Shoulder pain is an extremely common complaint, with estimates that nearly 70% of people will experience shoulder pain at some point in their lives. The shoulder joint is complex and vulnerable to injuries and overuse, making it prone to developing painful conditions. While treatments like physical therapy, steroid injections, or even surgery are sometimes necessary, many are interested in more conservative approaches to ease shoulder discomfort. This leaves many wondering if adjusting their diet could be a simple way to find relief from nagging shoulder pain.
Research indicates that a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet may indeed help reduce shoulder pain in some cases. Shoulder pain can arise from a variety of underlying issues including rotator cuff injuries, osteoarthritis, tendinitis, bursitis, and adhesive capsulitis. Inflammation is a common thread with many of these conditions. Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet may help minimize inflammation in the body and potentially decrease shoulder pain related to inflammatory conditions.
An anti-inflammatory diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices. Meanwhile, it limits or avoids processed foods, fried foods, excess sugar, and saturated fats. Scientists believe that many components of plant-based, whole foods have anti-inflammatory properties. For example, fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants that can neutralize free radicals and lower systemic inflammation. Coldwater fatty fish like salmon and tuna provide omega-3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA which are linked to reducing inflammation. Spices including turmeric, ginger, garlic, and rosemary contain phytonutrients that demonstrate anti-inflammatory effects. Choosing more anti-inflammatory foods and fewer pro-inflammatory foods may translate to less shoulder inflammation and thus less pain.
Some specific diet strategies that could benefit tender, inflamed shoulders include:
- Eating more fruits and vegetables. Target 5-9 servings per day. Choose especially potent anti-inflammatory selections like leafy greens, broccoli, berries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, grapes, and pineapple.
- Choosing healthy fats over unhealthy fats. Incorporate olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados. Limit butter, fatty red meat, fried foods, and trans fats.
- Increasing omega-3 intake with fatty fish, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds.
- Seasoning with anti-inflammatory herbs and spices like turmeric, garlic, ginger, rosemary, oregano, basil, dill.
- Staying hydrated with water and herbal tea. Avoid excess caffeine and alcohol which can promote inflammation.
- Limiting added sugars which can increase inflammation if consumed in high amounts.
Making anti-inflammatory dietary choices may provide broad overall health benefits beyond just possible shoulder pain relief. However, it’s important to note that diet alone cannot cure all shoulder issues. Some causes of shoulder pain like structural problems or injuries may require specific medical treatment. But eating more anti-inflammatory foods certainly won’t hurt and may bring about meaningful pain reductions in some shoulder conditions driven by inflammation.
Along with potential diet adjustments, there are other at-home ways to manage shoulder discomfort:
- Apply cold or hot therapy to help reduce inflammation and relax muscles.
- Try targeted stretches and exercises to improve range of motion and flexibility.
- Use over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like NSAIDs sparingly.
- Consider topical creams containing menthol or capsaicin.
- Get enough rest and manage stress levels.
- Improve posture during daily activities to prevent further strain.
- Modify repetitive motions that aggravate shoulder pain.
While food cannot cure everything, paying attention to diet quality could go a long way towards easing shoulder discomfort and inflammation. An anti-inflammatory nutrition plan full of whole foods may promote systemic wellness and may offer adjunctive relief for some common causes of shoulder pain. Check with a doctor or dietitian and consider integrating more anti-inflammatory foods and beverages into your routine. With some dietary tweaks and a little patience, you may start noticing some pain-free shoulders.