The best exercise for chronic pain include biking, walking, running, swimming, stretching, Pilates, and strength training.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are almost 20 million Americans that suffer from chronic pain to the point it interferes with daily activities.
Pain is a part of many chronic diseases and is also a growing health concern in and of itself. Dealing with chronic pain affects every part of a person’s life.
While there is surgery that can help with pain, many doctors advise patients first to try other non-invasive strategies.
For example, if someone deals with lower back pain, which is one of the most common types of chronic pain, lumbar disc replacement is an option. But the doctor might work with their patient in other ways before performing the surgery.
Chronic pain is something that lasts for at least 12 weeks, and it can occur anywhere, even though we often think of the back first.
Other types of chronic pain include headache, pain following surgery, neurogenic pain stemming from nerve damage, and post-trauma pain.
Some particular health conditions that may contribute to chronic pain are:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome;
- Endometriosis fibromyalgia;
- And inflammatory bowel disease.
One way to deal with chronic pain and alleviate it and its effects on your life is through exercise and physical activity.
Other lifestyle remedies for chronic pain are physical therapy, art and music therapy, massage, meditation, and psychotherapy.
The following are some things to know about exercise for chronic pain, how it helps, and how to overcome limitations.
How Does Exercise Help With Chronic Pain?
There are many ways to alleviate chronic pain through a regular workout, even light exercise can help with chronic pain.
When we exercise, it produces endorphins like dopamine. Endorphins cause us to feel good in general.
Exercise can also help calm down overactive nerves that cause chronic pain. And it can improve your overall health and mobility which will likely improve symptoms of pain as well.
Regular workout, in general, can significantly improve your quality of life.
It helps you sleep longer and more deeply than people who are sedentary too. Keep in mind that sleep problems are a frequent issue for people with chronic pain.
How To Start Exercising When You Have Chronic Pain?
When you struggle with chronic pain, getting started with exercise can be intimidating and overwhelming.
You may avoid exercise or much movement at all because you fear that it will worsen your pain. But the lack of movement may actually be making your pain worse.
When you have limited movement, not only can pain get worse directly but indirectly too, since weight gain can worsen the pain.
To get started, think simple and small and go up from there. For example, try to walk around your office or house every hour.
Start using a fitness or activity tracker and set small, manageable goals for yourself each day.
As you get more comfortable with movement in general, you can start to incorporate formal exercise into your routine.
For example, try to walk five minutes a day every day for a week. Then, during the next week, go up to 10 to 15 minutes and up from there. Over time, try to increase your pace as well as how long you walk.
One study in 2011 found low-impact exercises like walking were most effective for people with fibromyalgia symptoms as well as back pain.
Biking can be a good option for people with pain as well because it’s easy on the joints.
When you’re starting with any type of new exercise, you might want to consult a professional trainer until you get the hang of it. The form can be very important as can learning what your limits are.
Exercise For Chronic Pain
Here are a few more exercise ideas besides walking and biking that might help you ease the chronic pain:
Stretching is a great way to relieve chronic pain, and you can do it as your main form of exercise as you’re getting started. Or do it before or after you do an aerobic form of exercise.
When you regularly stretch, it loosens up your tight, stiff muscles. It can also improve your range of motion.
As you get more comfortable with stretching, you might think about incorporating yoga into your routine, which utilizes stretch but also strength work using body weight.
Yoga stretches are good because they can help reduce the psychological symptoms of pain as well through breathwork and meditation.
Pilates is another low-impact form of exercise and it uses simple movements that are very focused on the correct form and alignment.
If you do Pilates, you can strengthen your core, and a strong core can help reduce back pain.
Weight training is a really good thing for people with pain to do because it helps them increase or maintain their functionality.
If you want to work on stability and endurance, you might use lower weights but do a higher number of reps.
Tip: Keep It Slow And Steady
When you have chronic pain, and you start introducing exercise into your life, keep it slow and steady. You want to gradually increase your movement and think of it as an incremental process.
If you’re pushing too hard, you can make things worse.
You should also experiment until you find the exercise you enjoy.
Not all types of exercise are good or enjoyable for all people, and there are so many options.
Along with walking, cycling, yoga, and Pilates, other options include Tai chi and swimming.
As you get more comfortable, you might also want to take group exercise classes.
If you find multiple things you like to do, then rotate your exercise because this will keep your body guessing rather than hitting a plateau.
Overall, when you have chronic pain, starting to exercise can be tremendously beneficial in almost all areas of your life. But don’t push yourself too hard in the beginning or be too tough on yourself.
Give yourself time and be gentle with yourself as you work your way up and hopefully learn to love the effects of exercise in your life and how it makes you feel mentally and physically.