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Nutrition & Physical Therapy

Table with foods including salmon, almonds, avacado, broccoli, garlic, and more.

Nutrition and physical therapy are two separate worlds.  Right?  Actually, while the two are different disciplines, they still converge.  Proper nutrition throughout the therapy or the rehabilitation process directly affects recovery and function and can lead to better outcomes for people with chronic conditions.  The desired outcome and/or the reason for physical therapy will dictate the nutrition application for each patient.

Physical Therapist ≠ Nutritionist

According to the American Physical Therapy Association, nutrition is within the scope of the physical therapy practice.  There are many instances in which nutrition can become come an important piece of the wellness puzzle.  It’s important to understand, however, that being a physical therapist does not imply that the person is also a nutritionist.  Most nutritional information coming from a physical therapist will be general in nature.  In fact, each state has varying jurisdiction on the scope of the physical therapy practice as well as regulations on who may give nutrition advice.  Should a patient be in need of more specialized and quantitative nutritional advice, it is always best to consult with a licensed professional.

Nutrition and Physical Therapy Application

In a majority of cases, the primary goal of physical therapy is to overcome pain and increase mobility.  While physical therapy itself has excellent outcomes, improved nutrition can further enhance already positive results.  The following are a few conditions that have shown nutrition to be a potential missing link to managing and maintaining pain relief.

  1. Inflammation: It has been found that a diet full of healthy fatty acids, fruits, vegetables with high fiber and antioxidants can have anti-inflammatory effects.
  2. Obesity: Obesity is a top contributing factor to chronic pain conditions.  A healthy, balanced diet paired with exercise is the best way to find success in weight loss.
  3. Osteoarthritis (OA): While the most modifiable risk factor for OA is obesity, studies have also identified links between certain nutrient deficiencies and OA as well as some nutrients having evidence of symptom relief.
  4. Autoimmune Disease: Studies have found nutrient-poor diets full of high-sugar, sodium-packed and processed foods can exacerbate the diseases.  Additionally, the lack of such nutrients as vitamins A & D, selenium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics and flavanol has shown to have a negative effect.
  5. Prediabetes and Type 2 Diabetes: Diabetic neuropathic pain is common in people with diabetes.  Proper nutrition can lead to weight loss and symptom management.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

At the root of both physical therapy and nutrition is the desire for overall health and increased quality of life.  Your physical therapist will collaborate with you to design a specialized treatment plan, with an emphasis on patient education to help you learn and implement healthy habits.