy with my appearance, and I was starting to identify as overweight and disabled. What a terrible, depressing feeling.
Anyway, none of my doctors could identify a root cause for my back pain. The pain was never triggered by heavy lifting. It was not ankylosing spondylitis or any other known disease, either. This pain was totally mysterious. One teensy tiny wrong move and I was screwed.
I continued to go to physical therapy. My strength training routine was that of an athlete. I was at the gym where they had childcare 4 days a week exercising. It wasn’t helping, but I did it anyway to feel safer.
In addition to the back pain, I had terrible insomnia and anxiety. There were nights I didn’t sleep at all. I was a stay at home mom at this time, and I could barely mom.
I went so far as to quit drinking coffee, thinking it may be to blame for not only insomnia but also the electric nerve pain I felt frequently shoot down my spine.
Quitting coffee cured my insomnia, which was finally something good.
It also helped ease my anxiety and racing thoughts. As for my back, eliminating coffee did seem to help with the electric current pain, but it didn’t help much beyond that.
Instead of coffee in the morning, I started drinking Dandelion Root tea, which is an amazing, healing, pleasantly nutty-tasting beverage. It helps your liver detox, and I still drink it to this day.
The coffee detox itself was super-rough. But since quitting coffee cured my insomnia immediately, I stuck with the tea.
Chronic pain intensifying
The pain was morphing. It was becoming more underlying and consistent. I shuffled around the house, feeling weak and fragile, terrified of a sudden intense pain strike. I could barely shop at Walmart. All those things you do as a mom and homemaker were a struggle. (I was a stay-at-home-mom then.)
When a severe back pain attack would hit, I was always careful to only use my prescription meds for the first few days after. I didn’t want to become addicted to opioids, as many chronic pain sufferers become. You might be reading this right now addicted. No judgment. I hope you get off them, get help, and get healthy.
Desperate for pain relief as the stakes get higher
After a few more years and a few more doctors, I got pregnant with my second child. I prayed and prayed for no back pain attacks during my pregnancy, knowing I couldn’t take any prescription pain meds because they could hurt my baby. I didn’t dare go outside for a walk due to the weakness and fragility of my body.
I was at my chiropractors’ office every single week during my pregnancy, and was diligent as always, about my physical therapy exercises.
Even though my latest chiropractor wasn’t helping much to actually cure my pain, I kept going to her. I needed a medical person as a touchstone, and she was just a terrific person. She was intelligent and supportive of natural health practices. She told me I should try the paleo diet, but I still didn’t particularly want to eat meat.
(In case you’re not familiar with the paleo diet, paleo is a restrictive diet that eliminates all grains, dairy, beans, peanut butter, and alcohol. The idea is that these foods were not part of a traditional caveman way of eating, and may cause health problems.)
Thankfully, I made it through my pregnancy without any incidences. I gave birth to my second child, a healthy beautiful girl. I was so happy, but physically a total wreck.
Lack of sleep with my newborn, along with the chronic pain was a daily struggle. And at that point, I also had 50 pounds to lose instead of the original 20 pounds. All I wore were black legging and gray t-shirts.
I mourned never wearing anything but athletic sneakers ever again. They made my back hurt less, but I hated the style of most athletic sneakers. I wanted to wear cuter outfits, but what difference would it make anyway.
The worst feeling? Knowing that if my back went out, I wouldn’t be able to care for my infant or 5-year-old. Knowing my husband would have to call out of work for at least a week to take care of the kids because, in our situation, there was no one else to help us with the kids.
I went to another doctor, an osteopath. She was a straight shooter, an Aries, and I liked her. She told me to go on a strict paleo diet.
Ok, helllooo I’d heard that advice before.
Anything to end this nightmare, I thought.
Switching to a paleo diet
I woke up the day after my first day of eating 100% paleo with zero back pain.
ZERO. I felt fabulous.
That day, I got tasks done around the house that I’d been putting off for months. Finally, I felt real hope. Even though it had only been one day, I felt so great right away that I knew that this diet was my cure. I’d finally found a way to end the pain.
I stayed on a strict paleo diet for about 4 months, during which time I lost 50 pounds with no exercise other than simple strength training on the floor of my living room.
I started at a weight of 190 pounds post-childbirth, and slimmed back down to my normal weight of 140 so rapidly it almost made my head spin. Literally a three-month timespan.
Would any of that extra baby weight have come off naturally on its own without the diet change? Doubtfully. You may assume the baby weight falls off after pregnancy, but usually, that’s not the case.
