How to Eat to Manage your Pelvic Pain

In Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy by Melinda Fontaine7 Comments

Can we eat to relieve our pain?

Actually, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” More and more research is finding a connection between what we eat and how our bodies experience pain.

That’s why I was so thrilled to attend a lecture on how nutrition can help us manage our pain at the IPPS Conference in Chicago last month. The lecture titled “Nutritional Considerations in Treating Patients with Pain,” was delivered by the brilliant Dr. Geeta Maker-Clark.

The nutrition advice that Dr. Maker-Clark gave focused mainly on tackling the body’s inflammatory responses. For many chronic pain patients, inflammation plays a major role in their pain.

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to acute injury, and chronic inflammation significantly contributes to persistent pain.  At the cellular level, pro-inflammatory cytokines produced at the site of injury increase the sensitivity to pain.  (“Cytokines” are proteins that interact with cells of the immune system to regulate the body’s response to disease and infection.)

The good news is that these pro-inflammatory cytokines can be reduced by proper diet. In fact, Dr. Maker-Clark is adamant that proper nutrition must be a part of our treatment for pain and is also an important part of the healing process.

So what sort of diet can help us manage our pain?

Well, the guidelines and rules of eating to help manage pain and promote healing or what I like to call an “anti-inflammatory diet” are not all complicated. In fact, there are only two basic rules of thumb to follow.

The first rule has to do with how quickly our bodies process sugar. You see, the slower your body processes sugar, the better it can tackle inflammation.

In fact, one important study found that inflammation markers were higher in women who ate foods with a high glycemic index.  (The glycemic index is a measurement of how quickly your body can process the glucose or sugars in a food.) The study showed that pain tends to follow the glycemic index, meaning that foods that are higher on the index are associated with more inflammation and more pain.

Examples of foods that are high on the glycemic index include: white bread, potatoes, beer, cereal, and rice, white flour, and processed foods.

So foods that are lower on the glycemic index are a better choice for folks dealing with pain. And conversely, foods that are higher on the index are not a good choice for pain management.

A little tip: foods that are higher in fiber are going to be lower on the glycemic index, so better for anti-inflammatory purposes.

Rule number two focuses on essential fatty acids–specifically how we balance our intake of omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids.

Essential fatty acids are called “essential” because we can’t make them on our own, but must get them from our diet. It turns out that when it comes to essential fatty acids, it’s not a matter of more is better, but a matter of balance is the key.

Let me explain: Nutritionists believe that in the past, humans ate just as much omega-3s as omega-6s, but since the advent of the modern diet, there has been a huge shift in the ratio. And for optimal health, it’s important for us to get a balanced amount of omega-3s to omega-6s.

In our modern diet there are actually not many sources of omega-3s. The main source is the fat of cold water fish, other sources include walnuts and flaxseeds, olive oil, avocado, and enriched eggs.

On the flip side, our modern diet is full to overflowing with omega-6s. Omega-6s are found in seeds and nuts as well as the oils extracted from them. Most processed foods contain refined oils. On top of that, the majority of the protein we eat–even farmed fish–are fed grains. And not only are you what you eat, you are what you eat eats.

So because omega-3s are so hard to come by and omega-6s are all too easy to come by on the modern menu, there’s a huge imbalance between the omega-3s and omega-6s we eat.

Many researchers believe that it is this dietary imbalance that is behind the rise of such diseases as asthma, coronary heart disease, many forms of cancer, and the slew of autoimmunity and neurodegenerative diseases, all of which are believed to stem from inflammation in the body.

For our purposes, it is this imbalance that can cause problems when it comes to inflammation. That’s because, in general when it comes to inflammation, omega-6s and omega-3 have different effects. Omega-6s tend to increase inflammation (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because inflammation plays an important role in the body’s immune response), while omega-3s decrease inflammation.

