Imagine you have chronic pain – or maybe you don’t have to imagine – and your doctor suggests exercise to help alleviate that pain. You might think your doctor has lost his marbles, because exercise is definitely NOT on your agenda for the near future.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, studies have shown that exercise really does help people with chronic pain conditions. The sad truth is, chronic pain can lead to an inactive lifestyle, which causes physical deconditioning, which leads to an increase in pain and more risk of injury. It is a vicious cycle, also known as a ‘Pain Cycle’. To stop the cycle and reap the positive benefits of exercise – with your doctor’s permission, of course, it is simply a matter of getting over the initial fear of and lack of motivation.
Where do you start?
The best first step is to talk to your doctor about your desire to start an exercise program. He or she can set limitations for you, and may be able to refer you to a physical therapist or a personal trainer who specializes in treating people with chronic pain.
It is best to start slowly at low intensity and gradually increase duration and intensity as you become more comfortable with exercise. Ideal exercises to start with are low impact and/or non-weight bearing, which could include walking, swimming, rowing machine, stationary bike and water aerobics, along with yoga for increased flexibility.
What are the benefits?
There are countless benefits of regular exercise. Here are several that someone suffering from chronic pain might expect according to the War Related Illness & Injury Study Center:
- Decreased pain
- Decreased fatigue
- Decreased number of tender points (joint and muscle pain)
- Decrease in blood pressure
- Decreased resting heart rate
- Decreased risk for heart disease or stroke
- Improved sleep
- Decreased anxiety and depression
- Increased efficiency of the heart
- Increased control of blood sugar levels
- Increased ability to burn fat
- Improved physical fitness
- Decreased loss of muscle strength and aerobic fitness
- Increased energy
- Improved cholesterol profile
- Enhanced feeling of well-being
- Enhanced performance of work and recreational activities
As daunting as it may seem, the rewards of regular exercise for someone suffering from chronic pain are just too good to pass up. Get out there and get moving!