I could not believe how amazing I felt. I was back to my pre-marriage weight. To finally be pain-free and feel normal. It was simply incredible.
I also noticed how hungry I wasn’t anymore. I could eat eggs and avocado for breakfast and be fine until lunch with no snack. The constant cravings for crackers, muffins, and sugar were gone.
Going paleo did involve extra planning, but it wasn’t hard to stick with because I didn’t feel hungry. Honestly, it felt effortless as far as not having to battle cravings and hunger.
Shifting from a paleo diet to a grain-free anti-inflammatory diet
As the months went on, I began to feel more confident in my healing. I started to incorporate certain foods back into my diet just to see if I could tolerate them without inflammation and pain.
First to make a comeback were beans. No problems there.
Then corn on the cob, small amounts of cheese, chocolate, and wine. These foods, in small amounts, didn’t seem to cause any pain problems for me even though they aren’t “allowed” on the paleo diet. (Processed corn can be a problem. For example, corn chips can cause some inflammation. Usually, I try to buy Paleo chips. But more on both what inflammation is and what foods to eat in a minute.)
At any rate, these discoveries allowed me to identify the best way of eating for my body: a grain-free anti-inflammatory, high-fat, diet.
How is going grain-free different from going gluten-free?
Going grain-free is different than going gluten-free diet because a grain-free diet eliminates not only gluten-containing foods like wheat but all other grains as well. That means rice, oats, rye, corn, and so on.
Going grain-free involves no cereal, bread, gluten-free flours, or gluten-free cookies (because they’re usually made with rice flour.) No oatmeal, crackers, corn chips, or beer. On a grain-free diet, you would eat nothing that contains grains whatsoever. (Gluten-free allows for rice and other gluten-free grains.)
FYI, quinoa and buckwheat are technically seeds. You may or may not tolerate them. I don’t recommend either on a grain-free diet unless you can tolerate them.
Self-diagnosing grain intolerance and eliminating all grains
Even though I was told by two different doctors that I may want to try eating paleo, neither of these doctors drew a direct connection between my diet and my back pain. Neither ever said, “Your back pain is caused by inflammation caused by grain intolerance.” It was more like just a suggestion to try going paleo. As for how and why eating paleo would help my back, I had to connect those dots myself.
The thing is, the research on grains and inflammation and back pain hasn’t made it far enough into the mainstream yet. There is some awareness of this connection here and there. And certainly plenty of others who have experienced amazing healing by going grain-free. But there is no widely-known connection between grains and back pain specifically. Your doctor may or not know or support this theory, so it may be up to you to start a conversation.
I can tell you with certainty that there is a connection between back pain and grains for me, one person. And I believe if I have grain-intolerance, many other people do, too.
You can try out a grain-free diet for a period of time and see if it eliminates your pain. You may be able to self diagnose grain intolerance for yourself, depending on how going grain-free makes your body feel.
Benefits of eating a grain-free anti-inflammation diet
It’s been about two years since I’ve switched to a grain-free anti-inflammation diet, and I’ll never go back. I never, ever count calories or restrict my eating other than simply eating mostly grain-free.
I find it easy (compared to calorie-restriction) to eat a grain-free diet made of meats, veggies, squash, potatoes, fruits, nuts, and some cheese. After finally self-diagnosing grain intolerance, I’m glad to eliminate all grains completely.
I’m way less hungry than when I ate vegan, or even before that when I ate a standard American diet. And you know what? I could care less about eating rice, bread, and flour tortillas. To me, they are literally just fillers for the good stuff, such as meat, cheese, mayo, avocado, and veggies.
My weight remains down, and my pain is non-existent when I adhere to a grain-free diet. My skin looks better, and my cellulite has diminished, too. I’m no longer afraid of my body attacking me.
**Resources for recipes and how to get started with a grain-free lifestyle in a minute.**
What is inflammation and how can grains cause inflammation?
You may be wondering this whole time how grains have anything to do with back pain and losing weight. And what about the term “inflammation?”
Inflammation is a natural response made by your body to protect you against viruses, bacteria, and foreign substances. It’s caused by extra white blood cells and other components of your immune system that are trying to heal you but are actually wreaking havoc.
Inflammation involves swelling, pain, and sometimes redness, stiffness, and heat. Think of a pimple or a banged knee.
For me, the grains I ate were causing an inflammatory reaction to my body, and particularly my lower back muscles.
