Chronic pain (also known as persistent pain) is pain that persists beyond the expected healing time of an injury. Unlike acute pain which is caused by tissue damage, chronic pain or persistent pain is less about the structural or tissue damage and more about the sensitivity of the nervous system and ‘non tissue related factors’.
Often when we experience chronic pain we avoid activity in an attempt to not cause pain flare ups. However, we know that gradually over time, people experiencing chronic pain become less able to complete activities which were previously enjoyed, for example walking, and commonly also have difficulties in completing activities of daily living such as housework.
Stretching increases flexibility and helps loosen stiff muscles. People who stretch often also have better range of motion. Stretching can help alleviate some of the muscle aches associated with chronic pain.
If you are capable of walking, long walks are a low impact activity that can be done almost anywhere, from a treadmill to standing in place. Studies show that walking can increase blood flow, which boosts energy and helps with neuroplasticity, as oxygenated blood is pumped to the brain and throughout the body. Early research in the field of exercise science has suggested that walking is the most perfect form of exercise, as it is a cardiovascular workout that is load bearing, but gentle, and can help reduce stiffness and pain in the muscles and joints.
“The mechanics of walking involves a lot of muscle groups including your core, back and legs, all areas that people with chronic pain usually experience pain in,” says Abaci. “Nowadays, we don’t walk enough, even though our bodies were biologically built to walk everywhere.”
Swimming and Water Aerobics
Warming up to the idea of exercising, but you feel that your joints still need a gentle start? For most people, swimming or doing water exercises can help relax muscles, while the buoyancy of the water can help those with musculoskeletal or joint pain.
Swimming has been shown to improve cardiovascular health, stamina, muscle strength and flexibility, which can all work to improve neuroplasticity and strengthen and work key muscles in the back, shoulders, legs and core.
Building strength is important for stabilizing the joints and preventing future injuries. For people living with chronic pain, adequate core strength is especially important. It helps you maintain proper posture and balance and reduces the risk of injuries that could lead to more pain. Working the muscles of the abdomen, hips, and back can help improve core strength and stability.
Always consult your doctor before starting an exercise program. Specific exercises may vary depending on the origin of your chronic pain. It’s always best to consult a physical therapist for a personalized exercise routine. Certain conditions, such as fibromyalgia, may lead to increased pain with exercise, so start slow and monitor your symptoms.
Inactivity leads to stiff muscles, decreased mobility, and decreased strength. These effects can worsen the symptoms of chronic pain. Engaging in a regular exercise routine can help you manage your symptoms and improve your overall health.