We all know exercise is important to overall health, and more specifically to successful management of our chronic pain illnesses.
But too much exercise, or the wrong kind of exercise, can and often does lead to what’s called post-exertional pain: an increase in our pain levels that follows physical activity.
Fortunately, there are options for women with fibromyalgia, reflexive sympathetic dystrophy, chronic fatigue syndrome and other chronic pain illnesses.
Specifically, you might want to talk to your doctor about implementing an exercise program into your chronic pain management plan that incorporates one or more of the following five kinds of exercise, all of which have benefits for pain management.
CAUTION: As always, talk to your doctor
before starting any new exercise regimen.
Yoga: Strike a Pose
Yoga is one of the most often recommended forms of exercise for fibromyalgia and other chronic pain patients. It’s easily adapted to a home-based practice, although you can often find classes in your area taught by instructors with experience working with chronic pain patients.
Consisting of a series of poses or asanas that are held for a period of time, yoga is a form of mind-body exercise that bears special benefits for pain patients. Lowered blood pressure, increased stamina and flexibility (which reduce the chance of injury in daily activities), and a greater ease of movement are among those benefits.
There are many different kinds of yoga, though, and not all are suitable for the chronically pained. You might want to skip the hot-room Bikram yoga and the energetic Ashtanga forms, and instead try gentle or restorative yoga.
Kelly McGonigal’s book (read a guest post from Kelly on Euston Arch about yoga and chronic pain here) is a must-have for all chronic pain patients interested in trying out yoga for health and pain relief.
Walk It Off
Walking is one of the easiest kinds of exercise for a chronic pain patient to begin. You need nothing more than a good pair of walking shoes and comfortable clothing to start, and there’s no special skill to learn. Plus, it’s free!
Start slowly with an easy pace and a short duration if you’re not used to walking for any length of time. You can then gradually increase your time and exertion level as you feel more comfortable and progress in your program.
Tai Chi: Ancient Chinese Secret for Better Health
Studies have shown that Tai Chi can improve fibromyalgia symptoms and offer pain relief.
This ancient form of Chinese movement should be learned first from an instructor or reputable DVD from an expert. Once you learn the movements and their sequence, though, tai chi — like yoga — can be practiced at home or outside.
As with walking, the expense is minimal. All you need are clothes that allow for free movement and the space to do the sequences.
This DVD has been highly recommended by a friend who does tai chi. I haven’t tried it yet, but if you have, let me know in the comments what you think!
Pilates: Strengthen Your Core
Pilates is a form of floor-based exercise (although there are routines that also depend on the use of a complex contraption that’s found in Pilates studios) like calisthenics or yoga.
The difference is the special emphasis Pilates places on the core muscles: the girdle of musculature in your trunk and back that support proper movement and posture.
The resulting sequences demand more exertion than you’ll find with tai chi, but the results can’t be argued with: strong, supple muscles; leaner lines; and a newfound freedom in movement that help combat chronic pain symptoms.
As with yoga and tai chi, you might want to start first with an instructor or a good DVD. You’ll need clothes that permit free movement and some kind of exercise or yoga mat.
This is a three-DVD set designed specifically for newcomers to Pilates. It’s not specifically for chronic pain patients, but it’s a good introduction.
Swimming: A Little Water Therapy Can Ease Your Pain
The simple act of floating in water, with its accompanying feeling of weightlessness, can itself be a form of pain relief. Little wonder, then, that chronic pain patients are often advised to start swimming for fitness and pain management.
Adopting a swimming program will require a bit more effort, as most of us don’t have a pool readily available for daily or regular use. You’ll need a swimsuit, of course, and that fact alone can be intimidating for some folks.
But if you can find a swimming pool in your area, and aren’t put off by the attire, twenty minutes of swimming can help tone your arms, back, stomach, and legs, and do so without the damage to knees, hips, and other joints that running, walking, and other forms of weight-bearing exercise can wreak on the body.
Our Bodies Are Meant for Movement
We weren’t meant to live sedentary lives, sitting at desks or on couches. Our physical bodies were designed for movement, for action. Chronic pain can make that movement a little tricky, but it doesn’t have to stop us in our tracks.
Whatever form or forms of exercise you choose, keep in mind a few general guidelines for safety and as relatively painless an experience as possible:
- As always, talk to your doctor about your desire to get moving, before you begin to incorporate exercise into your treatment plan.
- Go slowly, and get instruction where you need it.
- Most importantly, pick an activity that you will enjoy and can commit to doing regularly. Aim for three times a week to start, and increase your duration and effort gradually over time.