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TENS Guide

If you live with chronic pain, you’ve probably felt the temptation to skip out on consistent exercise, despite the fact that exercise is often the very best way to help lessen your pain. That said, implementing an exercise routine into your life is easier said than done. A work out with chronic pain can be more challenging, as pain and discomfort limit the amount of exercise and level of exertion you are able to perform.

The good news is that you don’t have to become a fitness junkie or a lifting champion to reap the rewards of a successful workout routine. Even a simple routine of straightforward exercises that feel good will do the trick. Here’s what you should know about how exercise affects pain, plus the five best exercises for chronic pain that can help get you moving.

Why Does Exercise Help Ease Pain?

Those who live with chronic pain may have impaired neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is what allows the body to adapt to injury and disease. And without neuroplasticity, nerve cells become so sensitive that the brain can perceive even a gentle touch as painful. Over time, this pain perception causes the brain to feel chronic and persistent pain more intensely.

Exercise is a proven way to improve blood flow and oxygen to the brain, both of which are crucial for improving neuroplasticity, which, in turn can help to reduce chronic pain.

In addition to improving neuroplasticity, regular exercise can also:

  • Help you regain strength and increase energy
  • Release endorphins, which blocks pain signals from reaching the brain
  • Lower stress hormones
  • Improve your sleep quality 1

While it will take more than a single exercise session to feel a reduction in pain, consistent exercise will address the neuroplastic changes that cause pain and help you feel better over time. 2

The Best Exercises for Chronic Pain

What are the best exercises to try when you simply don’t feel like trying and your muscles and joints ache and throb with every move? From rolling out a yoga mat to taking a stroll around the block, there’s something everyone will find joy in on this list.

1. Walking

How to Work Out With Chronic Pain and Prevent Injury

If you have the physical capability, walking is a great low-impact activity you can practice almost anywhere and anytime. You can work it into your daily routine rather than carving out a whole separate time in your schedule for a workout. You can walk to work, to the grocery store, around the park or a track and the list goes on and on. And the best part of all? It’s an effective, affordable exercise which you can do in almost all seasonal conditions — no gym membership required.

Walking engages a lot of muscle groups including your core, back and legs — all areas where chronic pain sufferers most often experience pain. As a gentle cardiovascular workout, walking gets you moving in a way that reduces stiffness and pain in the muscles and joints without over-exerting them. It’s also a proven way to increase blood flow, which in turn boosts energy and helps with neuroplasticity. This is because walking is very effective at pumping oxygenated blood up into the brain and throughout the body.

2. Swimming

How to Work Out With Chronic Pain and Prevent Injury

Swimming is another great option for those with chronic pain, specifically those who suffer from osteoarthritis, musculoskeletal or joint issues. Swimming is a versatile exercise that can easily be ramped up based on your skill or intensity level. A swimming session can vary from a light relaxing backstroke to a more vigorous front stroke.

Swimming and other water exercises work so well because the buoyancy of the water reduces the effects of gravity. This buoyancy means there's no danger of impact or damage to the joints. It also improves cardiovascular health, stamina, muscle strength and flexibility which can all work to improve neuroplasticity. And let’s face it, what’s better than hopping into a refreshing pool of water on a hot summer day?

3. Yoga


Yoga works together with both the mind and the body. And when it comes to chronic pain, it’s a proven fact that the mind and body are intimately tied together.

On the physical side of yoga, there’s holding poses which requires stretching, strength, endurance and balance. On the mental side, the breathing exercises can help calm you down and reduce stress.

One major benefit of a yoga exercise routine is that even someone who is bedridden can try it. Simply start with certain breathing exercises and focus on different body parts, such as contracting a specific muscle.

4. Pilates

How to Work Out With Chronic Pain and Prevent Injury

For people with spinal injuries, back pain or fibromyalgia, pilates is a great choice that places strong emphasis on core stabilization, breathing and posture while using your brain to engage in learning new movements.

While there are classes at pilates studios with pilates-specific equipment, you can also engage in more basic pilates exercises at home with some light weights on a yoga mat.

5. Light Weight Strength Training

Weight Training

Whether you are at home or at the gym, rolling out a mat and using five- to ten-pound weights, or even your own body weight, can be an easy way to start a workout routine that works for your pain level. If you’ve been inactive for a long time, start easy by using a can of soup rather than a weight to get your body used to the movement. You can also engage in gentle, monitored sit-ups and pushups if you feel comfortable.

These types of strength training exercises can help you control chronic pain by strengthening the muscles around the joints, which will take some of the stress off the joint when it is in use. This is particularly helpful for people suffering from various types of arthritis.

Your Getting Started Checklist

  1. Talk to your doctor about your exercise plans, and get their opinion on where to start.
  2. Find exercises that you love, that don’t stress you out, and that you look forward to doing most days. When it comes to healing and feeling better, consistency is key.
  3. Exercise consistently (aim for daily) for 15 minutes. As little as 5 minutes a day can reduce your pain.
  4. Aim to feel “good tired” after a workout but better the next day.
  5. Stretch daily to help with posture and to increase mobility. This will lead to less pain when you’re active.
  6. Keep track of how a particular exercise routine or activity makes you feel.
  7. If exercising increases your pain, go easier and exercise for less time.
  8. Don’t try to ramp up in time or intensity unless you notice an increase in energy.
  9. Go at your own pace and don’t get discouraged. 3

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  1. Bustle, 7 Exercises For Chronic Pain That Can Actually Help You Manage It
  2. HuffPost, The 5 Best Exercises For Chronic Pain
  3. HealthLine, Workout Tips That Can Ease Fibromyalgia Pain

TENS Guide

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