Why Starting an Exercise Routine Can Be Difficult When We Feel Pain

To many people living with chronic pain, “exercise” is a word that strikes fear. They might have tried starting an exercise programme and the pain worsened.

When the pain feels worse, they may feel that exercising could have caused more damage.

People who have not been exercising for a long time may experience pain when they start exercising again. They may feel better resting instead of being active or getting regular physical activity.

Breaking this cycle can be difficult and some may not want to try exercising again.

Pain Is Not Always About Injury

A lot of people think that pain is the result of injury and that more pain means the injury is more serious. This is not always true. Pain can be felt with or without injury.

For example, when you get into a very cold swimming pool, you might feel pain for a few seconds. This pain is not a sign of injury. After your body has adapted to the temperature, the pain subsides and your body is not injured in any way.

Feeling Pain When We Start Exercising is Common

For people who have been living with chronic pain, when they move for the first time in weeks or stretch a very tight muscle, they might immediately feel pain instead of the usual feeling of tightness.

It is very common to feel more pain after starting on a new exercise routine. This pain, however, does get better as you continue to exercise. Regular physical activity help with pain management as the pains will start to reduce as you get fitter and stronger.

How to Start Exercising When You Are Feeling Pain

Start out slowly and increase the level or amount of exercise in very small steps. This lets your body make the changes it needs to cope with activity and exercise.

Allow at least one rest day between your exercise days. This is especially important when you first start to exercise. Try to increase the duration of exercise or the number of exercise sessions per week, before increasing the intensity.

For example, you can start by walking or cycling for as little as five minutes every two days for two weeks. If you feel strong enough at the end of two weeks, add two to five minutes to your workout routine for another two weeks. Keep increasing based on your own fitness level.

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.

The Long-Term Benefits of Exercise

The health benefits of physical activity are plenty. For example:

  • Strength-training exercises make your muscles stronger which helps to reduce stress on your joints as well as prevent injury.
  • Deep breathing exercises help your body to relax and release tension in the upper body.
  • Endurance exercises help you to lose weight and reduces the stresses on your joints. Also, a chemical called “endorphins” is produced during endurance exercises, making you feel well and happier.
  • Gentle, sustained stretching reduces muscle aches.
  • Exercise also helps you sleep better. Better sleep leads to lesser pain and a better mood.

Types of Exercise

Endurance exercise such as walking, swimming, dancing, cycling and low-impact aerobics improve your fitness and help you maintain a healthy weight.

Specific exercises include:

  • Range-of-motion exercises
  • Stretching
  • Strength training

Exercises like taiji or tai-chi can be an easy way for you to get active. However, it may have to be slightly adjusted to your needs if you experience pain in your knees.

Exercises like yoga and pilates can also be helpful. Do remember to first check with your doctor, physical therapist or physiotherapist for their medical advice before starting an exercise programme as these exercises can be hard for beginners.

Exercise as a Form of Pain Management

Here are some points to keep in mind as you work towards an active lifestyle:

“Motion is lotion”

  • Physical activity and movement can help to naturally “oil” your joints, make blood flow better, reduce swelling, and refresh the brain.
  • Always try to do more than you did yesterday but do not push yourself too hard.
  • Stick to your exercise plan. On good days, you may be tempted to exercise more than you planned. But this can backfire and make you feel worse the next day.

“Little and often”

  • Doing simple stretches and little movements before you feel any discomfort is important.
  • As the body starts to get used to moving and doing more things again, you may feel more pain. Any increase in pain for up to three to four days after exercise is considered normal. This will ease as you slowly continue to move and exercise more!

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