Managing Chronic Pain with Food

Managing Chronic Pain with Food

managing chronic pain with foodInflammation contributes to pain, and chronic pain sufferers are more likely to experience inflammation. As a result, inflammation can cause damage to the body and prevent daily activities. But did you know our diets play a big role in helping our bodies fight inflammation and pain? It’s true! So that’s why it’s important to understand the link between chronic pain and food. Managing chronic pain must include a balanced diet.

The link between chronic pain and food

Compounds called antioxidants, found in many common foods, reduce inflammation and damage-causing free radicals. Free Radicals are man-made or natural elements. This includes chemicals your body produces by turning food into energy. For example, environmental toxins, like tobacco, alcohol, and pollution; UV rays from the sun or tanning bed; and, substances found in processed foods are all sources of free radicals.

In fact, diets high in processed foods are a big cause of inflammation. These foods are known as proinflammatory foods. Proinflammatory cytokines promote systemic inflammation and can make diseases, like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, worse. In contrast, anti-inflammatory cytokines promote healing and reduce inflammation. Scientific research continues to show diets rich in antioxidants can help to reduce the number of free radicals in the body. However, diets high in processed, fatty/greasy foods promote inflammation, making chronic pain worse.

What foods should I be eating to manage chronic pain?

Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grain products can increase the number of antioxidant compounds. This helps your body to reduce inflammation and promote healing. In other words, our bodies have a natural inflammation fighting force. We can help to strengthen that by choosing a variety of these anti-inflammatory foods to help decrease pain. Examples of these antioxidants and foods include:

  • Vitamin A: milk, butter, eggs and liver.
  • Beta-Carotene: brightly colored vegetables and fruits, like peaches, apricots, papayas, mangoes, cantaloupes, carrots, peas, broccoli, squash, sweet potatoes, beet greens, spinach and kale
  • Vitamin C: fruits and vegetables, including berries, oranges, kiwis, cantaloupes, papayas, broccoli, bell peppers, tomatoes, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and kale
  • Lycopene: pink and red fruits and vegetables, including pink grapefruits, watermelon, apricots and tomatoes
  • Vitamin E: nuts and seeds, almonds, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts and peanuts; green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale; also found in oils, including soybean, corn and canola oils
  • Lutein: green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, collards, kale, broccoli, corn, peas, papayas and oranges
  • Selenium: pasta, bread and grains, including corn, wheat and rice; animal products, like beef, fish, turkey, chicken; and, nuts, legumes, eggs, and cheese.


Fight pain with good nutrition

Remember,”when dealing with pain, diet can be your biggest ally or your worst enemy.” Food is important, and what we eat matters. That means that to be healthy and well, we need to understand the role food plays in a healthy lifestyle. Eating a good variety of fruits, vegetables and grains can not only ensure your wellness, it can help you manage your chronic pain. So, it’s important to understand the link between chronic pain and food to help you create a balanced, healthy diet to fight inflammation.

Warning: Too much antioxidants (from supplementation or diet) can be harmful. Talk with your doctor or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist before changing your diet or taking supplements.

*Sources: NIH: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.  *Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics  *Medline Plus


Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, Amanda Arnold, MS, RDN, LD 

Amanda is a licensed and registered dietitian/nutritionist with the Pain Management Group. She received her Master’s degree in the Science of Nutrition at Auburn University and completed her dietetic internship through the Medical University of South Carolina.

Amanda is passionate about helping others, especially those in pain, understand that eating right doesn’t have to be difficult and that by making simple lifestyle and behavioral changes, they can profoundly improve their wellbeing and quality of life.