Published on: 07-Dec-2023
Approximately 100 million Americans experience some degree of chronic pain, which is characterized by a long-standing, persistent pain that stretches beyond typical recovery times.
Persistent pain can stem from illness or injury, as well as ongoing conditions like arthritis. For some individuals, chronic pain can also arise without any evident injury or illness. Chronic pain may be continuous or intermittent. In either case, ongoing chronic pain can impact everything from quality of sleep to an individual’s ability to work. People experiencing chronic pain may also be reluctant to engage in any kind of physical activity.
Surprisingly, though, there’s strong evidence to suggest that, in the right conditions, exercise can be an effective way to work through chronic pain. In fact, recent studies have found that exercise can help reduce the severity of chronic pain, improve physical function, and even increase quality of life. In this article, we consider the full extent of exercise benefits for individuals with chronic pain, and the safest forms of exercise that make those possible.
The Benefits of Exercise with Chronic Pain
Periods of chronic pain can be incredibly difficult to deal with, and it’s not unusual for individuals to avoid any form of physical exercise during a flare-up. In reality, though, as well as the study stated above, countless experts will tell you that exercise can provide various benefits to individuals who are experiencing chronic pain.
Of course, enjoyment of those benefits is dependent on a carefully executed exercise regime, especially if chronic pain is occurring as the result of a poorly healed injury. But, with proper oversight and the right forms of exercise, benefits can include:
● Reduced pain levels: Exercise releases endorphins which can act as a pain barrier, meaning that exercise could reduce chronic pain levels.
● Strength building: Exercises that build muscle can ease pressure on bones and cartilage, as well as ensuring generally stronger, less painful joints.
● Improved well-being: Exercise can keep individuals feeling great thanks to endorphins and general satisfaction, which can, in turn, stave off the depression that’s found in around 55.6% of chronic pain cases.
The Best Exercises for Chronic Pain
While there are undeniable benefits to exercise when you’re experiencing chronic pain, it’s also crucial to note that not every kind of exercise will necessarily help your pain levels right away. High-impact exercises are certainly out of reach to begin with in these cases. Equally, it’s always beneficial to seek professional help before you exercise with chronic pain.
This will likely come from your doctor, but it’s also worth working closely with a PT who has completed a personal trainer course with specialist focuses including strength training and first aid. With the reassurance of that professional oversight, you can then begin developing an exercise regime that might include:
1. Walking — Gentle walks are a great first form of exercise for anyone experiencing chronic pain, as this is a low-impact way to begin building higher energy levels. Generally speaking, experts recommend walking for 30 minutes a day to enjoy benefits that include an improved mood, maintenance of a healthy weight (which can also minimize joint stress and chronic pain), and improved stamina. When you develop a regular walking habit, you may also find that it can pave the way for more strenuous exercises later.
2. Swimming — Swimming is another low-impact form of exercise that can be beneficial for individuals experiencing chronic pain. As well as benefits including improved stamina and strength, swimming is great for improving flexibility, posture, and muscle strength. Any form of gentle swimming could potentially help to ease chronic pain, but swimming exercises especially worth considering include swimming aerobics and gentle laps.
3. Yoga — The gentle stretches in yoga can be a huge help with chronic pain. Restorative yoga that takes a complete approach to healing poses and conscious breathing can especially help to improve flexibility, reduce inflammation, and transform mental processes. The most healing yoga poses to try include the child’s pose, supported bridge, and happy baby pose.
4. Aerobics — When overseen by a healthcare professional or trained PT, aerobic classes can also prove beneficial for building strength and minimizing chronic pain. As mentioned, water aerobics are great for this, and are one of the most recommended types of exercise for chronic pain. Studies also show significant improvements in chronic pain across other types of aerobics, which could include Zumba, dance, and power walking.
5. Light Weight Lifting — While it might not be the best exercise to jump straight into, individuals who are already enjoying the strengthening benefits of types of exercise like yoga may also find light weight lifting beneficial. Again, professional guidance is crucial, but properly lifted weights can reduce the symptoms of chronic pain by building muscle, strength, and coordination.
The Importance of a Good After-Exercise Routine
An after-exercise routine is always essential for avoiding injuries and lengthy periods of rehabilitation. For individuals who experience chronic pain, the right after-exercise routine becomes especially crucial for ensuring the healing benefits that we’ve mentioned. Things that help to avoid excessive muscle soreness that may to the pain an individual already experiences include:
● Gentle wind-down stretches
● Treatment from a professional or PT who has completed a sports massage course
● Hydration and healthy snacking within 45 minutes
● Cooling down with a cold bath or shower to reduce muscle tightness and inflammation
The Correct Ways to Exercise Through Chronic Pain
Exercising through chronic pain is not only possible, but it can also minimize the pain and severity of a flare-up. Even when you don’t feel like moving, engaging in at least one of these recommended forms of exercise can have a huge impact on your lifestyle and pain levels. Not to mention that, when you engage in regular exercise that builds your stamina and strength, you may find that you’re able to lessen or overcome chronic pain altogether.
Simply develop an exercise routine that works for you, and make sure to employ the help of someone who knows exactly what you need to work through chronic pain at last.