How to identify inflammation as caused by grain intolerance
The problem in identifying inflammation as a cause of your back pain is that you can’t see the inflammation in your back muscles and fascia. Not with your eyes, not with x-rays, which I’ve had. Frustratingly, sometimes people don’t quite understand or even believe you about your back pain since inflammation can be so dang incognito.
My body had been reacting to grains like they were a foreign harmful substance. (My body is right.) And my immune system had been trying to protect me with the inflammatory response and extra body fat, especially around my distended stomach.
The chronic pain, weakness, and stiffness. Not to mention all those times I threw out my back by doing absolutely nothing; inflammation from grain intolerance was responsible for all of it.
Everyone’s body is different; a grain-free diet is not for everyone
I truly believe that some people do better eating vegan or low fat, while others do best eating high-fat foods, meat, eggs, etc. Plenty of people experience perfect health on a variety of foods. We are all different. So please do your own research, talk to your doctor/s, and use your own judgments before you conclude a self-diagnosis of grain intolerance.
That being said, I’ve come to the conclusion that The Blood Type Diet probably holds much truth and may even be a pretty good mark of how one might best eat. At least, it resonates with me personally.
The Blood Type Diet supports the theory that depending on your ancestry and blood type, different foods work better for different people.
For example, if you’re of northern European descent and have type o blood, many of your ancestors ate a certain way: meat, potatoes, cabbage, and very little fruit. You may be better off with those & similar foods.
As opposed to if your ancestors are from a warm climate by the equator where mango trees and juicy fruits grow plentiful.
What are some other foods to avoid in addition to grains?
Other foods that may be inflammatory for some people include peanut butter, refined oils, nightshade vegetables, and sugar.
Peanut butter contains a naturally-occurring toxin called aflatoxin. Aflatoxins can cause liver damage and cancer.
Non-organic peanut butter is a definite no-go because of all the pesticides used. Peanuts are one dirty crop. You can use almond butter, cashew, or sunflower seed butter instead if you decide to eliminate peanut butter.
Refined oils like canola or soy oil are also known to be harmful if eaten regularly. Better to eat is grass-fed butter, coconut oil, organic animal fat, (ie organic chicken thighs) avocados, nuts, and olive oil. Be careful to buy high-quality olive oil as much olive oil on the market is actually counterfeit oil! I know, it’s crazy.
For some super-sensitive individuals, nightshade veggies such as spinach, tomatoes, and eggplants may cause inflammation. From what I gather, this is less common.
Sugar, including natural sugar from fruits, is perhaps the second most common culprit for inflammation.
Alcohol is inflammatory and metabolizes in a similar way to sugar.
And finally dairy can be problematic for many people. I avoid dairy but find cheese not to be a huge issue when I consume it moderately. It makes food taste good and feel satisfying, so it has its place in small amounts in my lifestyle.
A long term solution you can live with to stay inflammation-free
My solution to inflammation now is reasonable: I follow a fairly strict grain-free diet and try to avoid inflammatory foods, but I’ll still eat certain inflammatory foods occasionally in moderation.
The thing is, you have to live your life. You may want a bowl of ice cream sometimes. If you’re too strict about what you eat all the time, it’s a tough way to live. You’d do best to find a little wiggle room, so long as it doesn’t cause your pain symptoms to flare up wildly.
You’re way less likely to stay on an anti-inflammation diet, or any diet, when you’re rigid. And the word “diet” is rather unfit, by the way. This is a lifestyle shift.
I recommend staying away from all grains 98% (maybe some popcorn at the movies every once in a while, for example.) But I do recommend occasionally enjoying some organic chocolate, grain-free cookies, fancy cheese, or organic wine if you’re of age to drink alcohol, safe about it, and not an alcoholic.
What I do when I eat too much inflammatory food
Occasionally, I do slip up and have too much of the wrong food for my body. Usually, nachos made with regular corn chips, wine, or ice cream are to blame for tempting me.
When I do eat foods I know to be inflammatory, I can usually feel the inflammatory effects after consuming them. But I try not to let myself feel guilty. I simply try to eat better the next day and take it one day at a time. I try to do my best, but I’m not perfect.
To help combat any inflammation in my body, I take both organic CBD oil and organic turmeric. Both supplements help tremendously with pain and inflammation.
Here in Maine where I live, I have access to wonderful organic CBD oil literally everywhere. I usually purchase it at a shop right down the street from my house. Shop local if you can!
High-quality CBD is available online, though it is prohibited for sale on Amazon. (Only hemp oil with no CBD is sold on Amazon.) A great company the makes high-quality CBD you can order from is cbdtru.com.
