Exercise Through Your Chronic Pain

  • By Dr. Anand Thakkar
  • 16 Mar, 2016
When your doctor diagnoses you with a chronic pain condition such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s disease, or other similar illnesses, you’re not sure how to manage your lifestyle. Foods and beverages you eat or drink may make your pain flare. Some days you can manage your pain easier than others.

You even notice that you can’t exercise as regularly as you used to. More than anything, you want to live life as normally as possible, even through the pain you feel every single day.

Though your health condition prevents you from running marathons or playing sports as you once did, you can still exercise. Below, we list different exercises that won’t bother your muscles and joints as much as other activities. Additionally, these movements often help reduce pain and inflammation so that you experience less discomfort each day.

1. Running

If you suffer from chronic pain, then you know that running is a difficult exercise to do. When you run on a track or around your neighborhood, you subject your muscles, bones, and joints to a high-impact form of exercise that can worsen your pain.

However, running on the elliptical gives you a much better alternative. Ellipticals allow you to run at your own pace without the impact or pain of running on pavement. You also control the resistance, speed, and length of your workout.

If you don’t like to run much, you can also try biking. Whether you own an outdoor bike or a stationary one, biking provides the same benefits as elliptical running, as well as increased joint and hip movement.

2. Stretching

Stretching is the easiest exercise you can do, and it doesn’t affect your muscles and joints in the same ways as other exercises. As you stretch, you lengthen your muscles and extend your joints at your own comfort level. This exercise doesn’t require any special equipment, and you can stretch anywhere, anytime.

Try the following stretches to improve any swelling or joint pain:

Shoulder stretch: Start in a sitting position, with your legs crossed. Bring your right arm in front of you, with your upper arm near or touching your chest. Grab the upper portion of your right arm with your left hand and gently pull your arm to the left. Hold this stretch for a few seconds and then release. Repeat with your left arm. Continue to stretch as long as you like.

Triceps stretch: You can stand or sit for this stretch. Raise your right arm above your head, then bend it at the elbow so your hand touches your shoulder or back. Bend your left arm over your head and grab your right elbow with your left hand. Pull your elbow back slowly to stretch your muscles. Hold the stretch for a few seconds and then release. Repeat with your left arm.

Overhead stretch: In a sitting or standing position, raise both arms high above your head. Interlock your fingers and face your palms outward. Continue to raise your arms higher to stretch your upper arms and shoulders.
Butterfly stretch: Sit on the floor with your legs crossed. Unfold your legs and pull your feet together so that your soles touch one another. Your legs should look somewhat like a butterfly’s wings. Grab your ankles and use your elbows to slowly push your thighs down toward the floor. Hold this stretch for a few seconds and then release.

3. Swimming

Swimming represents another low-impact exercise you can experiment with. This exercise works well for individuals who suffer from any disease or health issue that causes chronic pain. When you swim, the water eliminates any impact that could harm your joints. Additionally, the water provides a higher resistance than running or biking alone, which means that you’ll strengthen your muscles and joints the more you swim around.

4. Yoga

You might think that yoga will teach you how to stand on your head with your legs crossed as your arms touch your feet. Though some people become so adept at yoga that they can achieve incredibly difficult poses, you don’t need to learn the same moves and techniques.

In fact, when you live with condition that causes chronic pain, advanced yoga will more than likely worsen the pain you feel. Rather than compare your flexibility to that of a professional yoga instructor, try simple yoga poses to improve your pain levels.

Yoga teaches you relaxation methods, breathing techniques, and various positions to reduce joint inflammation. The gentle stretches you perform in yoga also help improve your movement and mobility. However, you should avoid hot yoga, power yoga, and Vinyasa yoga. These three intense forms of yoga increase your internal temperature, which then causes excessive joint pressure. As a result, your pain can worsen.

Though you may find it difficult to exercise if you suffer from a chronic illness, joint damage, or other health issues, you do have many options available to you. Start small. Don’t overdo anything. Try one or more of the exercises listed above to discover the activity that best suits your specific health condition.
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