How Diet and Inflammation Can Cause You Pain


Being a licensed physical therapist, or any health care provider at that, we can sometimes get stuck looking at the specific things we specialize in, forgetting ALL of the things that can influence pain in the body. Physical therapists are very good at treating neuromuscular and musculoskeletal conditions to improve certain pains in a natural way. Inflammation is a huge target for our interventions. We often use tools, modalities, techniques, and training to reduce the presence and effects of inflammations in our patients. This, however, is not the end-all. Many people do not consider the impact of diet on inflammation.

What’s Inflammation? Why is Chronic Inflammation Hard on Your Body?

First, let’s start with defining inflammation. Inflammation is a natural process in the body and is needed for tissue healing. So inflammation is good then? In short, yes. However, inflammation that remains in a tissue for an extended period of time, past the level of initial tissue healing, can be detrimental.

The Impact of Diet on Inflammation

Many different things can cause inflammation in our bodies, being both internally and externally mediated. The gut, or gastrointestinal system, is a major player in your body’s regulation of inflammation and is often overlooked. This group of organs was previously known only for digestion and not for much else, until recently. Research continues to unpack the significant impact of the gut on obesity, autoimmune diseases, and even inflammatory pain.

So how does our gut feed into this? The foods you eat and the drinks you consume directly interact with your gut. To keep it simple, the interaction of the things you consume cause your body to create inflammation in different areas, including your joints, muscles, stomach, brain, organs, even systemically (your entire body). Therefore, what you eat and how well your gut mediates its digestion impacts everything in your body, especially inflammatory pain!

Let’s look at what we know:
1) A chronic inflammatory state is unpleasant and undesirable.
2) The things we consume do impact the natural function of our body on a daily basis.

So all you have to do is avoid all bad food forever and life will be perfect! Yeah … not happening. You want to do something that works for you, whether that is starting a whole new diet, or just starting one meal at a time. Like I said before, the influence is daily; starting at whatever level you can is 90% of the battle.

Foods to Avoid

You can start by identifying key foods that impact the body in a negative way. Remember, it may seem exhausting but simply beginning to eliminate items at your own pace WILL help. Sparing the science behind it, well at least a little bit, here is a list of 8 ingredients/foods that are known to cause inflammation according to the Arthritis Foundation.

  • Sugar
    1. Examples: Desserts, candy, soda, fruit juice
    2. Effect: Inflammation through cytokine release
  • Saturated fats
    1. Examples: Pizza and cheese
    2. Effect: Trigger fat tissue inflammation
  • Trans fats
    1. Examples: Fast, fried, and processed foods
    2. Effect: Triggers systemic inflammation
  • Omega 6 fatty acids
    1. Examples: Vegetable, corn, sunflower, peanut, soy oils
  • Refined carbohydrates
    1. Examples: Flour products (bread), white rice, white potatoes, and cereals
    2. Effect: Triggers immune response through AGE
  • MSG
    1. Effect: Triggers 2 chronic inflammatory pathways
  • Gluten
    1. Effect: Inflammatory for those with Celiac’s disease
  • Aspartame
    1. Effect: Body can attack it as a foreign invader
  • Alcohol
    1. Moderation is key

Next Steps

If you can, I encourage you to go further. Looking at and investigating certain diets based on your genes, the bacteria in your gut, and activity levels would be the best path to maximizing gut health and promoting a healthy, functioning body. Functional medicine specialists are some of the best healthcare professionals to consult to determine your specific course of action. Doing so would give you a very detailed plan of action tailored to your body and its processes. It can maximize overall function, decrease pain levels, increase energy levels, and help with concentration, metabolism, sleep, clarity, etc. … it seems like it enhances pretty much everything!

So what does this mean for you? If you are dealing with pain, visit any of our many locations around the valley and a licensed physical therapist can help! We will tailor our treatment to your body specifically depending on what you need. As a very important adjunct, however, you can begin to tackle the many facets of an inflammatory diet independently, or with the help of a physician. Don’t waste your time waiting. Start today and take control of your body!


Jordan Brocker

DPT | CSSS Downtown Phoenix Location