For the purposes of following an anti-inflammatory diet, what you’re striving to do is to get a healthy ratio of omega-3s and omega-6s. The best way to do that in today’s Western diet is to make it a point to eat more foods with omega-3 fatty acids and less with omega-6 fatty acids. One tip that Dr. Maker-Clark gave for upping your intake of omega-3s is to buy eggs that are fortified with omega-3.

In addition to the two hard and fast rules Dr. Maker-Clark gave she also listed a handful of specific foods that, according to research, have anti-inflammatory properties.

Here are a few:

  • Tart Cherry juice:
  • Mushrooms
  • Soy
  • Green Tea
  • Red Wine
  • Turmeric

So to summarize, a solid anti-inflammatory diet consists of:

  • Low glycemic index foods
  • Limited amount of processed foods
  • A reduction of hydrogenated fats
  • Plenty of omega 3-rich foods

Other tips include:

  • Less meat and dairy
  • More fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Fewer chemical additives

Not only will I be recommending Dr. Maker-Clark’s dietary tips to my patients, I’m going to be implementing a few of them into my own diet. If you would like more info on Dr. Maker-Clark’s pain management diet advice, just click here.

I hope this blog will get you thinking about the role nutrition can pay in managing your pain. This is an issue I plan to continue to cover, so I’ll keep you posted on any updates!

In the meantime, do any of you have any tried and true nutrition tips to share with our readers when it comes to eating to manage pain?

All my best,


Are you unable to come see us in person? We offer virtual appointments!

Due to COVID-19, we understand people may prefer to utilize our services from their homes. We also understand that many people do not have access to pelvic floor physical therapy and we are here to help! The Pelvic Health and Rehabilitation Center is a multi-city company of highly trained and specialized pelvic floor physical therapists committed to helping people optimize their pelvic health and eliminate pelvic pain and dysfunction. We are here for you and ready to help, whether it is in-person or online. 

Virtual sessions are available with PHRC pelvic floor physical therapists via our video platform, Zoom, or via phone. The cost for this service is $75.00 per 30 minutes. For more information and to schedule, please visit our digital healthcare page.

In addition to virtual consultation with our physical therapists, we also offer integrative health services with Jandra Mueller, DPT, MS. Jandra is a pelvic floor physical therapist who also has her Master’s degree in Integrative Health and Nutrition. She offers services such as hormone testing via the DUTCH test, comprehensive stool testing for gastrointestinal health concerns, and integrative health coaching and meal planning. For more information about her services and to schedule, please visit our Integrative Health website page.


  1. Great blog post, Melinda,

    Another great resource on diet to reduce inflammation is the book Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain, PhD. Cordain is one of the pioneering researchers in exploring benefits of anti-inflammatory diets similar to what our paleolithic ancestors had available.

  2. I have Pudendal Nerve Entrapment, I have an appointment for a consultation not till May 28th. That is a long time. I want to know how is recovering? Nobody talks about that. Can you walk around, can you drive a car, are you in terrible pain. Can someone help me with this information?

    Thank you,

    1. I’m sorry Barbara, your question is not clear. Are you saying you are having surgery, and need info on recovery?

  3. Hi there
    I have been suffering with chronic pelvic pain for about 3years now.
    I have broken my pelvis in 3 places and have hard ware installed in my pelvis. I still fell a lot of pain and especially with my meds, I have to keep taking my pain killers to keep going in my life because with out my meds I just can not function or sleep due to pain. Please if anyone knows what type of foods I should eat because I really don’t eat very good now I just eat a lot of fast foods bc I just don’t know what diet to follow for pelvic pain.
    Thank you.

    1. Dear Victor,

      I’m sorry to hear about all that you are going through. The advice in this blog post is worth taking in addition, you should stop eating fast food and processed food. You should try to stick to a real food diet.

      In addition, there are tons of books out there that talk about an anti-inflammatory diet; check them out here:

      All my best,

  4. For me it’s no sugar or yeast at anytime otherwise I pay the price of severe pain. You learn to adapt but not easy as almost everything out there has the demon sugar. Took me years and no medical help to figure that out so life is more bearable now. AJ

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