Chronic pain is tough to deal with, and oftentimes it can seem like and endless cycle of pain, medications, and failed treatments. Since your chronic pain can be caused by hundreds of different issues, pinpointing the problem is key, and what works for some may not work for others. But one thing that most pain management specialists agree on is that exercise is beneficial for treating chronic pain.
Now you might be saying, “How is running going to make my chronic back pain any better? Staying still is pailful, moving is only going to make it worse!” We’re not saying you need to get off the couch and run 10 miles, but moderate exercise has been shown to lessen chronic pain symptoms. Just check out this study. As individuals exercised, their pain tolerance increased. While they still felt similar amounts of pain, their ability to cope with it improved.
Another reason exercise is beneficial is because it kickstarts your body’s release of endorphins. These endorphins help decrease discomfort during a workout, and their effects can linger after your exercise is complete. This process is known as “exercise-induced hypoalgesia.”
As I mentioned in my post “Practicing What You Preach,” I suffer from spondylolisthesis that affects the nerves in my back. I suffer back pain from time to time, but I know the best way to control it. Time and time again the best way to keep back pain from slowing me down is to incorporate aerobic exercises into my daily routine. It’s gotten to the point where my back aches if I don’t find time to exercise.
Stretching and exercise can alleviate chronic pain problems, so it’s important to find a workout that works for you. I can no longer run or jog, but I’ve found that long walks or a half hour on the elliptical works wonders. I pair the workout with anti-inflammatories, but I know there is no magic pill that will cure my pain without me putting in effort. Just like diet pills, you can’t lose weight simply by popping a pill, you need to pair it with nutrition and exercise.
There are a lot of reasons to avoid exercise, especially if you have chronic pain; you’re in too much pain, you don’t know what exercises to do, you don’t have the right equipment or you simply find it easier to stay seated. If you are truly interested in alleviating chronic pain, it starts with taking care of your body. Modern medicine is great, but it’s only one prong of the multifaceted approach. You can’t always cure chronic pain, but with exercise, you can help control it.
Thomas Cohn, MD
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