Could your recovery from pain be getting hindered by your diet?

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According to the ONS in 2013, around 31 million work days were lost due to back, neck and muscle problems in the UK. This is clearly a major problem which is costing businesses millions and seriously affecting people’s lives. 

You are probably familiar with the scenario where-by you are in pain, you go to the doctors and you are prescribed pain killers without them looking into the root cause of the issue. This goes on and on and without knowing it the pain has manifested itself into a more serious problem as the pain killers have just been masking the pain and not addressing the actual cause of the issue.

Well, believe it or not what you are (or not) eating can have a huge impact on your body. Instead of just taking your body for what it is, take a moment to look at it at a deeper level. The human body is made up of around 30 trillion cells, all of which need fed and need the right things in order for them to function properly. Take a car for example. You might have shelled out on a £300,000 Ferrari and you make sure you are giving it everything it needs to run at its best (Fuel, oil, coolant, power steering fluid, brake fluid etc. the list goes on). But if you were to not bother putting oil in it, then it would be break and therefore be completely useless as a car. The same applies for the human body, you need to supply it with everything it needs in order to run properly (carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals etc.) otherwise it is going to slowly stop working.

One mineral in particular could be having an impact on your muscular pain without you ever thinking about it. This mineral is Magnesium. Magnesium is responsible for a huge number of processes within the body such as having a role in the transport of calcium and potassium. It is also a co-factor in over 300 enzyme systems that regular various biochemical reactions in the body including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, blood pressure control, energy production, normal heart rhythm plus a whole lot more.

Magnesium can be found in a number of foods including:

  • Dark green leafy veg (Spinach, Kale etc)
  • Bananas
  • Nuts + Seeds
  • Dried Apricots
  • Fish
  • Legumes (peas, beans, nuts etc.)
  • Natural Yoghurt

In the UK the recommended intake of Magnesium is 300mg/day for males and 270mg/day for females.

With magnesium being essential for muscle contraction and with reports from the National Diet and Nutrition survey saying that the vast majority of people in the UK are not getting enough magnesium, it brings me onto the point: What effect does this have on pain?

Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include: 

  • Cramping
  • Muscle Spasms
  • Constant muscle contraction
  • Fatigue
  • Prolonged Muscle Soreness + Tension without improvement or recovery
  • Poor Sleep
  • Anxiety/Stress (this can also be exacerbated by symptoms of pain which could develop into depression)
  • Inability to Relax

With this in mind and thinking about how you recover from muscular pain/injury through exercises designed to strengthen/relax the muscles it is clear that with the muscles being unable to relax or becoming constantly contracted that it will therefore be very difficult to perform these exercises in this state. It may well be that because you are deficient in magnesium your muscles are unable to relax and combined with the initial injury that may have occurred or as a result of the muscles becoming tighter over time that you will be suffering pain. 

Now, thinking back to the start of this article... Are pain killers really the solution here? Probably not! If instead of prescribing pain killers to numb the pain, they were to figure out that the root cause of the issue may have been that the diet was severely lacking in magnesium and was therefore affecting the function of the muscle, this could save many months/years of debilitating pain and not to mention millions of pounds in prescriptions from the NHS.

As well as not eating enough, there are various other things which can affect the absorption of magnesium in the body, potentially resulting in a deficiency. These include:

  • Diuretics (Caffeine containing beverages, some medications, alcohol etc)
  • A high sugar diet
  • Alcohol
  • Menstruating females
  • Stressed individuals
  • Various prescription medications
  • Plus many more

I have a strong belief that doctors should be focusing on the root issue of problems first before handing out pain killers and other tablets which could potentially make the situation worse. I understand that they are in a poor situation where they don't have much time with each patient so I think that there should be a focus by the government to let doctors to refer to other health professionals such as dieticians, nutritionists, physiotherapists, pharmacists etc. more easily to look closer at a problem rather than going straight for tablets.

So, if you find that you are suffering from muscle/nerve pain, fatigue, mood swings, anxiety etc. and you find that you are getting nowhere with recovery, it may well be that you are lacking on something important in your diet that could be having an effect on your body at a deeper level (just remember the expensive Ferrari with no oil).

If you feel you could do with some assistance with getting your diet back on track, contact me to find out how I can help you.

If you are thinking about stopping taking prescription medication, discuss this with your GP first!


Anatomy of the back image from: Principles of Anatomy and Physiology: G Tortora, B Derrickson: 11th Edition; Page 335

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