How can exercise help my chronic pain?

Chronic pain (or persistent pain) is pain that continues beyond the expected time of injury healing. Often it is less to do with actual structural or tissue damage, and more to do with ‘non tissue related factors’ such as sensitization of the nervous system and strengthening of pain pathways.

Physical activity is often avoided with people in chronic pain to reduce the chances of their pain flaring up. This sedentary behavior is often causing more harm by reducing the ability to complete daily tasks and activities for fear of aggravating pain.

Significant research has shown that exercising and completing physical activity can have extremely positive benefits in people with chronic pain. Exercise can help to reverse the cycle of deconditioning that occurs with sedentary lifestyles and gradually get people back doing the activities that they enjoy.

What type of exercise should I do?

It is usually recommended to begin with low-intensity exercise such as hydrotherapy, Pilates, non-weight bearing strength exercises, cycling and walking. This allows your body to begin to adapt to the exercise without the muscles becoming too stressed by high impact or load.

Stretching is also very important to improve flexibility and range of movement at joints that might’ve stiffened up through inactivity. Stretching should be completed daily and within a range that does not cause an aggravation in pain, but instead a slight discomfort or “stretch” feeling. An Accredited Exercise Physiologist or Physiotherapist can develop a stretching program for you to complete at home and incorporate into an exercise session.

Is there anything I should be wary of?

It is important to start slowly when beginning an exercise program to manage your chronic pain. We want to gradually progress the level of exercise as your body learns that it is capable of certain movements without eliciting the pain response.

Living with chronic pain might mean you have led a sedentary or inactive lifestyle for a number of years. If this lifestyle has resulted in the accumulation of any co-morbidities such as Diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity, this will need to be taken into account when beginning an exercise program. An Accredited Exercise Physiologist has the knowledge and skills to appropriately prescribe exercise for the management of your chronic pain and any other health conditions you may have.