Dairy and Chronic Pain
Georgiy Sekretaryuk
November 20, 2020
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Dairy and Chronic Pain

In continuing with our recent series about how certain foods and food ingredients can contribute to chronic pain we now look to dairy. Dairy gets a lot of negative press for it’s role in a number of digestive issues, but does it actually cause pain in discomfort in muscles, joints, and tendons? It seems counterintuitive to some, given that throughout childhood we’ve been told how beneficial dairy is to developing strong bones and overall growth.

So do you have to give up the milk and cheese to avoid pain in the knees or other parts of your body? Let’s investigate.

How Dairy Consumption May Increase Chronic Pain and Disrupt Physiotherapy Progress


Lactose Can Contribute to Inflammation

Lactose is the sugar found in dairy products. You already know that most people (over 60%) cannot properly digest lactose, but when it comes to chronic pain it’s those who can digest lactose who have cause for concern. Why? Because when you do digest lactose, it instantly converts to glucose, which subsequently elevates blood sugar and causes systemic inflammation. Systemic inflammation is a factor in musculoskeletal pain and arthritis.

A study published in The Journal of Nutrition in 2015 found that eating dairy foods increased low-grade inflammation in a small sample of German adults. And a study of more than 40,000 people with osteoarthritis (OA) found that those who ate more dairy products were more likely to need hip replacement surgery. (Arthritis.org)

“For a chronic pain patient who is suffering, I recommend the extreme form of the diet — so that is no red meat, no refined flour or sugar or simple carbohydrate and no dairy.” (Pain Management Specialist William Welches, DO, PhD via The Cleveland Clinic)

By eliminating foods that contribute to inflammation, even if low grade, you may help in avoiding chronic pain.

It’s also important to note that your immune system is deeply connected to gut function. When gut function is compromised, so is your body’s ability to illicit an immune response that is needed to drive tissue repair and regeneration. This circles back to those who are lactose intolerant. So it seems that both sides of the lactose coin should avoid dairy when seeking to avoid chronic pain. 

The Type of Dairy Can Make a Difference

Not all dairy is created, or should we say is processed, equally. Take yogurt for instance, which is rich in probiotics which studies have found to pack an anti-inflammatory punch. That said, if you’re looking to capitalize on the benefits (including anti-inflammatory properties) of probiotics it may be best to choose those in the form of a natural health supplement and avoid additives (i.e. sugar, synthetic hormones, etc.) that inflate chronic pain.

Cheese is especially concerning as it typically contains advanced glycation end products (AGEs). When AGEs accumulate in high amounts in your body, oxidative stress and inflammation are known to occur. Oxidative stress and AGE formation are also tied to arthritic pain.

Ultimately common sense will go a long way here. The more additives required to create a given dairy product (cheese or cream) the more likely it contains ingredients that increase the risk of inflammation. The same goes for any full-fat dairy. 


In the end, moderation is the key for those who can tolerate dairy. If you find that an uptick in milk, cheese, or yogurt consumption seems to be correlated with an immediate increase in pain, try limiting your consumption for two weeks and take note of any change. And of course, if you want to be rid of chronic pain you need to make physiotherapy a part of your life. Schedule a consultation at Absolute PhysioCare today.

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