Pain is defined as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage.” Almost all of the patients we see at Healthstin are suffering from at least one type of pain, which isn’t surprising as statistics show that around 4 million Australians report experiencing back pain. On the other hand, some 3.6 million Australians continue to endure chronic pain according to a recent research study.
Whether it is muscular pain, joint pain due to arthritis, or compensatory pain from an old injury, chronic pain usually puts limitations on participation in activities of daily living or things of enjoyment. The number of Australians consulting with their General Practitioner due to chronic pain has risen dramatically over a recent 10-year period by 67%. Clearly, effective management of pain can have profound effects on your quality of life.
Why do we get pain?
Acute pain is usually caused by tissue damage, while chronic or persistent pain is less about structural or tissue damage and more about the sensitivity of the nervous system and non-tissue-related factors. Chronic pain is also known as pain lasting beyond the usual tissue healing time, generally taking up to three months. Beyond the pain itself, it can cause many problems like disability, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, poor quality of life, and high healthcare costs.
Some modifiable risk factors associated with chronic pain are:
- Smoking and alcohol consumption
- Poor nutrition
- Occupational factors
- Physical activity level
For many years, the treatment most recommended for pain included inactivity and rest. However, prolonged rest and avoidance of activity can sometimes lead to higher levels of pain because your body isn’t functioning as well as it should, poorer recovery, muscles start to lose conditioning, and prolonged absence from work/school.
Does exercise help reduce chronic pain?
Exercise may be the last thing you want to do when you have pain, but no drug or tablet can deliver a diverse range of benefits like exercise could. Physical activity and exercise are increasingly being promoted to assist with pain. Significant research has shown that exercise can be an effective way to reduce the severity of chronic pain and reverse the downward cycle associated with elevated pain levels. Studies also show that exercise can help reduce pain sensitivity, inflammation, and fatigue.
Pain is a common symptom that tends to recur. A consistent and regular exercise routine can significantly prevent the recurrence of an episode of pain, improve psychological function, and enhance your quality of life.
Strengthening your muscles
The stronger your muscles are to support your body, the less load you have on your joints. For your back especially, your spine needs cushioning from your muscles during movements and to support your weight. Therefore, having both good core and back strength can protect your spine.
Resistance training can also help strengthen muscles surrounding the joints that are affected by osteoarthritis or other conditions. Strength training can also address muscle imbalances which may be contributing to painful movements.
Other Physical Activities for Chronic Pain
Apart from resistance training, other activities can help you manage chronic pain:
• Stretching: flexibility training can help improve the range of motion, boost circulation, and address the shortening of the muscles which may cause back pain.
• Walking and biking: doing low-impact activities such as riding the bike or brisk walking can help you manage your weight, improve circulation, and address the cycle of inactivity associated with chronic pain.
• Water aerobics: exercising in water helps you take advantage of buoyancy, assisting in improved range of motion and balance as well as taking stress off your joints.
• Yoga: this ancient practice can help improve your flexibility to ward off chronic pain as well as gain better balance
Benefits of Exercise for Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is often associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Being physically active can help increase your self-esteem and make you feel proactive about reducing the pain levels that are affecting your day-to-day life. Exercising with a trained professional or a buddy can help keep you motivated and reap the social benefits of exercise.
Up to 90% of people with chronic pain report mood disruption. Exercise and physical activity can also have profound effects on your mood as well as help improve sleep quality, a factor that can contribute to a better mood and disposition. Regular exercise can also help your brain health by warding off the risks of developing dementia and other mental challenges.
An increase in your body weight can sometimes add to your pain, particularly if you have lower back pain. Nutrition and physical activity are among the top modifiable factors for chronic conditions. By staying active and making healthier food choices, you can maintain the appropriate body weight to avoid excessive loading on the joints.
Some studies demonstrate that being overweight or obese can exacerbate chronic pain such as fibromyalgia and contribute to impaired functional capacity, elevated levels of depression, and increased use of medication compared to people with normal weight.
What Exercises are Good for Chronic Pain?
An Exercise Physiologist (EP) can help you stay as active as possible with a suitable strengthening, mobility, and flexibility program, which is essential in helping you manage chronic pain.
Your EP can prescribe an appropriate exercise program that starts slow and includes gentle activity, then progressively increases the intensity and volume when you feel confident and develop the capacity to do so.The fact is there is no such thing as an optimal exercise program for everyone. Different types of exercise will be suitable for different people, depending on factors like the type and location of pain, fitness levels, and other medical conditions.
Talking to your Exercise Physiologist at Healthstin can be a helpful step towards your journey to better health and less pain. All it takes to get things started is a call via 1300 090 931 or by clicking this link.
After a thorough assessment of your health conditions, your EP will collaborate with you in customising a tailored exercise program to your needs and help you derive the most optimal benefits – the most gains while significantly bringing down your chronic pain level and avoiding injuries.