Diet Composition’s Effect on Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain: A Narrative Review

Pain Physician. 2023 Nov;26(7):527-534.


BACKGROUND: In the medical setting, clinicians frequently attend to patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain. Recent literature demonstrates diet may play a role in inflammation and musculoskeletal pain.

OBJECTIVES: The purpose of this narrative review is to present the most current literature on the effect of common diet regimes, additions, and eliminations on chronic musculoskeletal pain.

STUDY DESIGN: This is a narrative review of the literature on the effect of 1) Mediterranean diets; 2) vegetarian and vegan diets; 3) oils, seafood, and omega-3 fatty acids; 4) fruits; 5) spices and herbal teas; and 6) elimination diets on patient-reported musculoskeletal pain scores.

METHODS: In January 2023, the Google Scholar and PubMed databases were reviewed to identify research on the effect of common diet regimes and additions on self-reported pain outcomes in patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain.

RESULTS: A total of 32 original research articles and a systematic review were included and used to develop grades of recommendation. There is fair evidence that diverse, plant-based Mediterranean, vegetarian, and vegan diets may reduce musculoskeletal pain. Other dietary considerations, including adding marine oils, seafood, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidant-rich fruits, and turmeric may also benefit patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain. There is poor-quality or insufficient evidence to support adding olive oil, ginger, or herbal teas to reduce pain. While eliminating aspartame and monosodium glutamate may reduce inflammation, there is poor-quality evidence that it reduces musculoskeletal pain.

LIMITATIONS: This narrative review is not systematic in nature; instead, it aims to provide a current update on the effect of various diet regimes, additions, and eliminations on chronic musculoskeletal pain. The studies in this review are limited in sample size, study period, and robust comparisons to controls. This review is limited to studies on patients with either rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or fibromyalgia due to the lack of relevant literature on other musculoskeletal pain conditions.

CONCLUSIONS: Clinicians can play a role in the well-being of patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain through holistic interventions such as a dietary emphasis on plant-based regimes. Further research is necessary to elucidate the relationship between diet, inflammatory markers, and disease states, as well as the safety and contraindications of these dietary changes.