Is Your Diet Keeping You In Pain?

Working in Sports Medicine and Spine care, it is expected that almost every patient will come in with a pain-related injury. With expats being so active in Shanghai, knee injuries from extreme workouts or back pain from playing rugby are regular encounters.  While standard medical care, including physical therapy, medication, injections and bracing, remains the primary approach to treatment, it has its limitations. More and more today, lifestyle factors are being looked at for their contribution to injury and pain. Recent studies indicate that medical care, while invaluable, can be aided in its effectiveness by a diet low in pro-inflammatory foods and high in foods the promote healing. 

When a person sustains an injury, one of the major reasons they develop pain is the inflammation created by the body’s own natural healing system.   Many studies have shown that the type of diet before, during and after a major injury can greatly affect the amount of pain one experiences. In fact, some research has looked at the effect of food on pain in general. In 2011, British researchers released results of a study that followed patients from birth through the age of 45 to evaluate for links between chronic widespread pain (CWP) and diet/lifestyle. Out of 8000 patients, 12% reported CWP and were noted for a significant increase in reported unhealthy diet compared to those without pain, with consumption of fruits/vegetables less that once a week and a greater consumption of high fat foods. With this in mind, it becomes clear that making the right food choices can have a significant long-term impact on quality of life.

Foods that have been linked to be pro-inflammatory – those that cause or increase inflammation – can influence the amount of pain one experiences not only after an injury, but across one’s lifetime. Foods high in saturated fats, including hydrogenated oils (palm, coconut), butter, cheese, nuts and seeds, processed meats, pizza, and ice cream have been suggested to exacerbate the inflammatory process and increase pain. Chinese cuisine tends to use a lot of oil in preparation, contributing to this pro-inflammatory reaction. Reducing the amount of these types of foods may decrease inflammation after an injury, and if sustained, will greatly reduce the long-term risk of obesity (which has also been linked to chronic pain).

Foods high in protein such as poultry, lamb, and other lean meats have been suggested to have less of a negative effect on the inflammation process. Berries, pomegranates and red wine are among some of the many foods that are thought to decrease inflammation.

Kiwifruit, Cherries, Guavas, Beans, Watercress, Spinach, Onions, Carrots, Cabbage, Broccoli, and Kale are amongst foods that may increase the body’s ability to heal post injury. In the case of bone injury, it is believed that foods high in calcium, such as dairy products and green vegetables, and foods high in vitamin D, such as eggs and fatty fish, may accelerate the healing process. Other foods such as yogurt, kefir and some soy products are pro-biotic, in that they contain useful bacteria that can actually help the body fight diseases.

There is no one sure-fire way to use your diet to accelerate the healing process or to fight chronic pain. In fact, food choices are only a small part of the overall treatment program. The best approach to treat injury remains a multifaceted plan, including exercise, medication, bracing, injections when necessary, etc. However, making smart food choices can help not only to improve healing, but overall health and well-being.

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