While there’s a lot of controversy surrounding the use of opioids to treat chronic pain, there’s no
arguing that diet and exercise are safer alternatives. But like any regimen, it has to be strategic
in order to cater to the needs of the problem at hand. In this case, it’s an amalgamation of
inflammation, stiffness, stinging, throbbing, soreness — even depression. Though being
diagnosed with chronic pain can be overwhelming, making a few health-related changes doesn’t
have to be a daunting task. Here are a few tips for seamlessly incorporating a chronic pain-
friendly diet and exercise plan into your daily life.
Why Diet and Exercise vs. Opioids
According to the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), Approximately 25 million Americans
suffer from chronic pain, many of whom rely on opioids for relief. While the drug’s dangerous
side effects have been a topic of conversation everywhere — from Congress to the news — for
years, a new study from Columbia University Medical Center reveals that 60 percent of opioid
overdose deaths were individuals with a chronic pain condition. Now, more than ever, safer
ways to manage symptoms are being recommended, including adopting a diet and exercise
plan with mood-boosting and anti-inflammatory side effects.
Adopt an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Swap out the word “anti-inflammatory” for “Mediterranean” and that’s the type of diet that’s
research-backed and doctor-approved for individuals with chronic pain. The specific
combination of foods controls insulin and cholesterol levels while reducing pain-causing
inflammation — an immune response to toxins in the body that trigger chronic diseases. Used in
conjunction with exercise, an anti-inflammatory diet can help control pain, as well as fatigue and
fogginess as a result of using medication. Some examples of anti-inflammatory foods include
fruits and vegetables; healthy fats (think olive oil and avocados); seeds, nuts, and legumes; fish
and eggs; digestible dairy from cultured milk (kefir, yogurt, fresh curd cheeses like ricotta);
whole grains; and antioxidant-rich herbs and spices.
Foods to Avoid
Unlike the foods on the anti-inflammatory/Mediterranean diet list, the following should be
avoided because they contain specific chemicals that can trigger the release of
neurotransmitters that can increase pain and sensitivity. While you can eat pesticide-free fruits
and vegetables, watch out for nightshade varieties such as potatoes, eggplants, and tomatoes,
as they can often trigger pain. Avoid junk food, artificial sweeteners, and additives, as they can
activate neurons and increase insulin levels that can cause pain and compromise the immune
system. What’s more, junk food can lead to tooth decay and oral health problems, which has
been linked to problems such as heart disease and depression. Regardless of your diet, you
should be getting regular cleanings, so find a dentist in your area who is rated highly.
The Benefits of Exercise
While exercise may not at the top of the list for someone suffering from chronic pain, avoiding it
will actually make the condition worse. There have been numerous studies showcasing
evidence that exercise is beneficial for those with chronic pain — even at a minimal level.
Keep It Low-Impact
The best exercises for chronic pain involve strength training movements such as squats, wall
pushes, or bicep curls in combination with cardio such as simple walking, an elliptical trainer,
bike riding, or swimming. Daily stretching to aid in flexibility and range of motion is also key.
Research shows that not only does physical activity reduces inflammation in chronic pain
patients, but it also helps with fatigue and sleeplessness, and helps to beat depression due to
the production of feel-good endorphins. Activities like tai chi and yoga are also excellent
practices for the body as well as the mind.
Be Sure to Seek Professional Advice
As with any diet or exercise plan, it’s important to see a doctor as there are various types of
conditions that cause chronic pain that may need specific attention. Your healthcare provider will be your
best asset in deciding how to manage your pain through diet and exercise without the use of pain
medication. With time and patience, you can live your best life and help keep your chronic pain in check.
Written by: Jackie Waters www.hyper-tidy.com