Chronic Pain and Movement Motivation

by Celeste Cooper, RN Health Professional

Those of us who live with chronic pain are told we need to exercise. I agree. Aerobic exercise makes our heart beat faster, which makes it stronger and improves our overall cardiovascular system. Stretching keeps our muscles functioning properly and prevents knots called trigger points, often a source of pain. And building muscle prevents weakness and further injury. But let’s face it; some folks are exercise challenged no matter what. And, even if we once loved competitive sports, weights lifting, etc., those of us with pain likely avoid it for fear of more pain or further injury. But, is this prudent?

When I think of exercise I see a buff sports enthusiast running track or a champion weight lifter with muscles so tight you can bounce a quarter off of them. Try this term instead, movement motivated. Changing our words can change our perception. Focusing on motion as a way to minimize pain and promote health may be a more realistic goal. Three important questions to ask first:

(1) Is it the right kind?

(2) What is the right amount?

(3) When is the right time?

Movement Motivation Point One: THE RIGHT KIND

The right movement is one we can build on gradually and something we look forward to doing because it makes us feel better, as long as our physician approves it.

It’s easy to get excited if we find something we enjoy, for me it is the fluid purposeful dance-like movement of T’ai Chi. I can modify movements to promote the flow of energy. There is no hard and fast rule for being a champion. In fact, a good teacher will tell you to avoid anything that increases muscle or joint pain. Tai’ Chi is my personal favorite because I always loved to dance, not professionally of course. T’ai Chi allows me to experience my feelings and energy in a controlled and safe way. I also use my towel after showering to incorporate movements I learned in physical therapy. And, having osteopenia and arthritis, I know weight bearing is important, so I arbitrarily bend over and do one or two downward facing dogs, modifying to my own limits. We can safely improve the way we move if we think creatively.

Movement Motivation Point Two: THE RIGHT AMOUNT

Knowing what is enough or too much helps us set reasonable limits to protect us from increased pain and possible injury. If we force our body or attempt to build an unhealthy muscle riddled with myofascial trigger points, we set ourselves up for feelings of defeat, and we are more likely to quit.

Instead, do daily assessments. Maybe you had an exceptionally busy day yesterday. A wise Yogi will tell you the goal of movement is to open energy channels, not block them. Our movement should be guided and purposeful.

Movement Motivation Point Three: WHEN TO MOVE

Knowing when to increase our movement is also important. We are aware of particular times of day that are better for us. This is the best time.

Rest for about an hour after eating. This is because blood is shunted from muscle and other organs to help digestion work properly.

The act of moving our body causes the brain to release “feel good chemicals” called endorphins, but in excess they can interfere with sleep, so avoid the urge to get your groove on right before bedtime.

What should we do about moving when we are having a flare of symptoms? We must move to prevent atrophy of our muscles and to prevent illness. But, when we are in a flare, our body is under additional stress, so it makes sense to move less to allow healing, right?—that depends. Our lymph system picks up and rids our body of cellular garbage, which when in a flare is like a landfill at maximum capacity. Unlike arteries and veins, our lymph system relies solely on movement. Something as simple as sitting in a rocker and moving our feet up and down and our body back and forth improves circulation and lymph flow.

Movement is preventative maintenance that lubricates our mind and keeps our body firing on all cylinders, letting stiff thoughts, joints, and muscles flow freely. Live and move by YOUR convictions, but move.

  • Carpal Tunnel Exercise Pain Relief Video (includes other helpful information and a systematic approach)

  • How Exercise Improves Pain Tolerance

Celeste Cooper, RN
Meet Our Writer
Celeste Cooper, RN

Celeste Cooper, R.N., is a freelance writer focusing on chronic pain and fibromyalgia. She is lead author of Integrative therapies for Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Myofascial Pain and the Broken Body, Wounded Spirit: Balancing the See-Saw of Chronic Pain book series. She enjoys her family, writing and advocating, photography, and nature. Connect with Celeste through Twitter @PainedInkSlayer.