Weight management and healthy diet

Keeping a healthy diet and managing weight is an important factor in overcoming chronic pain. Quite simply, carrying extra kilograms of weight adds extra stress and weight-bearing pressure on muscles and joints.

When chronic pain strikes, physical activity becomes difficult, making it hard to control weight through exercise. Taking a proactive approach to healthy eating and weight control will allow your body the best possible chance of recovery.

Here are some simple steps you can take to eat healthy and manage weight:

  • Reduce portion sizes
  • Limit snacking between meals
  • Drink plenty of water and avoid soft drinks
  • Eat a variety of nutritious foods including vegetables, fruit, lean meat and fish, whole grains and reduced fat dairy. Click here to refer to The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating for more information
  • Limit or avoid highly processed food eg. fried foods, soft drinks and confectionery
  • Reduce alcohol consumption

For further advice and guidance, talk to your GP to discuss your weight management options.

Quit smoking

Studies show that smoking is associated with an increased experience of chronic pain.

Smokers often wrongly assume that smoking only affects lung health. The reality is that smoking affects many aspects of a person’s health, including tissues that contribute to ongoing pain. Nicotine, found in cigarettes, is known to decrease sensitivity to pain in the short term, however, these pain-decreasing effects quickly wear off and the pain experienced may actually worsen due to the damaged smoking does to the nervous system. Nicotine also decreases the amount of oxygen delivered by the blood to body tissues and causes inflammation. Inadequate blood flow reduces the body’s natural ability to heal and repair itself.

The benefits of quitting smoking are:

  • Reduced risk of experiencing chronic pain
  • Improvement in the level of pain experienced
  • Reduced levels of inflammation
  • Reduced risks of osteoporosis (brittle bones)
  • Reduced risks of spinal disc deterioration
  • Reduced levels of depression, stress and anxiety and improving mood and outlook on life.


Getting good quality sleep is important for the body’s restorative functions. A large majority of patients who experience chronic pain naturally find it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Sleep disturbances resulting from chronic pain may make coping with pain more difficult.

Although frustrating, it is important to be reassured that lack of sleep can be managed and the main focus should be on the quality of sleep, rather than the quantity. Establishing a good sleep routine will assist in minimising sleep disturbances.

Create good sleeping habits by:

  • Routinely going to bed at the same time each night
  • Eliminate day-time napping
  • Moderate caffeine intake, particularly in the afternoon and evening
    Stop using backlit screens by 6pm (this includes TV, mobile phones and other devices)
  • Ensure your bedroom is a good environment for sleeping by minimising noise, removing clutter, choosing comfortable bedding, turning off all lights and blocking out any other light sources.
  • Avoid lying awake watching the clock as it only increases anxiety. If you have trouble sleeping, it is best to get up and read a book, have a cup of calming herbal tea or use relaxation techniques and then try falling asleep again.


The human body was designed to move and be active. When chronic pain causes the lack of physical movement, a host of other health problems may arise making the recovery process more difficult and lengthy. When people experience chronic pain, there is a natural tendency to be over-protective and avoid movement.

When muscles are inactive, they quickly deteriorate and joints become stiff, which can cause increased pain and reduced bodily function.

Keeping physically active through healthy movement will ensure that chronic pain isn’t exacerbated by immobility. You will benefit by keeping your muscle toned, regaining your range of motion within joints and releasing tension within the body.

Guidelines to healthy movement:

  • Take short walks regularly
  • Swimming allows physical movement without the impact on joints
  • Heated pools have additional benefit for painful conditions
  • Gentle yoga stretches or Tai Chi can assist in keeping muscles and joints active
  • Move about every half an hour and avoid sitting for an extended period of time
  • Gradually increase your exercise regime and be realistic about what is achievable

Understanding pain

Pain is the body’s warning system when you are sick or injured. It leads people to take action, a good thing, and has been important in humans’ ability to evolve and survive. This type of pain is acute pain (nociceptive pain) and is a reaction to a noxious stimulus. Acute pain is generally simple to treat and tends to fade away as you begin to feel better.

Chronic pain is pain that persists after the body should have healed, usually about three months. This pain may not be warning you of damage occurring in the body so there is no longer a direct link between pain and harm being caused by the (preceding) injury or disease.

  • Musculoskeletal pain has originated in the joints (eg. hip or spine arthritis), bones (eg. fractures), ligaments / tendons (eg. ankle sprains, tendonitis) or muscles of your body.
  • Visceral pain refers to pain perceived from organs in the body, eg. chronic angina or abdominal/pelvic pain.
  • Neuropathic pain occurs when the problem itself is within the nervous system, either because of nerve damage in the periphery, or due to problems in the spinal cord or brain. This is a particularly difficult problem because the mind may perceive pain in a part of the body that has no injury at all, or only a minor injury, because nerves are sending the wrong message to the brain. Sometimes people have severe pain in their foot, despite having had that foot removed at the time of a leg amputation. This is due to neuropathic pain.

People who live with pain know that it challenges many aspects of your life and can affect your whole person.