There’s kind of a Catch-22 when it comes to chronic pain and exercise. I have horrible back problems, and I know that if I exercised more, I could probably build up some of the muscles, stretch things out a bit and relieve some of the constant pressure. On the other hand, just bending over to pick up laundry off the floor makes me want to cry. I am the first to admit that I just say “forget it” and avoid moving as much as possible. That is SO unhealthy, though, and I know it. I’m really trying to be more active while still managing my chronic pain. These are the things I’m doing and what has worked for me. I hope they help you, too!
What is Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain is an almost constant and unwanted companion. It’s like that friend you never liked much that comes by unexpectedly one day and doesn’t leave. Ever. It is NOT “ooh, I worked out hard today and now I feel sore!” It’s not “wow, that hike really left my legs feeling achy.” “Sore” and “achy” are like lavender bubble baths compared to the deep, grinding sulfuric swirling pit of despair that is chronic pain.
Some days are better than others, don’t get me wrong. There are times when the pain reaches a manageable level and you can walk for hours without stopping to cry every few steps. These are what we call “good days.” For many of us, they’re as rare as magical unicorn dust, but they exist. My pain is mostly in my lower back. I have arthritis that started when I was in my early 30s, plus a few herniated disks. Three, at last count. I also have messed up disks in my neck and carpal tunnel in both hands.
How to Stay Active with Chronic Pain
*This post contains affiliate links. I received some of the products mentioned below in exchange for sharing about them. All opinions are, as always, my own.
The very first thing you need to do is talk to your doctor. I do not have a medical degree and I don’t know what your pain is related to, so before you jump into any of these activities, make sure they’re okay. There, that’s settled, right?
Experiment, experiment, experiment with exercises
Finding the right type exercise that doesn’t make you want to curl up and disintegrate is definitely a challenge. Don’t feel like you have to push yourself into one type of exercise just because it’s either all the rage or because you heard it was good for your type of pain. Swimming, for example, is fab for just about all pain…if you can actually swim! I can’t. I do this weird sort of doggy paddle that leaves all my muscles screaming because it’s simply not “good form.” I love the pool, don’t get me wrong, but more for floating and relaxing than being active.
Yoga is another hit or miss activity. I actually like it because it helps stretch things out. I do it alone, though, with no one watching. I’m not exactly graceful! I’m also not nearly lithe enough to join a class. Fortunately, there are SO many ways to do yoga at home with very few supplies. I checked out a Namaste Yoga Block and Yoga Towel, both available from Amazon. If you’ve never tried a yoga block before, get one, especially if you have wrist problems. It takes a lot of the pressure off your wrists when you do certain poses. I watched this video to learn how to use them:
The yoga towel is a must whether you have carpets or hardwood floors. It helps keep you from slipping all over the place. The Namaste Yoga Towel comes in fun colors, like my favorite, purple. It’s crazy easy to clean in the washer and dryer, too. The microfiber is super plush and comfy. I’m actually thinking of using it for a poolside lounging towel, too.
The point is, you have to keep trying new things to find out which exercises work best for you. Maybe it’s not swimming or yoga. Maybe your chronic pain eases up when you go for a walk or ride a stationary bike! If something doesn’t work for you, cross it off your list and move on.
Take advantage of your good days
Remember those “good days” we talked about? Those are the sweet spots for physical activity! Here’s my problem: I think “gee, I’m having a good day! Why ruin it by doing something that I KNOW is going to make me hurt later?” I need to get out of that mindset. Instead, keep an “activity wish list” handy of things you really want to do. I want to take my dog and son on a hike through the woods. I used to love walking in the forest (what little we have left here, anyway), but the uneven terrain kills my back on a bad day. On a good day, though, I can manage a short hike as long as it isn’t all uphill.
The key is to make sure it’s something you really enjoy! No one wants to spend those magical good days doing something they hate. For example, jogging is just not my thing, so I wouldn’t say “I feel great, guess I should finally give running a try.” If you DO love running, by all means, go for it!
Prep your “feel better” supplies before you start!
I cannot stress this tip enough! Get all the things that make you feel better together BEFORE you start your workout. That way, after you’re done, you can just grab what you need and get relief asap. I know I’m way too tired and achy to walk all around the house getting things together. The thought of walking upstairs to grab a pain patch, downstairs to mix up my bath soak, into the living room to grab the massager, back upstairs to take a bath…while that’s fine on a good day, it makes me want to cry just thinking about it on a bad day.
I have an arsenal of pain relief options available, from Salonpas pain patches (best pain patches ever) to premade muscle soak bath salts (it’s the same recipe as my cold care bath soak with a little rosemary essential oil added as well). The newest tool in my arsenal is my Tekjoy Deep Kneading Massager.
I am madly in love with this thing, especially after a long day of sitting at the computer. It has these fabulous kneading heads that work just about every sore muscle from head to toe. I use it on my shoulders several times a day. I just plug it in and let it do its thing. It contours to fit your body and has a ton of different modes, so you can use it on everything from your feet to your lower back. You can even plug it into your car for a massage on the go! Just not while you’re actually driving, I don’t think that’s a good idea.
Staying active with chronic pain is probably never going to be easy, especially when you have lower back pain like I do. The thing is, you kind of have to find a way to work in a workout as often as possible. I just went to the ortho doctor and he stressed that exercise helps stretch things out more so I don’t have so much “pulling” on my problem areas. It makes sense, I suppose. Am I looking forward to it? No. But I’ll do it because it beats crying every time I do laundry because my back cramps up from bending over.
FYI, the Namaste Yoga Block and Towel and the Tekjoy Massager are sold by AMX Store on Amazon. Check out their other health and beauty products. They have some really neat scales that do just about everything you need! All of their items are fulfilled by Amazon and are Prime-eligible.
What do you do to stay active with chronic pain? Tell me so I can try it!