For most people, a few aches and pains in the morning are normal, especially as we age. When the body starts moving, these aches and pains usually begin to disappear.

For pain patients, many days don’t work this way. In fact, some pain is so severe and persistent as to keep a person in bed over many days. Because one of the primary treatments for chronic pain is exercise and movement, this extreme pain can create a vicious cycle where the pain that keeps pain patients in bed also prevents the exercise that might help get them out of it.

Being bed-bound does not automatically mean being inactive, though. Here are 15 exercises pain patients can do from bed. Talk to your doctor to see which of these are appropriate for you to do.

1. Body stretch

Start slowly, inhaling your arms above your head and pushing down through your heels (like you are standing on the wall at the end of the bed). Breathe deeply in and out, extending everything as you inhale and relaxing as you exhale.

2. Knees to chest

After your stretch, inhale your arms back to your sides, then exhale. On an inhale, bring one knee to your chest at a time. Engage your low belly and try to lift your leg from your core, not with your low back. If this is challenging, bend your knee as you bring it up. Bring both knees to your chest and rock gently back and forth to stretch and massage your low back.

3. Leg lifts

Extend your legs straight out again with feet flexed. On an inhale, engage your lower belly to lift and lower one leg at a time. To make sure your abs are taking the heat as you lower your leg, press your belly button to your spine as you exhale. Go slowly, and repeat as many times as you can maintain good form with strong abs.

4. Leg lifts, reversed

Roll onto your stomach and take turns raising your legs one at a time. Try to imagine that the middle of the hamstring is performing the action, not the foot or low back. You can also bend your knee so that your foot is flexed to the ceiling if that feels more supportive. Again, repeat as many times as you can with good form.

5. Plank

Plank on your bed as you would on the floor: in pushup position with hands directly below shoulders, core muscles engaged, tailbone reaching towards heels, heels pressing towards the wall behind them. Let your heart drop just a bit to bring your shoulder blades onto your back. An easier variation is to hold the plank on your forearms. A more difficult variation is to lower down to your forearms from a pushup position, one arm at a time, then back up. Just remember to keep your core engaged so your abdomen doesn’t flop and crunch in your back.

6. Side plank

From regular plank or forearm plank, move your right hand or forearm forward one or two inches, then turn your right foot so that the side of the foot is resting on the bed. Engage your abs to slowly stack your hips and bring your left leg on top of your right leg. If this is too much, the left leg can come out in front for more support. Press your hips up every time you inhale, and keep your tailbone reaching towards your heels (with flexed feet).

7. Pushups

Either full pushups or pushups with knees down are appropriate here. Either way, start in a strong plank pose. Drop your knees if you need to, then lower down in a straight, strong line on an exhale. Keep your elbows hugged tightly into your shoulders to protect your shoulders. Come up on an inhale. Only do as many as you can with proper form.

8. Cat/cow

Start on all fours with knees below hips and wrists below shoulders. On an inhale drop your belly towards the ground, heart moving forward, and hips tilting to create an exaggerated low-back curve. Exhale and reverse, like a Halloween cat, pressing up out of the bed with the hands and the tops of your shins to arch and round your back. Complete five inhalations and exhalations. Cat/cow can also be complete in a seated position with legs crossed, inhaling to arch the back and push the chest forward, and exhaling to round the back.

9. Alternate arm/leg lifts

Start on all fours. Inhale and extend your right leg straight back and your left arm straight forward. If you cannot hold your right leg up, rest it on the bed or take breaks as needed. Engage your core to protect your back. Gaze down at the bed as you hold the pose for three deep breaths. On an exhale, place the arm and leg down and repeat on the other side. Challenge: Try it with the same arm and leg lifted (really engage the core for support in this one!).

10. Side leg lifts

Lie on your right side with your head propped in your right hand and your left hand in front for support. Stack your legs on top of each other. On an inhale, lift the top leg up, then slowly lower down on a long exhale. Repeat as many times on each side as you can maintain proper form. Keep your core engaged.

11. Seated spine circles

Sit crossed-legged with a strong, straight back. Slowly begin to make circles with your spine, as large or small as you like. Go in both directions, five circles or more.

12. Seated side stretch

Still crossed-legged, place your right hand on the bed. Walk your fingers over to the right as you inhale your left arm up and overhead for a good stretch on your left side. Keep your sits bones firmly on the bed, and try not to crunch into your right side. Think of lifting and bending up and out of your pelvis instead of just collapsing to one side. Repeat on the other side.

13. Forward fold

With legs straight out in front of you, feet flexed, spine long, and gaze forward, inhale your arms straight overhead. Hinging at the hips, bend your torso forward over your thighs with a straight back. Do not round your back to get closer to your thighs. With each inhale, think more of your heart reaching towards your flexed feet. You can use a strap looped around the balls of your feet if you want a little help folding forward, but keep your elbows tight to your body. Stay here and breathe. This stretch is great for anxiety as well.

14. Wide-legged forward fold

This is the same as a standard forward fold except legs are spread wide. Keep the same straight back going into the forward fold and coming out of it.

15. Spinal twist

Lay on your back and draw your knees to your chest. Extend your arms into a T. On an exhale, lower your knees to the right, trying to keep your left shoulder moving towards the floor. Breathe here for at least 60 seconds before inhaling your legs to center and repeating on the other side.

These (mostly) gentle stretches and strengthening exercises can help pain patients keep their muscles warm and limber. What exercises would you add to the list?


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