Chronic pain can be debilitating. For people who are suffering from constant pain, exercise can seem like a pipe dream. Working out requires a lot of energy if you already feel tired and sore.
At Midwest Regenerative Health and Pain Clinic, we treat many patients that suffer from chronic pain. We always encourage these patients to do exercises that can help reduce their pain while also building muscle tone and improving health.
What is Chronic Pain?
Pain is an essential function in the body. However, chronic pain is entirely different. While pain is meant to signal to a person that they are injured, chronic pain occurs when the nerves in the affected area continue to send pain messages to the brain even though the injury is no longer present. However, chronic pain is not always caused by an injury.
Chronic pain can be caused by injury, illness, or a disorder. Chronic pain can also develop in those who are witnesses to trauma but have experienced no physical trauma themselves.
Often, people with chronic pain are put on medications that add up to big dollars. Some of these medications are opioids or other narcotics that can lead to dependency or addiction. These drugs can also interfere with a person’s energy, mood, and overall quality of life. However, the ability to manage pain with exercise could get people away from these drugs while still managing their pain.
How Does Exercise Benefit People with Chronic Pain?
Exercise is beneficial to everyone. It can help with weight management, bone density, muscle mass, heart disease prevention, inflammation, mobility, and much, much more. For those with chronic pain, an added bonus is that exercise can help with pain management.
In fact, inactivity can even lead to a cycle of increased pain and loss of function. For this reason, those with chronic pain must stay active but do so in a safe manner. Determining exercises that help with balance, strength, endurance, and flexibility can help those who are experiencing chronic pain.
It is important to note that when you are having a good day, you shouldn’t over-exercise. Overextending yourself can cause you to experience more intense pain in the following days. And if there are days where you feel pain or notice swelling or inflammation, you should take a few days off from exercise. If something doesn’t feel right, contact your doctor right away.
Exercises to Help People with Chronic Pain
While we know that exercise can help people with chronic pain, many people experiencing this pain refrain from physical activity due to fear of increased pain. For this reason, we encourage those with chronic pain to try exercises that are gentle on joints and start slowly.
If you are not acclimated with exercising regularly, start by moving for short increments several times per week. Once you feel comfortable with this level of activity, you can slowly start to increase the amount of exercise you are doing each week. It is also vital to listen to your body and do the exercises that feel the best for you. The exercises that work from some people with chronic pain may not work for others. Remember, each body is different.
1. Swimming/Water Aerobics
Water-based exercises are great for those with chronic pain because the buoyancy of the water reduces the stress placed on joints during exercise. Swimming and water aerobics can be therapeutic for both the body and mind. Patients who have mobility issues can also use swimming or water aerobics to get exercise that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to get. Exercising in water is also less likely to aggravate joints or worsen muscle pain than exercising on land.
When participating in water sports, try to stay in warm water, as cold water can cause muscles to tense, which could lead to injury or soreness.
Getting in three to five 30-minute walks each week is a great way to build endurance and strength. It is also good for heart health. For some, chronic pain makes walking a little difficult, so start slow. You can gradually increase the length and intensity of your walks as you build up more strength. If you are using a walker or cane, always use it during your walks.
Walking is a great low-impact option that can occur nearly anywhere. Some patients choose to walk on a treadmill, while others choose outdoors or retail locations. You can even walk in place for an easy anywhere option.
Part of the reason that walking is beneficial to those experiencing chronic pain is that it increases blood flow. This increased blood flow leads to a boost in energy and neuroplasticity, which can help the brain’s ability to reduce feelings of pain.
Many varieties of yoga offer gentle stretching and exercise that can benefit those with chronic pain problems. Regenerative yoga requires extended holds of gentle poses that can help release tension and ease pain.
The Journal of Pain Research conducted a study that found that Hatha yoga helps reduce the symptoms of chronic pain in woman battling fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition. Hatha yoga combines meditation and breathing with gentle postures. Aerial yoga is another option that reduces the pressure put on joints.
Incorporating yoga into your weekly routine can significantly reduce pain. Many yoga studios will offer a variety of classes, but you can also start by doing yoga at home if you prefer. It is easy to find short yoga videos online. Starting and ending the day with a few yoga poses and light stretches can do wonders for managing chronic pain.
4. Strength Training
Strengthening muscles can help manage certain types of chronic pain. This works by building up the muscles around the affected joints to reduce the stress on the joint itself. Strength training is the perfect exercise for those who are experiencing chronic pain, as long as it is done in a safe manner.
You have a lot of options when it comes to strength training. Low-impact strength training can be very effective in building stronger muscles and bones. You can start by doing bodyweight exercises, such as lunges and triceps dips. Various fitness apps allow you to filter workouts based on these criteria, so you are doing the safest workouts for your level.
As you slowly build up strength, you can begin incorporating weights. Start with light weights like two to three pounds and work up as your strength increases. Make sure that you understand proper lifiing techniques to prevent injury.
Pilates is another beneficial workout option for those experiencing chronic pain. According to a study conducted in 2015, Pilates helps reduce pain because the simple movements focus on proper joint alignment. The exercises used in Pilates help strengthen your core, which improves posture and reduces chronic pain in your back and neck.
Pilates also provides strength training opportunities in safe ways that will not cause any further pain or soreness. A one-on-one class will likely be the best option for someone with significant chronic pain because incorrectly performing the movements could cause inflammation and exacerbate pain. Private instructors can give you undivided attention to ensure you are doing the exercises correctly.
Biking is another low-impact option for those with chronic pain. As a great cardio option, biking has many similar benefits as walking, including increased circulation and heart health.
Short intervals of biking riding can alleviate pain in some patients. It is important to note that long bike rides could have the opposite effect. You should also make sure your seat and handlebars are adjusted for your height to prevent worsening pain in the knees or back.
7. Tai Chi
Martial arts might seem like a stretch for those with chronic pain, but tai chi is a gentler type of martial arts from China that is more like yoga than one might think. Both disciplines focus on mindfulness. This is the perfect type of exercise for people of all ages who want to build up their strength, endurance, and balance without putting a lot of strain on joints and muscles. Like yoga, tai chi benefits both mind and body health.
Midwest Regenerative Health and Pain Clinic specializes in helping patients manage their pain. If you suffer from chronic pain, our physicians can work with you to create a treatment plan that will help you reduce your pain and enhance your quality of life by using regenerative medicine practices. Contact us to schedule an appointment.