For most people, drinking alcohol in moderation is fine. In some cases, such as for people with a high risk for heart disease, physicians may even recommend a small amount of red wine or other mild alcoholic beverage on a daily basis. As a general rule, most people can drink socially without any long-term adverse effects.
However, for people with back pain, alcohol carries a risk of increasing the pain caused by conditions like degenerative disc disease, facet disease, herniated discs and foraminal stenosis. For this reason, individuals with neck and back pain may be advised to avoid alcohol.
Why does alcohol increase neck and back pain?
Physicians are not yet sure why there is a correlation between drinking alcohol and neck and back pain. Studies have not turned up any conclusive data to show why people who drink experience a worsening in their spinal conditions. However, there are a few theories as to why the bad habit may make sciatica, bone spur pain and other spinal conditions worse:
- Alcohol acts as a muscle relaxant – In order to remain healthy and strong, your spine needs proper support from the muscles in your back, abdomen, pelvis and buttocks (what is commonly called the “core”). Drinking alcohol relaxes these muscles, which means that the spine may not be properly supported until the effects of the alcohol wear off.
- Alcohol is a depressant – Alcohol’s main effect is to depress, or slow, the body’s natural processes, including circulation and respiration. Proper circulation and respiration are vital to helping your back stay healthy, because these important bodily functions flush toxins out of your body’s soft tissues and feed your body the nutrients it needs to function.
- Alcohol can be detrimental to mood – Many people who deal regularly with intense neck or back pain can feel depressed and helpless. Some people in that situation may turn to alcohol as a way to self-medicate. While alcohol may have a temporary positive effect, over time alcohol use may result in even deeper depression and possibly addiction. These conditions often act as barriers to recovery from neck and back pain.
Strategies for avoiding alcohol
If you find that drinking alcohol causes an increase in your neck or back pain, consider these strategies to reduce or eliminate your alcohol consumption:
- In social situations, alternate drinking water with drinking alcohol.
- Drink non-alcoholic beer or virgin versions of margaritas, daiquiris and other popular alcoholic drinks.
- If you use alcohol to deal with depression, seek the help of a mental health professional and Alcoholics Anonymous to find alternate ways to cope with your situation.
If you think you may have a serious problem with alcohol use, there are a number of support and treatment options. Talk to your physician about the effects of your alcohol use and which treatments are right for your lifestyle.