Get a move on. We have all heard this phrase but what does it really mean? For people in chronic pain, sometimes just moving is a battle in itself. There are several things you can do to help with your mobility, we will discuss ways to get you moving throughout this post.

Before we begin, watch this video on how to warm-up correctly.

4 Simple Exercises – The Warm Up

For those with limited mobility due to chronic pain, injury, or other condition, the edict to “get more exercise” can be intimidating.

Some of the reasons for this are:

  • Fear of further injury or pain: Chronic pain sufferers may be worried that injury will cause or worsen a flare up. Those recovering from injury may be concerned about re-injuring themselves or making their recovery time longer.
  • Confusion about what exercise is: People who don’t regularly exercise may envision running and weightlifting as their only options. If their mobility is limited, this may cause them to believe that nothing less counts as exercise.
  • Not knowing where to start: Ignorance of the options available, or not knowing how to operate machines at a gym, can be a sticking point for many people starting an exercise regimen. Likewise, if the exercise will take place at home, the number of exercise props (and their myriad uses) can be overwhelming.
  • Fear of appearing foolish: Especially if the person with limited mobility was formerly active, they may feel worried that they will seem weak or foolish, or that people will judge their low-intensity workout.

We are going to address each one of these fears separately and offer suggestions and links to videos and further information.

Fear of further injury or pain

This can be a very legitimate fear. Those suffering from chronic pain sometimes have difficulty simply getting out of bed after a long night of tossing and turning. Anyone recovering from an injury is likely to have some tenderness or sensitivity as they begin to move the affected area. While this fear of pain or further injury is understandable, there is a growing body of research that shows that exercise actually improves chronic pain.

Exercise increases serotonin levels. Serotonin is the “feel-good” neurotransmitter in our brain, the same neurotransmitter that regulates mood. People who suffer from fibromyalgia generally have lower levels of serotonin. The good news is that regular exercise helps to increase levels of serotonin, resulting in more feelings of well-being and a general, all-around boost to mood. Exercise actually makes you feel better, starting in your brain.

These effects are documented in a presentation to the 24th annual meeting of the American Academy of Pain Medicine. Researchers Amy M. Burleson, PsyD, Edward C. Covington, MD, and Judith Scheman, PhD (all from The Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Cleveland, Ohio) found that even after a short, three-week study:

“…relatively modest exercise leads to improved mood and physical capacity, which has further implications for mortality risk. Further, it suggests that brief exercise is a safe, cost-free, non-pharmacologic strategy for immediately reducing depression and anxiety.”

As chronic pain and injury have been linked to an increase in pain symptoms, this is a great way to get started on an exercise program. It won’t take long to feel the positive effects of exercise.

Confusion about what exercise is

Now that patients understand that exercise is a great way to feel mentally better while improving strength, the next fear or worry is about not knowing how much exercise is enough and which exercises work best. The commenter above was intimidated by the idea that if she wasn’t using all of the equipment in the gym she wasn’t exercising, but that is far from the truth. When you begin to exercise with chronic pain or to heal an injury, you start wherever you are and build slowly, adding length to your exercise or intensity as you progress.

For example, if you are facing an injury that has left you bedridden for months, there are exercises that can be done while seated. In some cases, simply standing up and taking a few steps with assistance several times a day is a good place to start. The eventual goal for a healthy adult who would like to maintain their weight and level of fitness is to exercise at moderate intensity for 45 minutes a day, five days a week. Remember that “moderate intensity” is based on the person exercising and is not a universal standard. A marathon runner will have a different definition of “moderate intensity” than will someone who is dealing with chronic pain.

An easy way to measure if you are at moderate intensity for your fitness level is the talk test. If you are exercising in any way and can hold a conversation but cannot sing a song, that is a good measure of moderate intensity exercise for you. As you continue to exercise, this level will change.

As far as which exercises work best, it really depends on your fitness goals and physical condition. This can also depend on pain levels on any given day. For those with chronic pain, sometimes swimming is best for days with high pain levels, while a vigorous hike or weight lifting might be good for lower-pain days. Yoga of all types is a great way to increase strength and flexibility. Chair aerobics is a great way to incorporate cardiovascular exercise.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that while you may feel sore some days as you build muscle, you should not exercise to the point of sharp, stabbing pain or discomfort that makes you hold your breath. Switching up your fitness routine can also help prevent boredom and keep you committed to activity.

Not knowing where to start and the fear of appearing foolish

The two go hand-in-hand. This body you are in is yours for life. Standing up, moving forward, and getting started from wherever you are is a huge accomplishment. If the most you can manage is a slow walk around the block or some stretching in a chair, then that’s where you start. There are handy online tools to help you set goals and track your progress. Use those to help keep you motivated and focused.

As far as appearing foolish goes, everyone starts as a beginner at some point. The longer you wait, the longer you will be a beginner. Best to just dive in and get started. Take a look at all the ways you can start exercising right now.

What holds you back from exercising? What helps?

Image by madame.furie via Flickr

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