For many people, musculoskeletal pain is a daily battle. In the UK, over 10,000 GP consultations are made regarding the problem. The pain can even become a chronic condition for some, such as those who suffer from osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. Such conditions aren’t currently curable, but they are manageable with medication and exercise. You can also make dietary choices that will benefit the reduction of pain.
Look for high-protein
High-protein diets are recommended for those suffering from chronic pain. According to one paper, four reasons for this are:
- The body’s pain relievers derive from proteins — 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.
- Muscle–cartilage needs protein to grow — Amino acids are needed to build muscle which can go on to protect your bones and build strength.
- The activation of glucagon — Glucagon increases blood glucose levels and blocks glucose storage as fat. This can prevent a rise in insulin levels, carbohydrate cravings, and pain flares.
- Decreasing inflammation — Protein containing foods such as fish and green vegetables contain anti-inflammatory properties, lowering experiences of pain.
So, how can you up your protein levels? Add 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.
While you’re boosting your protein consumption, you’ll want to reduce your general calorie intake and your carbohydrates. 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.
What does it mean if your body is inflamed? 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. In addition to excess calories, refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, and trans fats can cause inflammation too.
Keeping your calorie intake at an appropriate level can help maintain a healthy weight, which in turn, can benefit musculoskeletal pain. In fact, one study found that weight reduction of more than 10% has the potential to lead to important changes in pain and function.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a crucial part in maintaining overall health. Unfortunately, they’re not made by the body, so we need to get them from our diet.
Research suggests that a high dose of omega-3 can help reduce pain from Rheumatoid Arthritis and other joint problems. Again, this is an anti-inflammatory which helps with pain management such as easing back pain.
Want to add more omega-3 sources to your diet? 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.
Keep up the vitamins
Everyone needs to make sure they’re getting enough vitamins in their diet. But some musculoskeletal conditions are a result of vitamin deficiencies, and certain vitamins can keep pain at bay. Key vitamins include:
- Vitamin D — this helps with the absorption of calcium which is essential for 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.
- Vitamin K — plays a large part in cartilage metabolism and is a promoter of cell survival, both important processes in the body that can prevent musculoskeletal issues. Get your intake of vitamin K through green leafy vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, and beans.
- Vitamin B — one benefit of this vitamin 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 should give you a good starting point to adapt your diet to help against 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.
Lee Dover is a senior copywriter at Mediaworks with an interest in healthcare as well as researching into healthier ways of living. He has a BA (Hons) in Magazine Journalism.