Can My Eating Habits Impact My Success In Physical Therapy?


physical therapist gives instruction to woman using resistance band

When you come to physical therapy to recover or manage pain, you expect to learn about movement. You know your PT might teach you how to stretch and exercise your body, when to ice and when to heat. But did you know that they might also advise you on what to eat?


In a recent article in the Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Journal, four physical therapists point out the importance of incorporating nutrition guidance into pain management care. It’s a call for a more holistic approach to treating and managing pain — one that starts in the PT office.


What Does My Diet Have to Do with PT?

If you attend physical therapy for a chronic issue or pain management, your physical therapist should do a nutrition assessment as part of your course of treatment. This is part of providing you with a holistic approach to your care.


By discussing your diet with your PT, you help give a fuller picture of your health, which your PT can use to create an effective treatment plan — one that might include dietary recommendations.


Aside from helping you maintain a healthy weight, which can increase your ability to move with less pain, specific dietary interventions can also help reduce inflammation, which can alleviate pain. It’s not just about providing temporary relief - it’s about helping improve mobility and reduce pain for the long term.


How Can Nutrition Help Reduce Pain?

Over 50 million Americans experience chronic pain, according to the CDC. There is research that supports that proper nutrition can help the management of pain.


Top ways to reduce pain through diet include:

  1. Staying hydrated - Your joints will thank you! The lubrication from water reduces inflammation.

  2. Avoiding processed foods and limiting sugar - Nutrient-poor foods, or foods that are heavily processed or high in sugar, have actually been shown to increase pain and inflammation.

  3. Looking for plant-based options - On the flip side, nutrient-dense foods, like fruits and vegetables, give your body vitamins, minerals, and natural chemicals that can alleviate and reduce pain

  4. Choosing healthy fats - healthy fats can also help reduce inflammation and provide sustainable energy for your body so you can keep moving.


Prioritizing healthy eating can be easier when you think ahead. Physical therapists can also provide information or resources such as meal prepping and ingredient replacements for healthier cooking.


Physical Therapists: Experts in Lifestyle Interventions

Physical therapists are known for helping patients recover and improve mobility with movement and exercise. As clinicians, they are trained to look not just at the site of injury or pain, but to assess the person’s overall physical wellness and approach each patient as an individual. Physical therapists are uniquely educated in assessing chronic pain and working with patients to prescribe lifestyle interventions.


In addition to exercise or movement, recommended lifestyle interventions could include things like quitting smoking, investing in ergonomic furniture, addressing sleep quality, or recommending nutrition tips.


Physical therapists are collaborative healthcare providers, meaning they are an integral part of your healthcare team. PTs regularly work in sync with primary care doctors, nutritionists, and other specialists to develop treatment plans for patients who need a multimodal approach. Nutrition is a key piece to the wellness puzzle that PTs work to help you complete.


How Does Diet Fit Into My PT Treatment Plan?

When putting together a treatment plan for patients dealing with chronic pain, physical therapists can utilize NCPPM or Nutrition Care Process for Pain Management. NCPPM is part of the Nutrition Care Model, authorized by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, that looks at the ways in which healthcare and wellness providers can incorporate nutrition counseling into individual care.


NCPPM is a way for physical therapists to take their customized course of care further and incorporate nutrition counseling alongside movement and exercise treatments.


In this model, a physical therapist would conduct a nutrition assessment as part of the initial PT exam. Then, they might prescribe evidence-based nutrition plans or offer dietary guidance that would be applied alongside any physical treatment.


Examples of Nutrition-Based Treatments

Sometimes, nutrition counseling may be as simple as “stay hydrated!” but when it comes to managing chronic pain, there’s often more that goes into assessing a patient’s nutritional needs. Physical therapists will never endorse fad diets or dangerous eating habits. Instead, they will work with you to identify nutrition-based solutions that could accompany movement treatment for healthier living.


Examples of nutrition-based treatment plans might include elements like:

  1. Increased hydration

  2. Reduction in processed or sugary foods

  3. Plant-based diet

  4. Identifying trigger foods or food intolerances


How Performance Physical Therapy Incorporates Nutrition Counseling

A holistic and individualized approach to patient care is at the heart of Performance’s mission. We call it performing at the top of the license — when we deploy the latest research and best practices to provide customized, compassionate care for lasting results.


Whenever possible, we seek to help patients reduce pain and move freely without the intervention of surgery or pain medication if possible. It’s why patients come to us first to help manage their pain. Recognizing the importance of both movement and nutrition to overall health and wellness, we routinely include the nutrition care process as part of our approach to pain management.


The physical therapists at Performance PT receive training in nutrition counseling to provide the best care to patients. When you meet with your PT, they will conduct a nutritional assessment as well as your physical assessment in order to design a course of treatment that suits your individual needs and challenges.


We also provide educational material on nutrition and diet for patients with basic information about how proper nutrition can contribute to pain management.


When additional intervention is required, physical therapists can also rely on our expansive physician and nutritionist networks to collaborate on a comprehensive course of care for patients.


Get Started and Reduce Your Pain Today

You don’t have to live with chronic pain. Meet with one of our licensed physical therapists to learn about how a combination of movement and nutrition can help you feel better, move freely and live fully.

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