Every injury comes with a typical timeline for pain and recovery. When pain continues beyond that timeframe, it’s considered chronic. Also, if you’ve had pain on most days for more than three months, you suffer from chronic pain. But there are things you can do to achieve your goals despite chronic pain.
Understand your pain
Most of us grew up with specific thoughts and beliefs about what pain is and how it works. We have the basic understanding that pain is reflective of a tissue injury. While pain is the body’s alarm system, it’s not always that simple. Sometimes that alarm doesn’t turn off and it becomes less of a tissue problem and more of a pain problem.
When you’re not enjoying the things you normally do, your thoughts, beliefs and emotions are very strongly tied in to the pain experience. If you’re making decisions based on this inaccurate understanding of how pain works, then you can be delaying or even preventing your recovery. Understanding the factors that influence pain — other than the tissues — make your road to recovery clearer.
Exercise and chronic pain
The choices you make about your activity, posture and habits greatly influence your recovery. The mere presence of pain may cause you to restrict your activity and get away from things that actually help you get better, like walking, biking or swimming.
Cardiovascular exercise is a significant benefit to individuals with persisting pain. It increases range of motion, keeps your joints loose and helps keep off weight that can worsen many pain conditions. In addition, cardiovascular exercise releases the “happy hormones” necessary to manage the stress and emotions that go along with chronic pain.
Start low and go slow
While you may need to make some modifications to address the problematic area, gradual increases in activity stimulate the body to heal and get stronger without setting off the pain alarm. Establish a baseline where you have no flare up and progress slowly from there. The biggest mistake you can make is to “binge and purge” — exercise a lot when you feel good and then pay for it. You end up reducing activity until you feel good again and then the cycle repeats. If you increase activity slowly, your body and nervous system are more receptive to the increased activity levels and you can make steady progress on the road to recovery. Low-impact exercises like tai chi and yoga incorporate slow, gentle movements that help build up muscle strength, increase flexibility and improve balance — all key components of overall fitness.
Chronic pain is complex and physical therapists can provide solutions to help you manage it, whether it is education, exercise, hands-on treatment or a combination of these. Once you have a better understanding of how pain works, you will be able to make the best choices about how to help your body heal.
The Des Moines University Physical Therapy Clinic can help if you or a loved on suffers from chronic pain. We also offer specialized exercise classes and programs that focus on building strength, flexibility and balance. Call 515-271-1717 to schedule an appointment.