Nutrition Tips For Chronic Pain

September 23, 2020

During this unprecedented time in history, so many of us have felt the hardships of having to remain socially distant from our friends, loved ones, and caregivers. When our outpatient services department closed for a period, it was an especially challenging time for our patients with chronic pain. It was also a difficult time for our physical therapists, who were unable to reach out and touch their patients to facilitate their healing process with our hands. This healing touch is the core of who we are as physical therapists—and we can’t tell you how grateful we are to have resumed hands-on physical therapy at HHH in the past months.

These difficult times have also thrown so many of us off course when it comes to our nutrition. For this reason, I would like to share some information I received last year when I took a course on functional nutrition for chronic pain. I feel this information can be beneficial for everyone: those who are experiencing chronic pain, those who are recovering from a recent surgery or accident, and even those who do not have pain but would like to strengthen their immune system. Seventy percent of our immune system lies in our gut. The gut is where the first wave of attack from foreign invaders such as viruses occurs. A healthy gut leads to greater immunity and decreased inflammation (and pain).

My instructor, Joe Tatta, DPT, CNS has a great quote: “Each time you eat, you have the ability to increase or decrease the amount of inflammation in your body.”

A healthy gut consists of a lot of good bacteria and a minimal amount of bad bacteria. When the bad bugs overpower the good bugs, it leads to inflammation throughout your body. This chronic inflammation ultimately leads to pain. Below are ways to use nutrition to improve your gut health. 

Foods to increase in your diet: 

  • Pre-biotics: These are foods for the good bugs in your gut. They include dandelion greens, garlic, leeks, and onions. Garlic and onions also have terrific antimicrobial properties to fight the bad bugs.
  • High Fiber Foods: Fiber helps pull toxins from the gut and eliminate them.
  • Probiotics: These are the good bugs and include yogurt (low sugar), kimchi, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods.
  • Omega 3 Foods: Atlantic mackerel, wild caught salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies, grass-fed beef, walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, and hemp seeds.
  • Healthy fats: Avocados and olive oil.
  • Adequate Water: You should drink half your body weight in ounces. So, if you are 140 pounds, you should drink 70 ounces of water per day.
  • 9 Servings of Vegetables and Fruits (but mainly vegetables) per day.
  • Protein: Contains amino acids which have been shown to alleviate pain and can improve the symptoms of fibromyalgia. It is also critical for immune function. Try to eat 5-8 ounces of protein per meal. Examples include lean meats, fish, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Foods to remove: 

  • Processed Foods: These foods increase cytokines which are the chemical messengers of inflammation.
  • High Sugar Foods: They feed the bad bugs.
  • Artificial Sweeteners: They wipe out the good bugs.
  • Highly Refined Carbohydrates: White bread, white rice, French fries. They are known to increase inflammation and suppress the immune system.
  • Bad Fats: Vegetable oil, corn oil, margarine.
  • Sweet Drinks: Soda or juice. These feed the bad bugs.

The above information is from Joe Tatta’s book Heal Your Pain Now and also from the course he taught. 

In summary, use this time of continued social distancing to prepare healthy home-cooked meals with your family and drink an adequate amount of water. Also, participate in other activities which strengthen your immune system such as getting adequate sleep (7-8 hours per night), connecting with family and friends via phone calls and texts, getting regular exercise, reducing stress and increasing relaxation.

In Health,

Beth Duggan PT, MS, OCS