Food and Pain: Oh C’Mon, Do They Really Go Together?

You can listen to the article here.

Yes they do!  And I can’t tell you how incredibly easy it is to forget that food can be causing not only your pain, but your skin problems, your irritable or low mood, your fatigue, your restless legs, infertility or PMS!  Whew……… I could go on but this article is centered specifically on food and pain.  People often ask me why I added nutritional therapy to my already established and busy practice of physical therapy.  Each profession by itself requires a ton of study, skill building, artful practice and work to keep up and stay on the leading edge of emerging information.

So why did I take on a second profession?  Because my manual therapy skills showed me that those patient cases that were the most difficult to improve with physical therapy skills had the most soft tissue tension patterns leading to or coming from their digestive tracts.  It didn’t matter what kind of high level manual techniques, stretching or exercise programs I did with this group,  they either did not improve at all or improvements were temporary at best and they would always return with the same pain complaints!

It is an advanced skill to be able to feel the relationship of the digestive tract with other parts of the body and it is because of honing this skill over many years that lead me to realize that I didn’t have the tools to fully resolve someone’s recurring pain complaints.

If I wanted to help more people with their hard to resolve pain issues, then that meant becoming a Certified Nutritionist to clearly understand digestion, food compatibility, metabolic and nutrient therapy.   I’ve been integrating that work for quite a few years now so I thought I would give you some examples of how the food and pain picture presents and how I resolved each patient’s pain.

Case #1:  Erin and debilitating low back pain!

 Erin was in her mid to late 30’s when she came to me with complaints of low bak pain that occurred about 3 – 4 times each year and when it did, it was so debilitating that she would be totally stuck in a forward bent position, couldn’t go to work and would need 2 – 4 days just to be able to stand upright, let alone be free of back ache which took another 2- 4 weeks.  Manual mechanical treatments helped as did her exercise program but none of this prevented these acute painful episodes from reoccurring.

My assessment with Erin revealed some mild digestive complaints, and irregular bowel pattern but nothing really that she felt was a problem.  My manual assessment, however, showed that Erin had tremendous tension in her lower colon creating significant restriction with her sacrum.  Her stomach and spleen tension were also strong and made me highly suspicious of a food intolerance.

My treatment plan with Erin included education and instruction about how to find her incompatible foods and to improve her digestive function with whole, real foods and a couple of supplements.  It took some time to assess the benefits since Erin’s acute episodes only happened 3 – 4 times in a year but even after 3-4 months of her new eating plan she could tell that something was different.  That first year she only had one  acute back pain episode and now, 18 months later, Erin’s back never ‘goes out’!

 Case #2:  Lynda and her annoying upper back pain!

 Lynda had upper back pain that ached and ached and was so annoying.  She got frequent massages and all kinds of mechanical treatments with chiropractic, physical therapy and rolfing.  She loved rolling on foam rollers and tennis balls to relieve her constant muscle tension that was across her upper back, mostly on the right.

Lynda had seen very good practitioners but none of them dealt with nutrition or digestive dysfunction. My exam showed that Lynda’s upper right ribs were chronically in poor alignment along with several of the vertebrae of the mid and upper back.  Her soft tissue tension pattern included the area of the liver and gall bladder.  More verbal inquiry with Lynda confirmed for me that her gall bladder function was less than optimal.  Her stools were often light in color and almost always floated in the toilet water.  She experienced a fair amount of burping after eating and more so after certain meals.

I advised Lynda to make some changes with her foods, gave her some supplements that  would enhance the action of her liver and gall bladder and specifically taught her what to look for to know that what she is doing is moving her in the right direction.  In this case, she still needed manual treatments and exercises for her ribs and spine since they had adopted a compensatory alignment over many years.

Lynda had only small changes initially but over several months with her dietary changes and manual treatments Lynda began to be upper back pain free for the first time in years!  Now, Lynda uses the first shadow of tension in this same area of her back as the  canary in the coal mine about having just eaten something that slows her gall bladder function.  She knows to stay away from that food and feels totally empowered now about being able to prevent her pain!

