Physical therapy and nutrition are often seen as separate, but the truth is they are deeply intertwined. Integrating both is crucial to get the most out of PT, especially after an injury or surgery. Here's why:
Food Fuels The Body
During recovery from an injury or surgery, your body works to heal itself. The activities and exercises you're doing in PT are designed to help it along. Proper nutrition is critical to take advantage of all the work you and your body are putting in.
Protein provides the building blocks for tissue repair and muscle growth. Carbohydrates provide energy and help support your immune system. Your body also needs healthy fats to regulate inflammation and to build certain cells. Being short on any of these critical components will slow your recovery down.
You also need enough micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals. For example, vitamin C is needed to make collagen, which goes into bones, skin, and connective tissue. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, which is important for healing fractures or surgeries involving bones. Iron helps your blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body, which is needed for healing in general. Again, being low on any of these micronutrients will affect your healing.
Your Weight Affects Your Health
Being overweight directly affects your health. It puts you at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, back pain, diabetes, sleep apnea, and more. All of these are conditions for which you might see a PT directly or that will impact your healing. Eating a healthy diet is the most effective way to reduce body weight. Combining a healthy diet with exercise is even better for your health.
For example, an 18-month study of 450 people with knee osteoarthritis showed that the group that lost weight through diet and exercise had less pain, better walking speed, and lower joint forces in their knees than groups who only lost or only exercised.
How can a physical therapist help with nutrition?
While PTs cannot provide individual diet plans or medical nutritional advice, they can still help with your nutrition.
· PTs can screen for potential nutritional deficiencies or imbalances impacting your PT progress or 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 contribute to tissue repair, muscle building, energy production, and pain management.
· They 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 various factors, including proper nutrition. They can encourage you to adopt healthy lifestyle habits, including a balanced diet, regular exercise, and proper sleep hygiene.
Finally, your PT can recognize when your nutrition needs exceed what they can provide. In that case, they can refer you to and collaborate with a registered dietician or other qualified healthcare professional to help with complex nutritional needs or recommend specific dietary changes.
By combining the power of physical therapy and nutrition, you can achieve your recovery goals faster and feel your best!
1. Effects of Intensive Diet and Exercise on Knee Joint Loads, Inflammation, and Clinical Outcomes Among Overweight and Obese Adults With Knee Osteoarthritis: The IDEA Randomized Clinical Trial Effects of Intensive Diet and Exercise on Knee Joint Loads, Inflammation, and Clinical Outcomes Among Overweight and Obese Adults With Knee Osteoarthritis: The IDEA Randomized Clinical Trial | Obesity | JAMA | JAMA Network
2. Ottawa Panel Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Management of Osteoarthritis in Adults Who Are Obese or Overweight Ottawa Panel Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Management of Osteoarthritis in Adults Who Are Obese or Overweight | Physical Therapy | Oxford Academic (oup.com)
3. Strategies for optimizing nutrition and weight reduction in physical therapy practice: The evidence Strategies for optimizing nutrition and weight reduction in physical therapy practice: The evidence: Physiotherapy Theory and Practice: Vol 25, No 5-6 (tandfonline.com)
4. Body mass index and risk of knee osteoarthritis: systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies Body mass index and risk of knee osteoarthritis: systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies - PMC (nih.gov)
5. Nutrition: A Portion of PT’s Menu of Services Nutrition: A Portion of PTs' Menu of Services | APTA
6. Considerations for PT’s Role in Nutrition Considerations Related to the PT's Role in Nutrition and Diet | APTA
7. Nutrition and PT a Powerful Combination - Nutrition and Physical Therapy: A Powerful Combination | APTA