One of the primary problems with chronic pain is lack of movement—you try to protect yourself from pain and “splint” the places that hurt. Unfortunately, the less you move, the more pain you have when you do move, causing you to move less. It becomes a vicious and painful cycle. The only solution for this chronic “un-movement syndrome” is moving. Studies have shown that regular and sustained physical activity is beneficial to virtually every system in the body. Exercise, including water exercise, weight training, walking, and aerobic workouts, stimulates the production of endorphins and is very effective in aiding flexibility, mobility, and specific movements, and it actually improves function. Endorphins also help ease anxiety and depression, major components of chronic pain. When you are inactive your body becomes deconditioned, which can add substantially to your perception and experience of pain. Research in which people in chronic pain treatment rode an exercise bicycle for thirty minutes proved that people in chronic pain can substantially reduce their pain by such exercise.
Additionally, exercise can:
- Help you maintain a healthy weight. Dropping extra pounds can lessen the stress you place on your joints, one way to ease bone pain.
- Increase flexibility. As your body gains flexibility, you are less likely to strain, which can add substantially to chronic pain.
- Help you build strength. The stronger you are, the better your muscles can take the load off joints and bones. The healthier the muscle, the less pain you feel.
- Increase serotonin level. Serotonin improves your mood and fights pain by blocking the perception of pain in the brain. It is a natural sleep regulator, and sleep also helps you fight the perception of pain.
- Protect and strengthen the heart and circulatory system. Exercise helps decrease the risk of stroke, heart attack, and diabetes. It also reduces high blood pressure.
- Increase dopamine levels, resulting in improved moods and increased energy. Regular exercise can boost your dopamine levels and add to all the systems your body needs and uses to fight chronic pain.
Although the best pain-relieving power of exercise seems to come from sustained aerobic activity like brisk walking, jogging, or riding an exercise bike for thirty minutes or more, any exercise or activity is better than none. Once an exercise program is started, no matter how small or mild, it can be built upon and increased. No one is exactly sure why exercise works as well as it does to relieve pain, but research suggests that exercise retrains the nervous system to build new brain pathways that bypass those hung up on pain signals (refer back to my discussion on the plastic brain). If you plan to begin an exercise program, you are advised always to consult with your health practitioner first. This is especially true if you are in pain, because it is crucial that the exercises be designed to help alleviate your problems and not increase them by causing injury. This blog post is an excerpt from A Day Without Pain (Revised) by Mel Pohl, MD, FASAM; Published by Central Recovery Press (CRP).