 Case #3:  Shelly and her big toe pain!

 Shelly saw me in my office several years ago with complaints of right big toe pain.  Not just “my toe kinda hurts”, but “my toe REALLY hurts, I have to limp and walk on the side of my foot when it’s bad and that throws everything else off too!”
My exam of her entire structure revealed a clear cut tension pattern right to her liver!  She also appeared slightly swollen with water retention, her tongue looked very congested and she said she would get constipated somewhat frequently although tried to control this with prune juice and fiber.Of course I wanted to make sure that she had had Xrays, had seen an Orthopedist and or a Podiatrist which she had.  Her Xrays were negative and no one had a

clue what to do with her except togive her a hard flat bottom shoe so that her toe wouldn’t bend when she walked. This really didn’t allow her to walk normally at all and almost caused more back problems than it was worth!

I remembered that several of the acupuncture meridians go to the big toe and I didn’t think it was a coincidence that  my manual exam showed a congestion feeling around her liver, spleen and kidneys — all the meridians that end at the great toe!  I told Shelly that she really needed to change her diet, find her food intolerances, clean out her system and then let’s reassess the situation.  Well, that went over like a lead balloon and I never saw Shelly again………until this year when she joined my group detoxification program.  She went through the 21 day program flawlessly and looked lighter and brighter each week.  Several days after the program we talked and she told me how great she felt and oh by the way, the toe pain was gone!  She admitted to me that she thought I was nuts years before to have suggested that she improve her diet and detox her system in order to heal her toe pain!  Now she wishes she had done it then and not suffered another 2 years with a limping gait!

These are very typical examples of what I see every week when it comes to pain and how food can be a critical and often missed component to the treatment plan.  So the next time you have an ache or a pain that’s all too familiar and the help you are getting isn’t resolving it, do remember that your digestive tract may be a silent (or not) source of your pain and that you may need some help there too!




About Sheila Wagner PT, CN, BCHN

Sheila’s cutting edge ability to uncover hidden source(s) of health issues when no one else has is the first piece to her step wise approach in solving your persistent health complaints.

+Sheila Wagner is the ultimate expert assisting people nationwide to finally fix their health through 1:1 consults, group programs, lectures and classes.

Opinions & Feedback:

  1. Sheila,

    Great case studies. This really makes me think beyond the symptoms.

    Write on!~

    Lisa Manyon

  2. I can’t ever read your blog posts without continually being amazed at your exhaustive and highly expert knowledge, Sheila. Your patients are very lucky indeed!

  3. What a gift to your patients that you can help them get to the bottom of diffcult health issues! LOVE these stories of triumph! XO, Katherine.

  4. So interesting how the digestive tract is interrelated to other parts of the body and how it affects them. Thanks Sheila for the great information..

    Kiyla Fenell

  5. Sheila,

    For certain what you eat and when you eat it certainly will have an impact.

    Thanks for sharing,


  6. Sheila,

    Your article is right on! I have found a strong correlation between toxins from diet as relates to many of my patients’ foot conditions. Many physicians miss this out of pure ignorance. Great points!

    Dr. Robert Fenell
    Founder & CEO, Chiropractic Hand & Foot Clinics Of America

  7. Sheila – WOW! I had no idea that foods could have been causing some of those pains … especially the big toe scenario … I started reading that one and thought, “No way!”

    It’s amazing how much what you eat affects your body, the way it performs, and the way it makes you feel. I know because of Brian’s Gall Bladder issue and my own weight (did I just say that out loud!), we’ve adjusted our diets quite a bit … and not only have we both lost weight, but we both feel way better, we both have ,more energy, and neither of us are experiencing the 3:00 munchies :)

    Thanks for your wisdom!

    Jennifer Bourn, Bourn Creative
    Transforming Businesses into Extraordinary Brands with Websites That Work When You’re Not Working.

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