Updated: Nov 2, 2022
Can drinking more water help with your pain?
We’ve all heard the advice: drink eight large glasses of water a day to stay healthy and hydrated. This rule has entered urban legend because it’s easy to remember, but opinions vary widely as to what counts towards the eight-glass target. Just plain water? Or does fruit juice also count? What about tea or coffee? Or fizzy drinks? Or the tonic water in your gin? What about the fluids found in foods – do they count?
Water makes up between 60 to 80% of our bodies, depending on our age, and no-one is denying that hydration is critical to our health and wellbeing. But how much is enough? There’s no straight answer.
Perhaps it’s helpful to look at how water is distributed through our bodies. Our blood is made up of 90% water, our muscles have 75% and our bones 25%. It’s clear that our bodies need water to function and without it we’d struggle with things like flushing out toxins and lubricating cells. But what’s the connection between dehydration and pain symptoms?
Listen to your body
When you start to become dehydrated, your body finds subtle ways to let you know – providing you are listening. Many times these signals will come in some form of slight pain or discomfort which we’re often tempted to ignore until they become worse. Many people don’t realise that the pain may be caused by dehydration, which can be easily and quickly resolved. The trick is to pay attention - you may be able to make yourself feel a lot better simply by rehydrating.
The next time you start to get a niggling headache, dry skin, chapped lips, stiffness or soreness, or even if you’re just feeling a bit tired, try these two simple tests to discern whether a big glass or two of water is the best treatment:-
Look at the colour of your urine. A hydrated body will produce a light yellow, almost clear colour urine, whereas a dehydrated body will produce a dark yellow or orange colour urine.
Gently pinch the skin at the back of your hand, wrist or arm. Once you release the skin, if it goes back quickly to its original state, you are well hydrated. If it stays pinched for more than a few seconds, it means you are dehydrated. This is because the skin cells are sticking to each other due to lack of fluids.
The connection between dehydration and chronic pain
Hydration plays an important role in the body’s ability to function and heal. If you’re recovering from a surgery or injury or suffering from chronic muscle and joint pain, dehydration can exacerbate these conditions, slow the rate of healing, and increase the chances of injury. Maintaining proper hydration is crucial since water helps hydrate discs between the vertebrae in your spine and prevents your tendons, ligaments, and muscles from becoming tight and stiff.
Health experts recommend that a diet rich in anti-oxidants as well as staying hydrated with enough water are great ways to reduce inflammation in the body. Water is specifically recommended because it can flush away toxins and other irritants. This decreases the prostaglandin and histamine response, which is associated with an inflammatory reaction.
Our joints have cartilage which is made up of at least 60% water, and our cartilage acts like a cushion or a shock absorber to reduce the friction between the bones in the joint. Cartilage in turn is lubricated by a gel-like substance called synovial fluid. When you’re dehydrated your cartilage loses its sponginess, which causes joint pain. Proper hydration therefore can improve the production of synovial fluid, reduce the inflammation, maintain the shock absorbing properties of cartilage and reduce joint pain.
What else can good hydration do for you?
Help with energy levels and brain function
Our cells need adequate hydration to optimise the production of energy from food. Without it your ability to produce energy is reduced and you feel fatigued. Even a mild loss of hydration – we’re talking 1-3% of body weight – can impair brain function, cause memory loss, affect your mood, and have a detrimental effect on your energy levels and cognitive function.
Prevent and treat headaches and migraines
Even mild dehydration can cause a headache. When you become dehydrated your brain tissue loses water causing your brain to shrink and pull away from the skull. This triggers the pain receptors surrounding the brain, giving you a headache. Dehydration also causes your blood volume to drop which in turn lowers the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. In response the blood vessels in the brain dilate leading to swelling and inflammation, worsening the headache. So before you reach for the painkillers, drink a big glass of water first – it may be all you need.
Help with weight loss
Evidence is mounting that drinking water before a meal reduces your appetite and making this a regular habit could help with your weight loss. And because water contains no calories, filling your glass with still or sparkling water instead of higher calorie alternatives like juice, soda, or sugar sweetened tea or coffee can reduce your overall liquid calorie intake and so help you to reach your weight loss goal faster.
So whether or not you stick to the eight-glasses-a-day rule, there’s no doubting the importance of staying hydrated, especially if you have or regularly suffer from chronic pain.
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