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Is it Safe For Me to Exercise if I Have Chronic Pain?

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Updated January 25, 2009

Question: Is it Safe For Me to Exercise if I Have Chronic Pain?

Answer: Yes, if you do it right.

Most people with chronic pain become deconditioned due to a lack of physical activity, which makes perfect sense. If it hurts to move, then why move? Unfortunately, this creates a vicious cycle. The less activity you do, the less your body becomes capable of doing. Eventually, simple tasks like taking a shower or walking through the grocery store can be tiring and painful. Adding gentle exercise to your daily routine helps you fight this cycle.

If it’s been a while since you exercised, you might want to enlist the help of a personal trainer or a physical therapist. An expert in the field can design a program specifically tailored to your needs. Don’t have the ability to hire a professional? Many gyms offer circuit training programs in which you move from machine to machine in a pre-arranged order. But be careful: you may be tempted to pump some iron on your first day, but overdoing it can cause more pain or even injury. Start with a low weight and a low number of repetitions, increasing gradually to your tolerance.

Yoga is another form of exercise that is great for chronic pain. Gentle yoga training increases your strength and flexibility, and introduces deep breathing and meditation techniques that are particularly useful in controlling pain. If you have never done yoga before, look for a beginner’s class to start with. Be sure to tell your instructor about your condition before class begins, so she can modify poses for you as needed.

Don’t belong to a gym? Don’t want to shell out big bucks for a yoga pass? Then why not try walking? Walking is a wonderful low-impact exercise you can fit into even the busiest schedule. All you need are comfortable, supportive shoes and a little bit of free time. Start by walking around your block at a comfortable pace, increasing your distance gradually as time goes on. Use your walking time to relax, or listen to your favorite music. Better yet, find a walking buddy and turn exercise into social time.

Source: Doyle, Stephanie. "Modest Exercise Helps Chronic Pain Patients." Medscape Medical News. February 15, 2008.

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