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Chronic Pain: When Your Body Gets Angry

Of all the conditions treated, chronic pain can be the most challenging.  It can become increasingly unresponsive to treatment and lead to other chronic illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, bowel issues, obesity, insomnia and chronic fatigue, ultimately leading to significant impairment in work, social interactions, and family relationships. Diet and nutrition, often ignored when addressing chronic pain, can play an important role.

Those suffering from chronic pain often rely on physical treatments like massage, physiotherapy, and chiropractic. These treatments are often used inconsistently, with many people switching from treatment type to another. For effective pain relief, these treatments must be utilized in combination to address the underlying mechanical imbalances. However, for many, combining these different physical treatments provides only partial pain relief.

A more successful approach manages more than just the mechanical imbalances, but also addresses the other aspects of body function affected by chronic pain – the nervous system, immunity, and bowel function to mention a few. This broader approach treats the underlying chemical imbalances behind chronic pain. With many chronic pain conditions, there is an underlying inflammatory state – in other words, a hyperactive or angry immune system. If this inflammatory imbalance is present, diet and nutrition can play an important role in pain control.

Examples of how nutrition can play a role in chronic pain control is an elimination diet, which involves avoidance of common food sensitivities, and omega 3 fatty acids, mostly from fish oils. Both can help to calm an angry immune system and reduce inflammation and pain.

Similarly, the muscular system can be in an angry, or tense, state. Muscles get irritated with prolonged or excessive physical activity or when the chemistry is out of balance. Part of this chemical imbalance may be aggravated by the inflammatory state described above or a mineral imbalance. Many minerals play a vital role in muscle metabolism, like potassium, magnesium and calcium, but magnesium seems to be the most important for calming angry muscles. At doses well above that you would get from food or a multivitamin, magnesium can act as a muscle relaxant and help to settle down painful irritated muscles.

With all this talk about angry muscles and immune systems, we sometimes forget about the nervous system.  The nervous system can also become irritated, resulting in excessive generation of pain impulses. This in turn can over stimulate the muscles making them even more irritable. It’s a terrible cycle leaving the individual feeling very tense, stiff, anxious, and potentially in a lot of pain – all the time. B vitamins, in particular B6, B12 and folic acid, can help to nourish and calm the nervous tissue, potentially improving nervous system function and settling down the flurry of electrical activity. And again, magnesium, in the right ratio with calcium can have a sedating effect on the nervous system in addition to its beneficial effects on the muscles.

In the end, success depends on integrating the commonly utilized physical therapies like massage, chiropractic, and physiotherapy, which help to correct the mechanical imbalances associated with chronic pain, with dietary and nutritional approaches that help to change some of the underlying chemistry that perpetuate the chronic pain.