How diet can help to ease musculoskeletal pain: eating against pain

There are many people in the UK suffering from musculoskeletal pain, learning to manage it on a daily basis. In fact in the UK alone, over 10,000 GP consultations are for musculoskeletal problems. Such problems can be a catalyst for longer-term pain conditions.

Numerous conditions can lead to musculoskeletal pain, from simple back pain to osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Where a cure may not currently exist, there are certain methods offering relief for back pain and other associated aches and pains. For instance, have you considered taking a look at your diet?

Eat more protein to help manage chronic pain

To some extent, some chronic pain conditions can be reduced by a high-protein diet. According to one paper, four reasons for this are:

  • Proteins act as the body’s pain relievers — Amino acids make their way into the bloodstream through the intestine (where what you eat is absorbed). They then act as building blocks for compounds that help with pain relief.
  • Musclecartilage grows with the help of protein — Amino acids are needed to build muscle which can go on to protect your bones and build strength.
  • The activation of glucagon stabilises pain — Glucagon increases blood glucose levels and blocks glucose storage as fat. This can prevent a rise in insulin levels, carbohydrate cravings, and pain flares.
  • Reducing inflammation — Protein containing foods such as fish and green vegetables contain anti-inflammatory properties, lowering experiences of pain.

Increase your protein intake by eating more foods such as beef, fish, and eggs to your plate to up your protein intake. For vegan diets, make sure you’re eating enough pulses (lentil, beans, and soya products). There are protein supplements out there too in the form of drinks and snack bars.

Excess calories and carbs

There are big benefits to be gained by monitoring your carbohydrate and calorie intake. Consuming excess calories by eating unhealthy foods, or overeating can cause weight gain. This can then lead to excess weight carried around the waist and obesity — both of which can make musculoskeletal pain worse. This is due to extra pressure on joints and inflammation.

Learn a little about why your joints get inflamed and this can help you to understand and manage your pain. In general, it’s part of the body’s immune response to fight infection. But, there are cases when inflammation doesn’t shut down — this becomes chronic inflammation. It is this which is the underlying cause of many diseases, health problems, and pain.

Be aware of the number of refined carbohydrates, saturated fat, and trans fats you’re eating every day. Monitoring calories and eating the appropriate amount can, therefore, lead to weight maintenance or weight reduction which could help musculoskeletal issues. In fact, one study found that weight reduction of more than 10% has the potential to lead to important changes in pain and function.

For better joint health: consume more omega-3 fatty acids

Do you include plenty of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet? Unfortunately, they’re not made by the body, so we need to get them from our diet.

There are many benefits identified by research, about how a high dose of omega-3 is particularly useful against conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis. Again, this is an anti-inflammatory which deals with the issues mentioned earlier. Where can omega-3 be found? Omega-3 can be found in oily fish (such as salmon and tuna), calamari, olive oil, and some plants and nuts. A mixture of these things should ensure that you’re getting enough of the fatty acid. 

Are you getting a good dose of daily vitamins?

Including a range of vitamins in our diet is very important. But some musculoskeletal conditions are a result of vitamin deficiencies, and certain vitamins can keep pain at bay.

Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption and bone growth. Eggs are a great source of vitamin D and are easy to incorporate into your diet.  Another way to up your intake is with safe levels of sun exposure.

The most important vitamin for cartilage metabolism and cell survival is vitamin K. Get your intake of vitamin K through green leafy vegetables such as lettuce, spinach and beans.

One main benefit of vitamin B is that it keeps amino acid homocysteine under control. High levels of this could be linked to lower bone density and therefore musculoskeletal issues. Increase your intake of vitamin B through chicken, turkey, fish, oats, and more.

This guide aims to offer a starting point on the number of different ways a change in diet can help and make a difference with managing musculoskeletal pain. Always speak to your GP and nutritionist before changing your diet and for more advice on how the foods you eat can ease chronic pains.

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