Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Spring 2011. Copyright 2011. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.

Inflammation often causes pain and swelling. If you cut your finger, it usually doesn't hurt very much at first. A day or so later, though, your cut and the somewhat swollen area around it feels worse. That's because your body's defense system, otherwise known as your immune system, started an inflammatory process to heal the cut. The chemicals sent to heal your injury are actually irritating the nerves around the cut. 

Sometimes this inflammation response is too strong, causing even more pain. Let's say your brain is sending chemicals to repair a slight tear in a back muscle due to a lumbar sprain-strain. This inflammatory-response team sends cells to the area to help it repair, but the chemicals the cells release can irritate the nerves, which causes more pain and increases muscle spasms. If the response is too vigorous and goes on too long, it can result in scarring, which makes the tissue less flexible and more prone to injury. 

Fortunately, you can modulate your body's inflammatory process through diet. Through simple changes, you can decrease your likelihood of generating an overly high inflammatory response. This may not only ease the pain caused by your low-back injury, but might also positively affect other health issues related to inflammation. 

How Diet Helps
Several elements in your diet determine the level of your inflammatory response, including types of fat in your body, as well as the amount of antioxidants and phytochemicals available for your body to use. Below are diet suggestions that can help regulate your immune system, so that the next time your low-back pain flares up, there is less pain and swelling during the healing process and less chance of scar tissue forming in your body. 

Eat These Foods
- Cold-water fish. 
- Fruits and vegetables. 
- Whole grains and high-fiber foods. 

Avoid These Foods
- Flavored drinks.
- Processed foods.
- Red meat and high-fat dairy products.
- Sugar.
- White foods. 

Astrid Pujari, MD, is an internist and medical herbalist who received her medical degree from Tufts University School of Medicine and medical herbalist degree from the Royal College of Phytotherapy in London.

Nancy Schatz Alton is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in health and nutrition topics.