Let’s face it, getting back to the gym after a layoff is hard enough when you aren’t in pain. But when dealing with chronic pain, that resolution seems impossible. Whether that’s because chronic pain robs you of a decent night’s sleep, the pain saps any motivation you might have had, or the stress of one more thing to do on an already loaded plate makes finding the time hard. Questions you might ask are “Which exercises are safe” or “How much should I do” or “Where do I start?” And, all of those questions are the right ones to be asking-and we’ll cover those and more in this post. (Watch the On-Demand Workshop How To Exercise Pain Free and Reach your Fitness Goals in 2022)
First, it is important to understand what is happening when you are dealing with Chronic Pain, whether that’s chronic neck pain or headaches and migraines, shoulder or rotator cuff pain, back pain or sciatica, bursitis, hip or knee pain all the way down to plantar fasciitis or any pain that has been around for months or years. So what is pain anyway and why do I have it? For starters, pain is your body's alarm going off letting you know that there is a threat to the body with the goal of getting you to stop what you are doing and check it out. Sometimes there's a good reason for this alarm going off(like you stepped on a nail) and other times, just like with our car, it can be a false alarm.
The message from your body to your brain goes something like this "Hey Brain! Something is going on down here, could you please check it out?" The sole purpose of this alarm is to get us to do something about it(in the case of the nail, pull it out and get a tetanus shot). This is a good thing, it helps us realize that touching hot stoves is a bad thing. But what about the pain that I've had for the last 6 months, 6 years, or longer? In this case, the body part that might have been injured to start with has healed. This may be the bulging disk that I had 10 years ago or the Rotator cuff tear they found on the MRI. The problem is that our nervous system hasn't figured that out yet. In some cases, the nervous system sets itself to be extra sensitive so that the brain is alerted at the earliest sign of potential danger(like when you are unable to sit for more than half an hour because of back pain). Or it could be that end of day headache that happens after working on the computer all day. What do these two things(as well as many other persistent pains) have to do with each other? There is something we are doing, maybe it is being in a certain position for too long, or a motion we are doing over and over again which is making things more sensitive and more painful(even if we are just resting it).
How to safely get back to exercise
Tip 1: Jump back in slowly: What does this mean? Well, for instance, if you can only walk or stand 10 minutes before your pain starts to set in, try for several bouts of walking for about 5 minutes or some time that is less than the time it takes for you to start hurting(studies have shown that multiple smaller bouts of exercise throughout the day are just as good as one long bout for improving health) and gradually build up to 30 minutes per day.
Tip 2: What should you do if your pain starts the moment you get up? Start with seated exercise such as chair yoga or exercise that has a little bit of standing to start getting your joints and muscles stronger and more able to support you as you gradually build to more intense or longer duration exercises.(but unless it is not safe for you to stand-make sure you graduate to standing exercises)
Tip 3: Stay hydrated: Chronic pain is made worse by not having enough water. A good habit to have is to have a water bottle close by and try to drink it several times a day so that you get some movement when you have to get up to pee and you are able to knock out one of the triggers for chronic pain.
Tip 4: Fuel for success and “Eat the rainbow” of fresh fruits and vegetables. These will provide you with nutrients shown to reduce inflammation and give you a more stable blood sugar that will keep you from eating foods that promote inflammation as well as put on more pounds.
Tip 5: If you don’t know where to start or are at all concerned about injuring yourself then catch our On-demand workshop, How To Exercise Pain Free and Reach your Fitness Goals in 2022 and learn just what steps you need to take to keep your resolutions. Need a more personalized approach? Then schedule a consultation with one of our chronic pain specialists so you can be confident that you aren’t going to make things worse by hitting the gym or to guide you step by step out of chronic pain and back to the life you deserve.