The Surprising Connection Between Chronic Pain and Nutrition
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Understanding the role of food in the complexity of pain

the connection between chronic pain and nutrition

Have you ever stubbed your toe? Ouch! That alarming feeling is nerve impulses alerting your brain of the crash-up at the end of the foot. In nano seconds, nerve signals travel from the toe to the center of command. Although the pain stimulus is at one end in the body, the brain processes pain at the other. In fact, pain alerts other parts of the body as well.  

In the condition of chronic pain, organs alerted by neurons cells of the nerve system, continue to loop danger messages around and around leading to inflammation and high cellular activity.  

This is where nutrition enters the scene.  Food, as both a provider of nutrients to cells, and reliant upon lifestyle habits for good quality nutrients, has an important role to either subdue or reinforce danger signals.  

By the end of this blog post, you’ll know more about how food helps persistent pain, anatomy of pain in the body, and 6 lifestyle factors that impact persistent pain.  

Food Helps Persistent Pain 

It’s not just dietitians who understand food and pain. Health professionals such as mental health experts are often involved in assisting clients in the complexity of pain and wisely support the role of food in management.  For example, an article in Psychology Today, provides an overview of foods to consider for pain management.  

Here is a flash summary of the impact of favourable diet for inflammation and pain: 

  • Choosing less ultra-processed and sugary foods 
  • High intake of fruits and vegetables is key to a healthy diet. 
  • Regular intake of Omega 3 Fatty Acids in 3 servings of fatty fish per week or use of supplement 

Knowing that food plays a key role for pain management, let’s consider food from a wider perspective than nutrition. Food is also very important to us in the psychological and social arenas. This pulls together the interplay of diet, mental health, sleep, food preparation, and mobility upon pain management.  By addressing these arenas of health, a person can reduce their pain and improve their quality of life.  

Lifestyle Influences Upon Pain 

Lifestyle Influences Upon Pain

The image indicates many influences in the lives of people who live with pain.  These factors reveal opportunities for pain management to create strategies for daily life. It may come as no surprise that pain is reduced with attention to factors like  

  • Sleep 
  • Regular activity,  
  • Managed stressors 
  • Social supports   

And further – you might see that five of these influences upon pain are additionally impacted by food and nutrition.  

Let’s move around the ring of influences on the image to see how this is true. 

Starting at the top of the image, the dietary impact of the quality or quantity of food. This means being intentional with food choices and finding the right balance between healthful and soulful foods. It’s the Goldilocks position that we seek here – finding the right mix of food to best support your body.

Moving in a clockwise fashion on the ring, its understood that ever-present pain can impact motivation & social connectivity when it comes to making meals or meeting up with others.  

Next is ‘other diagnosis’ that increases biological stress as well as attention to food choices. Examples such as diabetes or hypertension management rely upon meal rhythms and choices that may challenge a person exhausted by pain.  

Further, it’s clear that a person in pain may be challenged in certain exercises and sleeping patterns. Yet exercise experts continually encourage low levels of movement is important even if in pain. Gentle stretching not only keeps the muscles and ligaments subtle, it releases stress and maintains function.   

Nearing the end of the image, it’s understood that ‘mental stress & emotion’ are associated with food. Many of us have experienced how emotions can impact food choice: emotional eating. People might eat more or less food, and often choose higher calorie foods when under stress. Also, nutrients impact energy levels and mood. For example, a high sugary food might cause temporary heightened alertness but then slides to a sleepy blood sugar low.   

Learn more about navigating emotional eating. 

And last and not least, is the impact of food on inflammation. In particular, systemic inflammation may be caused by food additives, food allergies or intolerances that alert the body defenses. As a source of chemicals to our bodies, food is a constant influence upon neurons cells. Read my blog post on anti-inflammatory foods to learn more. 

How We Feel Pain 

Chronic pain is relieved by reduced systemic inflammation of the central nervous system (CNS). As control-central, the CNS works nerve tissues in the spinal cord and brain to conduct the main signals to neurons in the body.  

Neurons control many things in our body such as:

  • Thoughts 
  • Movement  
  • Emotion  
  • Heart rate  
  • Breathing  
  • Hormones  
  • Body temperature 

Neurons then, can be stressed by negative influences such as poor mental health, infection, injury, toxic substances, or autoimmunity.  

Neuroinflammation of neuroglia cells in the brain and CNS impacts cellular oxidative stress and inflammation in other body systems.  This complex connectivity is the reason that pain is influenced by lifestyle factors. A diet low in nutrient-dense foods compounds these conditions. 

Pain results from interactions at many levels of the nervous system. The billions of nerve cells, the spinal cord, and brain work together with a person’s physical body, emotions, and thoughts, and overall health, for the pain experience.  

This means the mind and body are interacting constantly to influence each other all day and every day. Daily plans to reduce the looping signals of pain in the body is the practice of chronic pain self-management.  The difficulty of pain management is understood by healthcare groups. There is support available.  

You can plan for self-management of persistent pain with supportive resources 

There are self-management programs to support daily changes for pain management all over the world. Canada wide, you can access online Chronic Pain education at the Power Over Pain Portal.  

For online workshops for Self Management programs in Canada, see options below for where you live. 


British Columbia and Yukon 


New Brunswick 

Newfoundland & Labrador 

Nova Scotia 



Outside of Canada 

Struggling to create sustainable nutrition patterns? Not sure where to start?

Our dietitian team is here to help! Contact us today to get started on your nutrition journey – it would be my joy to support you!

We first determine your food personality type and help you understand the science of food, nutrition, and what your body needs.

Then, we help you understand what to eat AND how to put it all into action at home and on the go for long-term success.

Along the way, we also help you understand how to achieve enough fun and flexibility to live a balanced life.

Our ultimate goal is that you love food and love the body you live in.

Learn more about personal nutrition counselling with a Dietitian on our team or simply contact us to see how we can help:

Read more about food and inflammation from other resources on our blog: 

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