How Nutrition and Behavior Influence Chronic Pain

Chronic pain in the form of fibromyalgia, diabetic neuropathy, migraines and other pain conditions afflicts more than 50 million Americans, and this health issue is one of the most prevalent in the U.S. Every year, more than $65 billion is spent on treating chronic pain or lost due to diminished work productivity. Furthermore, this epidemic of chronic pain has fueled the opioid public health crisis that claimed the lives of more than 70,000 Americans in 2017.

While much of this explosion in chronic pain cases can be attributed to a variety of psychosocial causes like the growing popularity of sedentary activities and more desk occupations, many chronic pain patients have increased the risk of chronic pain by eating poorly and engaging in deleterious behavior. While some of this behavior may be abrogated with the onset of the chronic pain condition, in many cases, negative life habits may continue, making a health recovery more problematic.

Is There an Increase in Chronic Pain Cases in the U.S.?

There is undoubtedly a growing number of chronic pain patients in the U.S., but it is important to understand what is causing this. First of all, the American population is getting older, and this will continue for decades to come.  Currently, there are 46 million seniors in the U.S., but this will surge to 90 million by 2050.

This “graying” of the U.S. population means that there will be an increased prevalence of age-related chronic pain conditions like osteoarthritis. Furthermore, there are some secondary features of this population that heighten this risk including the fact that seniors live disproportionately in rural areas where health care is less accessible. In 2010, 25 percent of all American seniors lived in rural areas.

Another factor in the rise in chronic pain cases is the change in the American mindset. Unlike previous generations that were more willing to accept pain as a feature of life, Americans today are unwilling to tolerate pain. This means that Americans are much more likely to seek out medical care and insist on remediation if it is available.

How Your Behavior May Affect Your Chronic Pain

If you have been diagnosed with a chronic pain condition, then your physician has probably told you that you will need to manage the pain symptoms. While this may involve medical intervention like opioid medications or surgery, in most circumstances, it will require some serious lifestyle changes. Among the most important life changes you will probably need to make include

  • Stop bad habits—if you smoke or drink regularly, you should stop. Not only are these habits awful for your health in general, but they also often make your pain symptoms worse. There are a multitude of toxins in tobacco that impede circulation by constricting blood vessels or slowing respiration.  Smoking inhibits healing, making any resolution of the pain condition more difficult. Alcohol also has many deleterious effects including poor sleep that make pain conditions worse.
  • Limiting stress—stress is a powerful emotion that may dramatically worsen pain conditions which is why your doctor probably recommended that you cut out any sources of stress. This may require some painful changes to your professional or personal life but will result in less intense pain symptoms.
  • Practice mind/body exercises—it is extremely important that you make it a habit of exercising, and some of the best ways to accomplish this is via yoga or Tai Chi. These forms of exercise involve both the mind and body and therefore are especially beneficial for pain sufferers. They help relieve stress by producing endorphins and soothing the mind.
  • Eat healthy—one of the best ways to improve your pain symptoms is to adopt a healthier diet. There are many ways to eat healthier that will mute pain symptoms and help you lose weight which will put less strain on your body.
  • Find others in pain—it may not immediately appear to be a good idea, but finding other chronic pain patients can be of immense benefit. If you can find a support group that includes others who are going through what you are, you can learn valuable coping tips and obtain emotional support.

The Right Diet for Pain Relief

Changing how you eat can be one of the most difficult things to do, but it can vastly improve your pain condition. You probably don’t realize how much your bad eating habits are making your pain symptoms worse, but once you adopt a better diet, you will begin to notice an improvement in your condition.

Among the first things you should focus on is making anti-inflammation a priority. This means eliminating toxins from your diet since inflammation is your body’s response to toxic substances.  You should cut out processed, fatty and salted foods from your diet and substitute them with natural foods. Lower inflammation will diminish swelling and fluid retention in your body, making conditions like arthritis and fibromyalgia more manageable.

In addition to eating up to 8 or 9 servings of vegetables daily, you should also cut down on the amount of dairy and sugar you eat.  Instead of consuming processed grains like white bread, opt for whole grain foods like brown rice. If you want to use an oil, choose olive oil which contains an anti-inflammatory compound called oleocanthal.

Instead of red meat, you should consume fish.  Fish like tuna, salmon and sardines are high in Omega-3 fatty acids that help lower inflammation and joint stiffness.

In general, the healthier you eat, the better you should feel. This is partially due to the fact that many of your physiological systems will operate more efficiently including your circulation and your sleep cycle. Eating right should also improve your overall fitness. As you eat more nutritiously, you will naturally veer away from foods high in fat and sugar so you should lose some weight. Obesity is a major factor in amplifying pain symptoms. Not only does the weight produce a mechanical strain on your body, but research shows that fatty tissue makes you more sensitive to pain.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA and you should not post any of your private health information. 

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