5 Tips for Exercising if You Have Persistent Pain
Have you ever experienced a flare-ups after pushing through the pain? (Crash and burn, boom and bust?) Or Do you avoid exercise out of fear that you might make your pain worse or re-injure yourself? Those are completely understandable scenarios, however they are often not overly helpful. Often, there is a middle ground or ‘𝘴𝘸𝘦𝘦𝘵 𝘴𝘱𝘰𝘵’ for movement where the benefits of physical activity and respect for pain and sensitivity can be approached with more balance. This will look different for each person and may require patience and creativity, but it is entirely possible. Though there is no ‘𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘴𝘪𝘻𝘦 𝘧𝘪𝘵𝘴 all’ approach to exercise, and unfortunately no ‘recipe’ or specific exercises to prescribe for pain, these 5 tips may provide you with a framework from which to approach movement despite experiencing pain.
1. Choose an Activity You Enjoy
Think about the type of activity you would like to do. What type of movement brings you joy? Choosing an activity you like is key to making sure you enjoy the process and are more likely to stick with it. If doing that activity full out ramps up your symptoms, think of ways you can modify or create stepping stones to build towards that activity.
2. Start Gently & Take Breaks
If you want to play it safe and reduce the likely hood of experiencing a flare up, being at about half of the intensity you know you currently tolerate. For example, if you are certain that you could walk for 45 minutes, you might begin with a 25 minute walk about 3 times a week and gradually progress from there. Consider taking breaks during your movement session, or spreading out smaller bouts of exercise throughout the day.
3. Track Your Progress & Monitor Your Symptoms
Tracking can be a valuable form of data collection which can be helpful to both monitor your progress and to identify which intensity may be pushing you beyond your edge. A simple notebook where you track the date, type of activity, duration, and how you felt during and up to 48 hours following the activity can be helpful.
4. Work Towards 'Flexible Consistency'
Depending on what other physical demands are placed on you, as well as other variables (such as sleep, work, stress, running errands, and whatever life throws at you), your exercise routine may fluctuate. Try to be flexible with your expectations, while maintaining some consistency (aiming for at least once a week) in order to see gradual progress.
5. Make Incremental Adjustments
Slow, gradual progress (with ups and downs along the way) is often part of the journey. When you do increase the intensity or duration of your activity, make sure that the increases are gradual enough that the next level doesn't push beyond your current edge. A good rule of thumb is that it's ok to go "to the pain" but not "through the pain".
What approaches or exercise strategies have you found to be helpful? Share in the comments to support others living with pain.