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exercise in chronic pain

How To Keep Exercising Despite Chronic Pain

by Wasifa Ahmad Hasan

Tips for doing exercise in chronic pain


Pain is a great excuse if you don’t like to exercise, and it’s certainly something many people with chronic pain would just as soon avoid.  Yet at the same time exercise is one of the things that can help make that pain go away.

“It can become a Catch-22 situation,” says Dr. Victor M. Romano, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and author of Finding The Source: Maximizing Your Results – With and Without Orthopaedic Surgery  (www.romanomd.com).  “We don’t want to exercise because we have pain, and yet exercise will usually help you reduce the pain over the long run.”

exercise in chronic pain

Research has shown that exercise is an essential aspect in the treatment of chronic pain. Lack of exercise can cause a downward cycle of deconditioning and worsening pain.  But exercise can help those with chronic pain to engage in enjoyable and essential activities of daily living with greater ease.  Cardio exercise, interval training, and weight lifting are the three types of exercise most people should include once a week in their workouts. Stretching should be included in every workout, Romano says.

exercise in chronic pain

Doctors generally ask patients to rate their pain on a scale of one to 10. The average intensity of pain experienced for 12 or more hours over a 24-hour period is considered their baseline pain. Romano says “if, during exercise, pain levels increase by more than 2 points from the baseline you should stop and modify that exercise to ensure you do not cause a flare-up of your pain.  Of course, a good diet is also important.”

exercise in chronic pain

Furthermore, obstructed breathing, from a deviated septum, allergies or a cold, will impair your balance and strength. Restoring clear nasal breathing will improve your performance.

For people who suffer from chronic pain, Dr. Romano offers these exercise tips:

  • Try shorter exercise periods. Interval training is very helpful in patients with chronic pain. Short bursts of exercise can be more beneficial and less stressful than one long workout.  Even five minutes is better than nothing.  Everything counts.
  • Weight training is also important for seniors and women to strengthen bones. Research has proven that weight training is good for everyone, regardless of sex or age. Make sure to incorporate it into your exercise program.
  • Stretching is important. Go to Facebook, download our Romano Stretches, and incorporate them into your daily routine, even if you don’t exercise that day.
  • Try yoga or tai chi. These programs have shown success with people with chronic pain.

exercise in chronic pain

  • Clear your sinuses. If your breathing is obstructed, use nasal sprays or get nasal strips that will open your breathing and further improve your strength and balance.  
  • Mind over matter. If you need to do an exercise that you know is going to be painful, start by taking some deep breaths and focus your energy.  Take your time. 

“Even though exercise for somebody with chronic pain sounds counterintuitive,” Romano says, “it is very important as part of recovery therapy.”

exercise in chronic pain

About Dr. Victor Romano

Dr. Victor Romano (www.romanomd.com) is an orthopedic surgeon and the author of Finding The Source: Maximizing Your Results – With and Without Orthopaedic Surgery. He is board-certified in orthopedics and sports medicine with over 25 years of experience in the field. He graduated cum laude from the University of Notre Dame and completed medical school at the University of Loyola-Chicago.

exercise in chronic pain

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