Nutrition & Wellness for Chronic Pain
Pain from something like an over-stretched or irritated muscle is likely to go away fairly quickly. Yet there are times when discomfort related to joints, soft tissues, spinal discs, and nerves is persistent and disruptive to your quality of life. While mechanical issues with bones, tendons, and ligaments that can be detected on images tests may be the primary cause of such pain, relief sometimes involves more than medication or surgery. Nutrition and wellness can also have a significant impact on how you manage pain.
Making Healthy Diet Choices and Adjustments
The foods you eat on a regular basis can affect your tissues, bones, and joints. With conditions like non-specific low back pain and arthritis that are often affected by tissue swelling, you may benefit from foods that naturally decrease inflammation, such as green, leafy vegetables, blueberries, and fatty fish high in omega-3 fatty acids like tuna, salmon, and mackerel. Also consider the following nutrition tips to help manage your pain:
- Avoid excessive amounts of caffeine and alcohol
- Drink plenty of water throughout your day
- When possible, opt for raw veggies instead of cooked ones (cooking removes some of the nutrients)
- Avoid processed meats/foods and excessively sugary foods
Maintaining Physical Wellness
Initial rest after an injury to allow tissues to heal is fine, but too much rest can weaken muscles and make joints and bones more susceptible to stress and strain. Exercise also stimulates the release of endorphins, your body’s natural “feel good” hormones that can have the same pain relief benefits as some pain medications.
The great thing about exercise for pain management purposes is that you don’t need to do a full-scale gym workout. There are many different forms of exercise that can effectively strengthen important muscle groups. For instance, water aerobics is less-stressful on tissues and bones yet still provides enough resistance to improve strength and flexibility. Physical wellness for pain management purposes may also involve:
- Low-impact activities like walking (even 15-20 minutes a day can be beneficial)
- Exercises like yoga and Pilates that include slow, controlled movements
- Modifications to favorite activities, such as using an exercise bike rather than biking on uneven surfaces
Considering Mental Wellness
Living with pain that’s chronic in nature often contributes to depression and anxiety. Issues with mental stress, anxiety, and depression can reduce your energy and make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep, which can increase the stress on your musculoskeletal system. Pain is based on perception. Constantly thinking about it and becoming depressed because it doesn’t seem to be going away can make it seem worse. Improve your mental health by:
- Exploring techniques such as deep breathing and mindful meditation
- Continuing interactions with friends and family members
- Considering activities like art therapy and music therapy that may provide a pleasant mental distraction
- Working with a therapist to learn effective and productive ways to deal with your anxiety and depression
If you’re not sure where to get started, consider working with a nutritionist, dietician, physical therapist, or personal trainer. A chronic pain doctor can steer you in the right direction by making suggestions based on your specific type of pain and your lifestyle. Receiving an accurate diagnosis for your discomfort can also provide some much-appreciated peace of mind and may allow you to benefit more from treatment recommendations.