Millions of people suffer from pain. Pain can be acute or chronic and range in severity. Pain can be short-lived, intermittent or ongoing. Many medical conditions cause pain. For example, fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain and tenderness in different areas of the body as well as fatigue and other symptoms. Osteoarthritis, nerve damage, multiple sclerosis and other conditions also cause chronic pain. Chronic lower back pain is very common in adults of all ages, though the causes may differ. Whatever the cause, pain can seriously impact quality of life and lead to depression and disability.
One of the worst things to do when you have chronic pain is avoidance of movement and exercise. While exercise can be uncomfortable, it is needed to strengthen muscles, tendons and ligaments, improve circulation and reduce stiffness. Light to moderate aerobic exercise can reduce pain, fatigue and depression and lift your mood. Also, strength training and general lifestyle activities such as walking are safe and can help control the amount of pain sufferers feel.
Like anything else, exercise has risks and rewards. Possible adverse effects of exercise include pain and fatigue and this can lead to dropping out of exercise programs.
Finding the right kind of exercise will make a big difference in your exercise adherence. Previously active people may not be able to do the same exercises as in the past, but may benefit from modifying them or choosing different ones. There is no one type of exercise that is ideal for everyone. Engaging in a variety of types of exercise may offer the best results. Personal preferences should be a consideration. If you dislike a certain kind of exercise, you’re less inclined to do it, even if it’s been prescribed.
Certain exercises for the abdominal and lower back muscles are contraindicated because they can weaken or damage the lower back’s discs, ligaments and tendons. Exercises once popular and recommended by fitness professionals have become outdated in recent years as science has shown such exercises have the potential to cause harm and exacerbate pain or cause painful injuries. For example, sit ups put a lot of compression force on your lumbar vertebrae. Crunches are safer and require you to only lift your head and upper back off the floor.
High impact exercises are unsuitable when you live with pain. Trying to be a hero and exercising as if there’s nothing wrong with you will only cause more issues. Two people with painful conditions may have very different injuries, health issues and pain thresholds as well as different interests and motivation when it comes to exercise. People often seek advice from friends who’ve been through similar experiences. Remember, there’s no cookie-cutter method for exercise, especially when you’re living with pain.
Tips for exercising with pain:
1. Check with your doctor before you begin a new exercise program or if you have new pain.
2. Start with low-intensity, slow exercise and build up gradually to a moderate level of intensity and longer durations. Supervision by a fitness professional is a good strategy.
3. See if there’s a time of day when you experience less pain, perhaps after medication takes effect or when you’re less fatigued.
4. An exercise diary is a simple yet effective tool for recording, even at a general level, what exercise you do and when you do it. You can also use the diary to note and monitor your pain level and help you identify how different exercises affect your pain.
5. If you like group fitness, try aqua-fitness, gentle yoga or chair exercise classes.
6. Pay attention to your posture during your day-to-day activities, especially if you have lower back pain.
7. Weight management through exercise and sound nutrition can help ease pain.
8. Wear sturdy comfortable shoes. Women’s high-heeled shoes don’t provide adequate stability and cause the body to shift into an unnatural position. Inspect the soles of your shoes to make sure they aren’t worn out in such a way that your feet are tilting inwards or outwards.
9. If you sit a lot as most of us do, periodically get up and move around, stand or do some dynamic, gentle stretching. Make sure you’re sitting on a chair with a firm back. Exercise can include active pastimes such as gardening.
10. If your pain is caused by injury, allow the injury time to heal while continuing to safely exercise. Avoid heavy lifting and over-exercising.