Living with chronic pain isn't easy. Tasks that may have once been effortless can become a trigger for pain. Those living with chronic pain can seek relief through medication, surgery, cognitive behavior therapy, or acupuncture, among other potential treatments. But some exercises can also help with chronic pain symptoms, not to mention the fact that some chronic pain patients are on the lookout for exercises that don't trigger pain, either.
"Exercising with chronic pain can be challenging because pain and discomfort will limit the amount of exercise and level of exertion," Alice Benjamin, a clinical nurse specialist, tells Bustle. Benjamin suggests taking anti-inflammatory medicine like over-the-counter Motrin or Aleve before exercising "to get ahead of the pain."
Inactivity causes muscles and joints to weaken over time, but exercise can help those with chronic pain regain strength and increase energy. Exercise also releases endorphins, which can actually block pain signals from reaching the brain. Stress hormones tend to lower with regular exercise, and people who have a workout routine can look forward to better sleep after breaking a sweat.
While some kinds of exercise can make chronic pain more manageable, Benjamin does warn against overdoing it. "There’s no need punish yourself while exercising. Finding an enjoyable activity is key to making it a part of your routine activity. And start low and go slow with repetition and intensity. Build up the stamina. And know when something is uncomfortable because you haven’t worked out in a while and what hurts. If it hurts — stop right away," she tells Bustle.
There are some exercises that have been proven to help with chronic pain symptoms. Everyone (and everyone's pain) is different, so finding an exercise routine that works for your body is important. Consult a doctor or a physical therapist before beginning a new regime, if you are getting back into exercise, and don't be afraid to try out something new.
A study in the Journal of Pain Research found that Hatha yoga, which combines gentle postures, breathing, and meditation, reduces the physical and psychological symptoms of chronic pain in women with fibromyalgia. Additionally, aerial yoga puts less pressure on your joints than traditional yoga, and can help with physical pain and emotional trauma. Although yoga is a gentle exercise, it’s best to do it in the presence of someone who is trained to make sure you aren’t hurting yourself by doing the poses incorrectly.
Strengthening your core doesn't just mean ab work; your back is part of your core, too. A 2015 study found that Pilates helps to reduce back pain because the practice has simple movements that focus on alignment. Those who suffer from chronic back pain can benefit from one-on-one Pilates classes; doing the movements incorrectly can worsen back pain.
Weight lifting isn’t just for bodybuilders. Exercises that strengthen muscles can be helpful in managing certain kinds of chronic pain by building up the muscles around the affected joints, which can mitigate stress around those joints. Be sure to consult a physical therapist regarding how much weight you can handle when starting off and what kinds of training you can do, and always make sure you have someone to spot you.
Biking is another low-impact exercise that warms up the joints and muscles. Starting with short intervals is recommended by the experts at prevention.com. "Do short bursts, not long stretches. Research shows breaking a longer workout into shorter chunks provides the same health benefits."
Adding exercise to your routine can help with chronic pain symptoms. If you find a workout you really enjoy, you'll be more likely to actually want to do it, and the potential benefits for chronic pain can be more manageable pain and greater endurance. Always be sure to stop if an exercise begins to feel uncomfortable or painful, and talk with your doctor about the best exercises for your particular type of pain.