Movement is not an option. It’s a requirement. A common conundrum that I see on a regular basis in my office is whether or not to exercise when you have chronic pain. The correct answer is you should always be exercising. Now, that doesn’t mean that every exercise is meant for every person and doing the wrong ones, based on your condition, may even have a negative effect on your health. That being said, incorporating some form of exercise into your regimen is critical to maintaining your health and there is always some for of activity you can do regardless of your current health status.
Unfortunately, many people make the mistake of assuming they cannot exercise because of some form of ailment. Generally they report that exercise “aggravates my knees” or “hurts my back.” The problem is that the ‘no exercise’ solution really does nothing to improve that person’s health and may even be making it worse. Your body is designed to move and the ‘use it or lose it’ rule really is directly tied to your health,
The World Health Organization has said that “sedentary lifestyle is more harmful than smoking.” This is a fact that often does not occur to those stricken by pain or where exercise is more of a burden than a benefit. To be honest, we’ve become a sedentary society where convenience is the rule. It seems that every aspect of our lifestyle from computers to mobile phones is designed for convenience. Of the thousands of patients I’ve seen in my office, I’ve noticed that being sedentary for large portions of the day can do more to aggravate a chronic pain issue than even some traumas. Further, most exercise physiology research confirms that the sooner you can return a person to exercise, the better the long term recovery.
The reasoning for lack of exercise that many patients make is “the more I exercise, the more it hurts.” The paradox is that the less you exercise, the more it will continue to hurt. Worse, the less exercise you get, the more deconditioned you will become and the more your condition will advance. You have to understand that your body is a sensory input and motor output machine. It requires constant sensory and motor stimulation to stay healthy. While it may “feel good” to not exercise, it is well known and accepted that prolonged immobility leads to muscle weakness, poor circulation in the extremities, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems, and can contribute to neurological symptoms.
For most people, a better solution is not that they can’t exercise, it’s that they need to exercise smartly. For example, you can’t expect a person with severe arthritis in the knees to begin a walking regimen. However, pool exercises may be a good place to start, then transitioning to a recumbent exercise bike. Likewise, arm exercises using weights may also be a viable option to help maintain skeletal muscle tone and improve circulation to the extremities. Either way, not exercising is not an option.
From heart disease to degenerative arthritis, exercise is possible and even necessary to maintain or restore health. The question becomes then, what exercise is best for you when establishing an exercise regimen? Many people just don’t know where to start when they are in pain and looking to rehabilitate themselves. I will generally advise my patients to begin as easily as possible, exercising in a pain free zone. While there is a temptation to work through the soreness, exercising while in pain can often aggravate the affected area and does little to rehabilitate it because the targeted muscles are guarded, your body compensating with other muscle groups. Begin at the beginning. Ease into any new regimen and exercise in a pain free range of motion.
Once you find a regimen you are comfortable with, begin building on that foundation. Avoid those motions and movements that may aggravate your condition, focusing instead on the movements you are able to do well. Over time, increase the amount of time, reps, and resistance as the exercise becomes easier. Ultimately, you will begin rehabilitating yourself, improving your strength and range of motion via your own physical work.
Besides pain, exercise is a fundamental requirement for the person looking to become healthy and stay healthy. In fact, your body depends on small amounts of stress in order to more adequately heal. Movement improves circulation to the tissues which brings in oxygen and nutrients to help keep muscles, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and even organs healthy. Movement also stimulates nerve firing to help improve nervous system function, decreasing pain, improving muscle tone, and improving balance and coordination. Movement against gravity will help strengthen your core and improve your posture. Increased heart rate will also help keep your heart, lungs, and blood vessels healthy.
There is a solution for just about anyone. Of course, the best exercise anyone can do is the one they are actually consistent with on a regular basis. Excellent exercise habits will produce excellent results. If you are only hit or miss with your regimen, expect corresponding results. If you neglect exercise all together, expect illness to be an eventuality for you.