Injured? Suffering with muscle, joint or soft tissue pain or dysfunction? Here are three things you need to know about your musculoskeletal injury or dysfunction as it relates to what you EAT!
When I first began my career as a massage therapist, back in 1996, my practice was full of clients suffering from back pain, chronic pain syndromes, prolonged tissue regeneration, injuries of all kinds, whiplash, fibromyalgia, sport-induced injuries, pregnancy, and more. I helped many people. But I know now that I could have helped even more people in those early days, if I knew then what I later learned about the role of nutrition in healing.
I could have talked to people about what they were eating.
Sounds totally unrelated, right? Well, as it turns out, it is completely related. Low back pain is one of the leading predictors of heart disease. Why? Because Atherosclerotic plaques, which result in the narrowing of arteries, are responsible for impaired blood flow to every cell in the body. As the arteries branch into smaller arterioles and capillaries, atherosclerotic plaque can not only hinder blood flow, but obliterate it all together. And when we are talking about the tissues that have minimal blood flow to begin with, like ligaments and discs, that means trouble.
Blood flow and inflammation are major players in tissue healing and optimal musculoskeletal health. I am going to share with you three main reasons the food you eat plays possibly the largest role in your body’s ability to heal from soft tissue and joint dysfunction. Be prepared to add arrows to your quiver in your search for solutions for musculoskeletal health.
1. Atherosclerosis Impairs Blood Flow, Necessary For the Delivery of Oxygen and Nutrients to Tissue.
Atherosclerosis results in the narrowing of arteries all over the body, and the tiniest of the arteries, the arterioles and capillaries show the earliest signs, since of course, they are tiny! The intervertebral discs (the discs in our spine, between the vertebrae), may be the most vulnerable. Discs are considered “avascular” meaning they don’t actually have a blood supply in the form of capillaries, to nourish them. Instead, blood diffuses into them at their margins. When this miniscule blood supply is impaired by the laying down of plaque, nutrient and oxygen delivery is impaired and the tissue begins to degenerate. Degenerative disc disease and disc herniation are in fact largely a result of poor blood supply. Impaired blood flow to the tissue (in this case, the disc) is the culprit and this impaired blood flow is caused by atherosclerotic plaque. We can identify degeneration of tissue when someone suffers from ischemia, or lack of blood flow to a muscle or portion of muscle. If the muscle is chronically indurated, or tight, blood flow is impaired and the tissue begins to break down. In a similar way, if blood flow to tissue is impaired by atherosclerosis, nutrient delivery is impaired and tissue breakdown results. Occluded or narrowed vasculature can impair nerve function, leading to neuralgia and nerve pain syndromes such as sciatica. According to the Global Burden of Disease, 2010, low back pain is the single leading cause of disability world wide. Consider how insidious the Standard American Diet has become, and the disease rates that correlate with it.
Chronic back pain in childhood is evident earlier than ever. By the age of 11, children are now experiencing the consequences of the SAD, in the form of type 2 diabetes, obesity related illness and, now, low back pain as well. By the early teen years, studies now show the onset of disc degeneration related to impaired blood flow.
2. Poor Blood Supply Impairs the Removal of Waste from Tissue
Healthy blood flow to tissue cells is vital not only for nutrient and oxygen delivery, but it is also essential for the removal of waste products like lactic acid, toxins and debris. If a cell becomes hypoxic (meaning it isn’t getting enough 02), and waste products are not efficiently removed, our body warns us with the stimulation of nociceptors, (pain receptors), causing pain, which is our body’s signal that something is amiss. As waste builds up, inflammation ensues and cell breakdown, atrophy and deterioration results. Often in the case of muscle, the tissue tightens in a protective response, causing even further hinderance of nutrient exchange, leading to more deterioration and more pain. This is called “The Pain-Tension Cycle”. Manuel treatment can generally break this cycle, however, treatment is in vain if the underlying cause is limited blood supply caused by atherosclerotic plaque.
3. Arachadonic Acid and Chronic Inflammation
Arachadonic acid is an omega-6 polyunsaturated fat, and is used by the human body in the natural process of healing. It is necessary for the formation of prosteglandins used in the inflammatory response occurring in injury. However, our body makes just the amount of Arachadonic acid that we need, which means we do not benefit from additional sources of Arachadonic acid. Where do you think dietary sources of Arachadonic acid are found? In meat, dairy and eggs, with the highest amounts found in eggs and poultry. The consumption of foods high in Arachadonic acid has been linked to chronic inflammation in the human body, is linked to low-grade inflammation in the brain, low mood and depression, premature aging, and stimulation of the enzyme that allows breast tumors to make their own estrogen. For today’s topic, though, you should know that prolonged tissue healing and exacerbation of symptoms related to chronic soft tissue and joint diseases like fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, can be at the root of the problem. Eliminating dietary sources of Arachadonic acid will allow for timely healing of soft tissue and joint dysfunction, among other inflammatory conditions as well. I learned this first hand when exploring dietary changes to resolve my life-ling battle with asthma. Once I adopted a clean, whole foods, vegan diet, the asthma and allergies became a thing of the past. I also found that my body recovered efficiently following intense exercise.
Once I started addressing diet as part of a treatment protocol in soft tissue and joint rehabilitation, clients noted a marked decrease in pain, and often complete resolution of pain.
So, if you are injured, make sure you eat more plants!
Margot Freitag graduated from the West Coast College of Massage Therapy in 1996. She is a Certified Personal Trainer with CanFit Pro, and holds a Plant-Based Nutrition Certification through Cornell University and the T. Colin Campbell Foundation. Margot is a teacher and a member of the Ontario Teachers Association.