Musculoskeletal pain is something many people face, with over 10,000 GP consultations in the UK each year for musculoskeletal problems. For some, these issues can lead to long-term, or chronic, pain conditions. Common conditions that fall into this category include osteoporosis, back pain and osteoarthritis. Although these conditions may never be fully cured, there are some things that can help such as medication and gentle exercise. And when it comes to diet, what changes can provide musculoskeletal pain relief for arthritis?
For cases of chronic pain, high-protein based diets are recommended. According to one paper, four reasons for this are:
- The body’s pain relievers are derived from protein — Amino acids make their way into the bloodstream through the intestine (where what you eat is absorbed) to 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 help to protect your bones and build strength.
- Protein activates glucagon — Glucagon hormone increases blood glucose levels and blocks glucose storage as fat. This can prevent a rise in insulin levels, carbohydrate cravings, and pain flares.
- Protein suppresses inflammation — Protein containing foods such as fish and green vegetables contain anti-inflammatory properties, lowering experiences of pain.
How do you incorporate high levels of protein into your diet? 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 soy products). Protein supplements are also available in the form of drinks and snack bars.
Monitoring calorie and carbohydrate 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.
What is inflammation? In general, it’s part of your body’s immune response to fight infection. But, there are cases when inflammation doesn’t shut down — this becomes chronic inflammation which underlies many diseases, health problems and pain.
Monitoring calories and eating the appropriate amount can therefore lead to weight maintenance or weight loss which could help musculoskeletal issues. In fact, one study found that weight reduction of more than 10% can lead to important changes in pain and function.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to health. Unfortunately, they’re not made by the body, so you need to get them from your diet. In particular, research has shown that high doses of omega-3 can provide some relief to musculoskeletal pain conditions and joint health such as rheumatoid arthritis. Again, this is due to an anti-inflammatory action which helps to reduce pain, stiffness and swelling.
Where is omega-3 found? Omega-3 is obtained from oily fish (such as salmon and tuna), calamari, olive oil, and some plants and nuts. A mixture of these within a varied diet should ensure that you’re getting enough omega-3 and other important fatty acids.
Ensuring you get enough vitamins
Making sure that you obtain enough vitamins (and minerals) in your diet is a requirement for everyone — each micronutrient has their own benefits in maintaining health. But some musculoskeletal conditions are a result of vitamin deficiencies, and certain vitamins can keep pain at bay.
First is 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 kale, plus cauliflower and beans.
Then there is the large group of B vitamins, such as vitamins B6, B12 and folate which, among other benefits, keep levels of the harmful amino acid, homocysteine, under control. High levels of homocysteine are linked to lower bone density and to musculoskeletal issues. Increase your intake of B vitamins through eating chicken, turkey, fish, oats and more.
There are many more ways that your diet can reduce musculoskeletal pain. Always speak to your GP and a nutritionist before changing your diet and for more advice on how the foods you eat can ease chronic pain.
Author: Laura-Jane Todd