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Pain Relief Benefits of Weight Management

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The diet starts… tomorrow! We’ve all said this at some point or another – especially after a hearty weekend of food and celebration with families. But weight management takes on extra importance for those of us faced with chronic pain. Focusing more on weight management through lifestyle changes – and not going on a dreaded (and overly restrictive!) “diet” – is key for... getting those good pain relief benefits from maintaining a healthy weight. Because it’s not about how much we eat – and more about what we eat – that can make the difference.

On the whole, we are getting bigger. We could all do with managing our weight a little better! But this can also mean bigger pain. Our diets have changed since our grandparents’ time. Now there is an increase in processed foods that are lower in nutrients and higher in salt and fat. We also lead much more sedentary lifestyles than previous generations, which lowers our daily calorie burn. This has made weight management increasingly difficult. Some 64% of adults in the UK are overweight or obese.1 This may make chronic pain more difficult to manage. In fact, there seems to be a lot of overlap between being overweight and experiencing chronic pain.2

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How is weight related to chronic pain?

The relationship between weight and chronic pain is a bit of a chicken and egg situation. While there is a strong link between obesity and pain,3,4 it is unclear which causes which. Of course, experiencing pain can make us retreat from activities we once loved, leading us towards a more sedentary lifestyle. Moving less can spell weight gain for some of us. In this scenario, the pain causes the weight gain.

On the other hand, there’s a physiological reality to being overweight. Carrying around excess kilograms puts stress on our bodies. This can cause musculoskeletal pain. Whether it’s overweight hip pain, ankle pain, or knee pain, excess weight can take its toll over time. In fact, doctors have found a higher prevalence of neck, back, hip, and knee pain in obese patients.5

Back pain due to weight gain is common.6 Excess belly weight pulls our posture out of alignment, pitching our stomach forward, which can put a strain on our lower backs; hence the back pain due to weight. 

Our joints can be especially affected by being overweight. So, can weight cause arthritis? Whether your weight causes arthritis directly remains a question. However, there does seem to be a correlation between being overweight and experiencing Osteoarthritis. Being overweight, in fact, is a risk factor for Osteoarthritis.

Being overweight means carrying around extra fat stores in our body. Body fat secretes chemicals – known as cytokines and chemokines – into the blood stream.7 These chemicals increase inflammation in the body. This can affect blood pressure, cholesterol, and insulin resistance. Inflammation in the body can also contribute to body pain. 

How can weight management help with pain?

We all know there are health benefits of losing weight. The benefits of losing weight in the context of pain relief are:

A man with knee pain holding his knee

Reducing inflammation

two women exercising outside keeping fit

Reducing mechanical stress on our body

Additional benefits of losing weight are regaining some joy of movement and an improved quality of life. Losing weight can mean returning to activities that you miss out on. Shedding extra weight can also improve other health markers, such as blood pressure, insulin levels, cholesterol, and quality of sleep. 

Some research suggests nutrition and diet can help with management of pain relief. There is an increasing amount of research aimed at finding out if there are any foods that help with reducing inflammation (read: potentially reducing pain!). 

For instance, there are some studies that may indicate that certain foods, herbs or spices may help reduce inflammation throughout your body, which is key for pain relief. An article about diet and joint pain8 from Arthritis Research UK is a great resource for summarizing the current debate. However there isn’t yet an overall conclusion on anti-inflammatory diets and the European Food Standards Authority has rejected some of those claims – so take them with a pinch of salt!

Eating a diet full of potentially inflammation-reducing foods – the kinds that may help with pain relief – will likely help us lose weight. Let’s face it. A healthy menu of foods packed with nutrients and healthy fats may not only help reduce inflammation in our body, but can have us looking trim and fit, as well.  

Back pain, joint pain, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and Osteoarthritis are all affected by what we eat.9 Consult your healthcare professional and dietitian for a holistic management of these conditions, in many cases they might need prescribed medicines, physiotherapy, psychological support with behavioral changes, and specific food restrictions or advice. Please always read the label of any medicines and pain management products prior to use.

If you experience overweight hip pain, ankle pain, or knee pain, you may have Osteoarthritis and it’s best to make an appointment with your doctor for a diagnosis and to find out more about these symptoms. Weight management can prove quite helpful in this case. Losing even just a few kilograms can significantly reduce knee pain, for instance.10

Weight management tips

If you’re interested in the weight management route of pain relief, the next step is learning a bit on how to lose weight.

The compounds found in food can have a profound effect on our bodies. When it comes to pain relief, sometimes it’s not merely about losing weight but how to lose weight, that makes the most impact.

Without further ado, here are our weight management tips geared toward pain relief. Keep them posted on your fridge. Write them in your journal. Take them into account when you’re planning your grocery shopping list.

  • Eat anti-inflammatory foods
    There is debate around whether certain foods, herbs or spices may help reduce inflammation throughout your body. There is some research that suggests that foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as virgin olive oil,walnuts, flaxseed, oily fish, or turmeric1) play a role in reducing inflammation. Speak to your doctor for more information.
  • Exercise – do what you can!
    We understand that exercise can be challenging when you’re in pain. But do what you can! Maybe that’s going for a walk around the block. Maybe it’s getting some housework done. Swimming is a great low-impact option for getting some calorie burn in. Added bonus: it’s a full-body workout. Get started with some simple exercises you can do at home.
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  • Practice good portion size
    If you experience chronic pain, you have likely adapted your lifestyle in order to cope. More often than not, this means moving less, which means less calories are burned in a day. Maintaining a healthy weight may mean putting less on your plate than you grew accustomed to before you started experiencing pain.
  • Don’t skip meals!
    Your body runs best when it gets fuel regularly and predictably. Plus, there’s no need to feel like you’re being punished and going to bed without dinner! (Or waking up without breakfast…) Feed your body, and your mind. If you’re considering intermittent fasting or other fasting schemes, consult your healthcare provider first.
  • Plan your meals ahead of time
    Make eating fun and enjoyable. By planning meals ahead of time, you can feel free to try out new recipes and experiment in the kitchen with things you may not have tried before. Knowing ahead of time what you’ll be eating can also help you resist the temptation to reach for something fast and convenient. Because fast and convenient usually means salty, sugary, or fatty. In other words – no good.
  • Drink plenty of water
    Staying hydrated is an important – and often overlooked – element in losing weight. Drinking water can reduce food cravings. It can also reduce swelling in your body.
  • Get a friend involved
    Having a support system is so important for sticking with your new nutritional goals to manage your weight. Tell a friend about your new eating habits. He or she can help you stay on track by checking in periodically or even joining you on this journey.
  • Remember – consistency over perfection
    If you slip up, don’t get demoralized. Just patiently get back on track. Weight management is more about being consistent with your new eating habits than executing them perfectly all the time. Be kind to yourself. You’re doing great!
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Treatment by pain type 

Learn all about the causes, symptoms, and pain treatments for the type of pain you’re experiencing so you can get back to doing those little things that bring you joy.

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