It’s well known in the medical world that exercise helps reduce chronic pain from such disorders as fibromyalgia, arthritis and back pain.
It’s also true that if you’re significantly overweight and have chronic pain, losing weight can help minimize the pain. And exercise is a key tool for weight management.
However, many people with chronic pain avoid activity, fearing that it will cause them pain.
This sets up a difficult cycle: The more you avoid the movement you associate with pain, the more pain you experience. And if you gain weight, the pain multiplies from the added pressure on your body.
• Improve and maintain bone strength.
• Help with weight control.
• Strengthen muscles, including those supporting painful joints.
• Improve mood.
• Provide energy.
• Improve sleep.
As sufferers know, sleeplessness, fatigue and lack of energy are associated with chronic pain.
That is great information, but it won’t help you get going when every movement only increases your pain.
Pain is usually the body’s signal to stop whatever you’re doing. It’s not easy to go against a mind that’s saying stop when what’s needed to get better is to go.
If this is your situation, don’t go it alone.
There are many professionals who can steer you in the right direction regarding what types of exercises to do. “See your doctor first” is standard advice for anyone starting a fitness program, but it’s essential for chronic pain sufferers so they don’t worsen their condition.
Starting with your physician, your road to pain relief may lead you to physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists and personal trainers experienced in helping chronic pain sufferers.
It’s also important to educate yourself. Reputable health websites can teach you a lot about getting into shape to reduce pain. One example is the Mayo Clinic’s site on arthritis: mayoclinic.com/health/arthritis/AR00009.
You may need to see activity in a new light. Perhaps you can’t walk a mile or swim laps. But maybe you can try chair yoga or water aerobics.
Once you get the information about what activities can help your chronic pain, put it to use.
That’s where working on your mind-set comes in. Those with chronic pain can’t wait until the pain is gone to start getting active. If you’ve been waiting for years for pain to go away, despite medications and other interventions, waiting longer likely won’t do much good.
So, the time is now, not later.
Those who successfully manage chronic pain tend to:
• Accept that reducing chronic pain is a long-term enterprise. It’s not about a short-term exercise plan that you do for a couple of weeks.
• Accept some pain. Successful chronic pain managers say they stay active even if they feel some discomfort during exercise. They don’t view their pain as something to fear or as a signal to stop what they’re doing. Instead, they put a sort of filter on their pain, listening to it and pacing themselves in order to reach realistic goals. They learn to discriminate between acute pain that needs immediate attention and chronic pain that needs filtering.
• Have a good mental grasp on the big picture. They understand they will have less pain in their lives if they continue to do the right things to maintain health and fitness. They don’t let the pain in the present interfere with the goal of having less pain in the future. They practice patience and perseverance.
• Experiment. Every chronic pain sufferer is unique. You may try different activities along the way, tweaking, adding and eliminating until you find the right system for you. Give new movements a good try then go to something else if you need to. Just don’t give up.
The body will always respond positively to any change that leads to better health. So, don’t let chronic pain keep you from being active and getting to a healthy weight. It may seem counterintuitive at first to keep moving despite the pain, but if you’re smart about approaching this challenge, you’ll be convinced. Like so many others, you’ll see that moving can mean moving with less pain.
Previously published in the Tampa Bay Times