10 Exercises for People in Pain
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. The good news is that you don’t have to run a marathon to get back to the business of life.
“Everybody can do something,” says Perry Fine, MD, a board member at the American Pain Foundation. Exercise "does actually allow people not only to reduce their perception of pain but to overcome limited functioning.”
Just remember to pace yourself and consult a physical therapist for advice. Here are 10 types of exercise that can help get you moving.
The benefit is that you can exercise almost anywhere: The mall, the local school track, or a parking lot.
“It has appeal. It’s easy to do,” Dr. Fine says. “It’s an option you can do during all four seasons no matter where you live, and there are very few conditions where walking is not feasible.”
The reason: Swimming (and other forms of water exercise) defies gravity, so there aren’t any unpleasant and potentially damaging jolts to the joints.
The breathing component of yoga might be just as helpful to ease chronic pain as the movement and stretching.
But Steven Calvino, MD, an assistant professor of anesthesiology and rehabilitation medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, in New York City, recommends against doing certain poses.
“Yoga can involve very extreme ranges of motion involving the spine and other joints so there is a risk of injury,” he says. “You want to do whatever is a comfortable range of motion within your abilities. Don’t push it unless you’re in very good condition.”
Still, Dr. Fine notes, “even someone who is bedridden could simply start with certain breathing exercises and focusing on different body parts, integrating this into either active or passive movements (such as contracting a muscle).”
“Tai chi is marvelous. There’s almost no one too old as long as you can move a little bit. It incorporates the body and the mind,” Dr. Fine says.
A New England Journal of Medicine study this year found that twice-weekly sessions of tai chi reduced pain, stiffness, and fatigue in fibromyalgia patients. Tai chi also helps with building strength, endurance, and balance.
In addition to people with back pain, people with fibromyalgia may benefit from this fitness system.
A 2009 study in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation found that Pilates improved pain more than a relaxation/stretching regimen. But Pilates generally requires some instruction, so look for an experienced teacher.
Light-weight and strength training
The “exercises strengthen the joints around the injury and that takes some of the stress off the joint when you’re using it,” Sluka says.
Weights that are from an ounce to 5 to 10 pounds will help. However, it’s important to pace yourself when doing these exercises. Start with a can of soup, if you’ve been inactive for a long time, or try doing sit-ups or push-ups around the house.
“Exercise and healthy sex (which is, after all, a form of exercise) are probably two of the most important panaceas against pain, (but) healthy sex is harder to prescribe than exercise,” Dr. Fine says.
A recent study from Stanford University found that undergrads in the throes of a new love affair were less likely to feel pain inflicted on them.
“The feeling of being intimately connected, or in partnership with another person or even a pet, seems also to be a vital issue in people’s lives in terms of coping and pain,” Dr. Fine says.
“When you’re making the golf swing, the (strain) is enormous, especially on the lower back.”
Golfing should be combined with strengthening and stretching activities. Same with tennis. “You don’t play tennis to get into shape. You should be in shape before stepping onto the court,” he says.
A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Rheumatology in 2008 found that strength-only training helped with symptoms, but that aerobic activity helped alleviate symptoms as well as improved physical function.
And besides helping your heart, says Kathleen Sluka, PhD, a professor of physical therapy and rehabilitation science at the University of Iowa, in Iowa City, “the aerobics activates your endogenous opioid mechanisms…to reduce pain.”