Exercise with pain


To many people with pain, “exercise” is a word that strikes fear. They might have tried to exercise and that had made their pains worse. When pain feels worse, they can think that exercise and moving have caused more damage. If someone has not been exercising for a long time, starting some exercises can result in more pain. It feels better to rest and avoid being active. Breaking this cycle can be difficult and some do not want to try exercises again.

What's going on?

More Pain = More Damage

This is a common idea that people have about pain. In fact, pain can happen with or without injury. For example, when you get into a very cold swimming pool it might feel painful for a few seconds but you are not injured. After that, the pain reduces but the pool temperature did not change.

In people with pain for a long time, pain can be the first feeling we have after moving the knee that had not moved in the past weeks, or we stretch out a very tight muscle. Pain has replaced the usual feeling of tightness or tiredness. Hence, it is very common to become more painful after starting on a new exercise. This pain does get better as you continue exercising, and the usual pains you have will also start to reduce, as you get fitter and stronger.

How do I start?

Exercise can start out slowly and be increased in very small steps. This lets your body make the changes it needs to cope with activity and exercise.

Allow at least 1 “rest day” between your “exercise days”. This is especially so, when you first start to exercise. Try to increase the exercise time or the number of exercise sessions per week, before increasing the intensity of the exercise. For example, you might start by walking or cycling as little as 5 minutes every 2 days for 2 weeks. If you feel strong enough at the end of 2 weeks, you might add 2 to 5 minutes to your exercise for another 2 weeks, and so on.

When you are not exercising, you should get up often and do some work around your home. Reduce and limit your time lying down or watching television because that can make you feel more pain when you are exercising.

Benefits of exercise

Strengthening exercise will make your muscles stronger. Stronger muscles help to reduce stress on your joints. Stronger muscles can also prevent injury.

Deep breathing exercises help to relax the body and make the upper body less tight Endurance exercise may help you lose weight, reducing the stress on the joints. A chemical called “endorphins” can be produced during endurance exercises, making the person feel well. Gentle, sustained stretching can reduce muscles ache. Exercise helps you sleep better; better sleep can mean lesser pain, and better mood.

Types of exercise

Endurance exercise such as walking, swimming, dancing, cycling and low impact aerobics improves your fitness and helps keep your weight in the ideal range.

Specific exercises

can be classified to include :

  1. Range-of-motion exercises
  2. Stretching
  3. Strength training

Exercises like Taiji can be an easy way to start exercising. If you have pain in your knees, then it may have to be slightly adjusted to your needs. Exercises like Yoga and pilates can be helpful but you should check with your doctor or physiotherapist first. These exercises can be too hard for you to start your exercises with.

So remember:

  • “Motion is lotion”
    It is like oiling for the joints, makes blood flow better, & pumps swelling out, refreshing the brain. Always try and do more than you did yesterday but “not much more” Stick to the plan; don’t do more than you plan to (on your good days) because it can make feel worse the next day.
  • “Little and often”
    Doing stretches and moving before you feel any discomfort is important. As the body starts to get used to moving and doing more things again, pains can feel more. Any increase of pain for up to 3-4 days after exercise is still acceptable. This will get easier as you continue to slowly move & exercise more