For most people who don’t exercise regularly, the number one barrier they face is simply lack of motivation—whether it’s the motivation to schedule time to exercise, or just the motivation to get started at all. Motivation is difficult for many people, but if you’re affected by chronic pain or illness, it’s even harder to want to exercise; however, getting regular exercise can actually help people manage their pain. Even if you’re often in pain, you can challenge yourself to improve your fitness level with low-impact exercise—it’s just a question of taking it gently, and not pushing yourself too hard.
The Connection Between Exercise and Pain Management
When you’re experiencing chronic pain, typically the last thing you feel like doing is exercising. It’s common for people with chronic illnesses or pain to have reduced fitness, simply because it’s difficult to exercise, even gently. There are so many physical and mental health benefits that come with exercise, however, that it makes good sense to try and get moving on a regular basis. With regular exercise, people with chronic pain can benefit not only from improved fitness, but also improved strength, flexibility, and mobility, improved mood, lower stress and anxiety, and an overall better quality of life. For people who are dependent on pain-relief medications, exercise may even help in cutting down on the amount of medication needed to control pain. This is because exercising promotes the release of endorphins, a type of hormone that reduces the pain response. With regular exercise, endorphins are circulating in the body on a more consistent basis, helping to reduce pain even when not exercising. Another benefit is that since exercise improves muscle strength and fitness, there’s less stress on joints, and the daily routine is physically easier to cope with.
Exercising with Low Impact
No matter what your current fitness level is, there’s almost always something you can do to improve it, and it doesn’t have to be overly difficult, or cause more pain. There are many ways to get started with low-impact exercises. Before starting an exercise program, talk to your doctor or another healthcare worker to make sure your program is safe and appropriate.
- Walking, swimming, and cycling are low-impact exercises that improve cardiovascular fitness. Swimming is particularly beneficial for people with chronic pain because it’s virtually zero-impact.
- Stretching exercises, pilates, Tai Chi, and yoga are all low-impact and gentle forms of exercise that increase muscle strength and flexibility.
- Strength training with light weights is useful for all-round strength improvement, with the advantage of being able to target specific muscle groups.
There are even forms of exercise that can be done while sitting; for example, chair chi is a modified version of Tai Chi that people can do without having to stand, which makes it ideal for people with pain or reduced mobility. Another advantage of low-impact exercises is that many of them don’t require any highly specialized equipment. For walking, for example, all you need is a good pair of shoes, and the desire to get started.
American Heart Association. “Staying fit with Chronic Pain.” Accessed October 18, 2014.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “How Much Physical Activity do you Need?” Accessed October 18, 2014.
Chair Chi. “Chair Chi.” Accessed October 18, 2014.
Healing Well. “Get Moving with Chronic Illness.” Accessed October 18, 2014.
Lifescript. “Exercises for Chronic Pain Management.” Accessed October 18, 2014.
This article was written by Jennifer Gillan.