CBD oil does not contain THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. It will not get you high. Hemp-derived CBD oil is legal in all 50 states so I don’t know why Amazon doesn’t sell it, but I’m sure they will eventually. CBD is wonderfully healing for pain and inflammation and helps with a myriad of health issues from insomnia to anxiety.
Turmeric is a wonderful spice with powerful medicinal properties. It contains curcumin, which is widely-know to be anti-inflammatory. Instead of buying turmeric or curcumin in pill form, (usually, at least $14 or more,) my money-saving hack is to buy a 1 lb bag of turmeric for around half that cost. I simply mix a teaspoon or two with water and drink. It doesn’t taste that bad, in my opinion.
What I eat to stay pain-free
Some examples of grain-free meals I enjoy would be pancakes made with almond flour, lentil or chickpea noodles instead of regular noodles, and meat & veggie-based meals. To stay full and satisfied, I eat plenty of fat, including avocados, healthy oils, nuts, high-fat meats, and small amounts of cheese.
Here is a handy chart of what I personally eat and do not eat to avoid inflammation. Please note I always try to eat organically as much as I can and recommend purchasing organic as your budget allows. This is a pin-able image you can save or share.
**Update- Check out this blog article for a free printable anti-inflammatory foods list (no email required):
Successfully following a grain-free anti-inflammatory diet long-term
The 4 most important components of following a grain-free diet long term are:
- Always have grain-free foods available
- Don’t under-eat or count calories
- Learn to cook
Always have grain-free foods available
It’s a good idea to stock up on foods like almond butter, apples, veggies, paleo snack bars, organic beef jerky, nuts, potatoes, and more. You do not want to run out of foods to eat and end up consuming some regrettable pain-inducing slice of pizza. Try to buy extra of your grain-free items when they go on sale to save money.
Make sure to eat enough food
You also must make sure you eat enough food, especially filling foods like squash and higher fat foods like butter and eggs. This way of eating is not low calorie or low fat.
This is a low sugar diet in nature, and you’ll likely lose weight. BUT, again, it’s not so much a diet as a lifestyle change meant to heal from inflammation which is so often the root cause of pain and/or excess weight.
You will very likely be less hungry eating this way and may find yourself surprised by how not hungry you are at times. Believe it or not, you may even forget to eat on a grain-free anti-inflammatory diet! You can and should eat full and hearty meals. You will not feel cravings to overeat or binge as strongly, and you can very likely still lose weight eating heartily, (so long as you don’t overeat.)
Learn to cook grain-free
If you’re not much of a cook, now is the time to learn.
Luckily, cooking grain-free is no harder than any kind of cooking. My best cooking tips are:
- Bake extra potatoes, sweet potatoes, and squash so you have them for the week.
- Utilize your crock-pot for easy stews and soups.
- Buy more avocados than you think is reasonable.
- Make smoothies to get your green vegetables in.
- And use plenty of grass-fed butter on everything.
If you slip up and eat something inflammatory, forgive yourself and move on. Keep eating the best way you can. If you want to go grain-free for weight loss, remember to focus on health and wellness in addition to weight-loss. Focus on healing.
Affirm to yourself your new habits and ways of eating. Affirm to yourself that you are healing. Have a positive growth mindset, and know that you have the power to help yourself.
Against All Grains by Danielle Walker
Green Smoothies For Life by JJ Smith
Although eating an anti-inflammatory, grain-free diet has saved my life, everyone’s body is different. Please experiment with what works for you and what doesn’t before you self-diagnose grain intolerance.
Food intolerances, as well as allergic reactions, can develop at any point in a person’s life. For me, a severe intolerance to grains started around age 28. With cereal, pancakes, and bread my body was a mess. Without them, I am finally free of chronic severe back pain and weight concerns.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, the idea of eating meat may repulse you, and if so, I understand. I hope you find a solution that works for you.
I’m a firm believer in purchasing organic, free-range meat, and eggs if your budget allows. It makes eating meat feel less cruel and helps you avoid all the harmful components of conventional meat, such as GMOs and antibiotics.
Also, make sure you read labels closely. Talk to multiple doctors. Don’t ever take just one person’s advice about health issues. And listen to your body.
I hope you enjoyed this article and found it helpful. Please share on Pinterest and social media if you think this article could help others suffering from severe back pain. Many people could have a grain-intolerance and not know it! And best of luck on your own wellness journey.
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