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Exercise with chronic pain: Experts say to ‘go for it, but gently’


Exercise is a mood-booster for me — when I’m physically able to handle it.

But I live with chronic pain, and it feels like many gym classes aren’t well-suited to people like me, who can struggle to get through a regular 60-minute class.

So for those of us with chronic pain who want to get moving, what are the options?

Pain doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise

Some people with chronic pain are daunted by movement because they fear it might flare their pain (and yep, I can relate.)

But the evidence-based view is that movement can actually help treat chronic pain, explains Thorlene Egerton, a physiotherapist and senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne.

“In days gone past we used to approach health problems by thinking we have to fix the health problem [and] take the pain away, before people can be active,” Dr Egerton says.

“We now understand a lot more about how the body and the mind work — and a better approach is to think if someone with [chronic pain] can actually start to become active, that can actually become [a] treatment for the condition.”

Even short bursts of exercise can benefit those with chronic pain.(Pexels: Nicholas Fu)

Exercise and physical activity are vital parts of chronic pain treatment, agrees John Booth, an exercise physiologist and Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of New South Wales’ Faculty of Medicine.

The benefits of exercise to those with chronic pain can include improved muscle strength and joint function, enhanced sleep quality, anti-inflammatory effects and opening “the brain’s drug cabinet to release the body’s own pain medication, including endorphins, that help reduce pain”, says Dr Booth.



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