Exercise as a Prescription for Chronic Pain

Health Writer

Only 21 percent of Americans meet the recommended levels of physical activity for health according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lack of exercise can contribute to joint pain in both adults and children. Joint pain can then reduce mobility and create discomfort, which discourages exercise and may exacerbate the condition, creating a cycle of pain and negativity.

According to the Journal of Pain Research, regular exercise has been identified as a primary prevention against more than 35 chronic conditions, including obesity, joint pain, anxiety, and depression. Exercise can reduce chronic pain by producing anti-inflammatory effects, increasing muscle strength and coordination and improving psychological outlooks. Exercise also can lead to weight loss, which can then reduce chronic pain in weightbearing joints and tissues.

As convincing as the research is about the health benefits, exercise can be a mental and physical challenge if you live with chronic pain. However, there are things to keep in mind that may help you to get started and exercise regularly.

  1. A professional trainer can make all the difference. If it has been a while since you exercised, it is important to work with an exercise professional, such as a trainer. Most trainers will meet with you before working with you to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. This is the time to discuss your pain issues and inquire about the trainer’s experience in working with clients with chronic pain.
  1. Know yourself. Your fitness journey is always your own. If you are living with chronic pain, this is an especially important concept to keep in mind. When you talk to the exercise professional, remember that your pain is unique to you. Only you know the movements and activities that seem to cause you the most discomfort.

  2. Doing something once is different than doing something regularly. If you are in chronic pain, doing yard work all day or walking around a city can cause extreme pain and may discourage you from starting an exercise program. However, starting slowly and working within a controlled program will most likely be less painful than overdoing it one day on your own.

  3. A shorter time may be better than a longer time. Every little bit of exercise counts. If you have chronic pain, you may be better off exercising for short periods of time. Depending on your level of pain in response to the exercise, you may also need to take longer breaks than others between workouts.

  4. Talk with your doctor about your desire to exercise and your pain. If you feel like your pain is too disabling for you to exercise, talk to your doctor. There may be medications that your doctor can prescribe short-term to help you begin a new exercise routine.

See More Helpful Articles:

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10 Alternative Treatments for Chronic Pain

Athletes with Chronic Health Conditions


Dr. Tracy Davenport is a health writer, advocate and entrepreneur who has been helping individuals live their best life. She is co-author of Making Life Better for a Baby with Acid Reflux. Follow Tracy’s love of smoothies on Twitter.