Exercise and pain

There’s a number of steps to exercising with pain which are worth bearing in mind. Why? Predominantly because, in my case, walks in the open air, amongst the green, are fantastic for health, well-being and enjoyment. Others may find the social contact or body support in a swimming pool useful, the low-impact nature of cycling and swimming achievable. But there are a number of steps it’s worth bearing in mind before doing the exercise.

Whatever you do, though, it’s worth bearing in mind that finding the right exercise for _you_ may be difficult, but it is worth it. The health, breath and relaxation it brings can be immense. And that’s good for pain management.

The steps I consider worth looking at are:

1) Discovery. Explore the options you think might work, or which others suggest, and be prepared to fail. Yes, I know failure means pain, but it’s a process in which all results are steps onto the next. Try cycling, swimming, walking, pilates, yoga, even jogging, etc – as long as it will not overly impact pain. For me, for example, I was aware that stretching of arms and impact jogging will cause pain due to aggravation, so that drew a line under a bunch of types, but I tried returning to cycling and swimming just to see. As it happened, cycling aggravates my arm too much and swimming involved too much stretching and overload. Some pilates exercises I had already developed (apparently) to resolve intermittent back pain (cause by sitting too long in a couch, really) and they are low-impact, work almost totally on core strength/back, and do not affect the rest of my pain. On-road walking can be high-impact. However, off-road walking, especially hills, is deceptively more strenuous (balance, uneven surfaces, etc) and takes me out in the green spaces and amonst woods.

2) Start gentle. Remember pacing and developing periods of activity. Do a walk/exercise at a gentle pace, but be very aware of how it affects your pain/body at every moment. Build up time and ‘speed’ (however speed is measured – it’s really exercise level). Don’t be afraid to back off for a while and start again – it’s your pain and no-one else knows how it affects you. Once you realise it’s working, then go to step 3 but keep step 2 going.

3) Research good practice. Be aware of what is beneficial about the exercise, walking in my case. Due to humans being so well optimised, slow ambles bring almost no physical benefits but may bring great emotional/spiritual benefits just by being outside in the fresh air – and don’t forget the sunlight vitamins. :slight_smile: However, faster walks and at 20 minutes plus (last time I checked!) bring masses of benefits.

4) Build up. I’ve worked out a maximum time for walks and focus on that. Yes, I go for longer walks, but I stop at the pacing mark or even if pain is building up too much. Don’t be afraid of taking those rests-stops or calling for them if walking with others. And just don’t overdo it: make sure you’re in control or in a comfort zone. More of the exercise means you’ll build up confidence.

5) Take the support and clothing you need. For example, I walk in all weathers. Which means I have a good jacket, decent walking boots, take a hat so as not to get too cold, and carry a sling. And if it looks as if I’m on the edge, I take low-end painkillers beforehand, just in case. Water is always good for longer walks when you think you may have to stop.

6) Be aware of everything around you – it’s not just the exercise itself that’s good. Research is constantly coming up with the benefits of green spaces on well-being, but I find it’s also the views and, when I can, the company that helps. For me, there’s a lot of enjoyment and relaxation to be gained by breathing in the fresh air, being aware of the sights, small and large: the plants, the birds, the trees, dew on a spiders web, frost on the grass, mist in summer and winter hovering in the valleys. Take time to appreciate all this beauty.

Ultimately, an exercise such as walking can help fulfill a whole bunch of pain management goals: relaxation, the physical exercise, encouraging breathing, fitness and just enjoyment – those good brain-chemicals really help beat back the pain. But the exercise that’s good for you is good for oyou – just be aware of the various factors involved and try it!

Happy walking!

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