Physical therapy and nutrition are often seen as separate, but they are deeply intertwined. To get the most out of physical therapy, especially after an injury or surgery, integrating both is crucial for the best outcome. Nutrition is important to overall health and wellness.
Food fuels the body
During recovery from an injury or surgery, your body is working to heal itself. The activities and exercises you’re doing in physical therapy are designed to help it along. Proper nutrition and food choices should be considered an important part of the rehabilitation process when recovering from an injury or surgery, or dealing with chronic pain.
Protein provides the building blocks for tissue repair and muscle growth when recovering from an injury or surgery. Chicken breast, tuna, skim milk, eggs, tofu, and whey or soy protein powder are good food sources.
Carbohydrates provide energy, help support lymphocyte function, and help support your immune system. Examples of food choices include bran cereal, lentils, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, potatoes, rice, quinoa, avocados, pears, and apples.
Your body also needs healthy fats to regulate inflammation and to build certain cells. Omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, cod, tuna, flax seeds, and walnuts help fight inflammation. Fruits and vegetables including berries, tart cherries, beets and pomegranates have anti-inflammatory properties, as well as herbs and spices such as ginger and turmeric.
Micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, are also important in healing fractures or surgeries involving bones. Vitamin C, D, and K help to improve bone strength and density. Food sources include citrus, orange juice, tomatoes, broccoli, salmon, trout, tilapia, milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, leafy greens, and green tea.
Nutrition is an important component of overall health and wellness
Diet can play a role in managing inflammation, maintaining energy levels, and supporting the immune system. Many lingering injuries, slow healing from surgery, or chronic pain issues could be improved by eating a diet consisting of foods that help promote optimal tissue healing and muscle growth.
How can a physical therapist help with nutrition?
Physical therapists not only provide physical therapy treatment, but also include nutritional education as part of your overall treatment plan.
- PTs can screen for potential nutritional deficiencies or imbalances that may impact your progress in physical therapy or your overall health. This might involve screening for malnutrition, sarcopenia (muscle loss), or assessing dietary habits affecting energy levels, healing, or muscle building.
- Your PT can educate you on the importance of nutrition for various aspects of rehabilitation and recovery. This includes explaining how specific nutrients like protein, vitamins, and minerals as previously mentioned contribute to tissue repair, muscle building, energy production, and pain management.
- PTs can offer general guidance on healthy eating patterns, portion control, and choosing nutrient-rich foods to support reaching your specific physical therapy goals.
- PTs recognize that overall health and well-being involve numerous factors, including proper nutrition. They can encourage you to adopt healthy lifestyle habits that include a balanced diet alongside regular exercise and proper sleep hygiene.
Finally, if necessary, your physical therapist can refer you to and collaborate with a registered dietician or other qualified healthcare professionals for assistance in dealing with complex nutritional needs or recommending specific dietary changes.
By combining the power of physical therapy and nutrition, you can achieve your recovery goals faster, have a better overall treatment outcome, and feel your best! If you’d like additional information or have questions about nutrition education, your Northern Rehab physical therapist is a great person to ask!