Using Diet to Reduce Inflammation and Speed ACL Recovery


I must admit to taking supplements in ignorance for most of the past ten years. What I didn’t realize until recently was how joint supplements and, indeed, fish oil worked to reduce inflammation and, therefore, positively impact the ACL surgery recovery timeline.

I have my wife to thank for steadfastly ignoring my objections to the plethora of supplements I have taken over the years because there is no question that diet and nutrition can play a massive role in the rapid and long term recovery from any kind of joint injury.

Specifically with ACL injuries, most people complete the rehabilitation program but ignore the massive impact that diet and nutrition can have on reducing inflammation and speeding recovery. Essentially this is because PT only deals with the structural components of the injury whereas it is diet and nutrition that deal with the chemical components. Let me explain.

Ligaments and cartilage contain collagen – a naturally occurring protein.  We need the right nutrients in our diet to help collagen to heal damaged cartilage. If we don’t have the right nutrients then we can heal but not in an optimal way which then means we are more likely to re-injure ourselves.

Inflammation is the body’s way of protecting itself while it brings in new tissue to rebuild the injured area. It allows the body to get rid of the garbage and provide a good foundation for healing. But diet plays a big role in either propagating or reducing inflammation.

For example, there is a substance in wheat called wheat germ glutenin. This compound has a very high affinity for joints and cartilage tissue. It essentially goes straight to cartilage and creates a chronic inflammatory response which, ultimately, prevents the joint from healing. Both gluten and wheat germ glutenin are inflammatory and promote inflammation thereby preventing healing in the long term.

Glucosamine and chondroitin inhibits wheat germ glutenin by blocking that compound from attaching to the joints and creating inflammation. This supplement, therefore, can reduce inflammation and speed recovery from an ACL tear.

Other foods and supplements can also impact inflammation. An example is the quality of fat intake in the diet. Fat breaks down into chemicals that either promote healthy healing or, instead, encourage inflammation. Of course, we all know that Trans and Saturated fats are bad for us but did you know that a diet high in grain and low in vegetables promotes a fatty acid that promotes inflammation?

Omega 3 and omega 6 are essential fatty acids for brain function as well as body repair and regeneration. Salmon, oily fish and flaxseed oil all contain these essential fatty acids. As a supplement, fish oil will speed recovery so long as you ensure your particular brand contains omega 3 and 6.

Because of its anti-inflammatory effects, fish oil will also reduce joint pain and is twice as effective long term compared with over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs. This is because the body needs fish oil whereas the drug is just a chemical to block the pain from inflammation.

Paying attention to diet and nutrition, therefore, is extremely important in recovering from an ACL injury. A “diet” of Physical Therapy only will otherwise only address the structural elements of the joint, and not the chemical elements that enable long term recovery.