Can You Exercise with Pain?

Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something might be wrong. But, according to the experts at Go4Life, a division of the National Institute on Aging, say that doesn’t necessarily mean you should avoid exercise. In fact, they say, it could be helpful. But as always, check with your doctor if you are in pain before beginning or resuming an exercise program.

According to the Go4Life experts, there are two kinds of pain: acute (temporary) and chronic (ongoing).

Acute pain, the experts say, starts suddenly, lasts for a short time and goes away after your body has healed. The condition may be due to a number of causes: simply doing too much (lifting something that’s heavier than you can handle); using exercise equipment at too high a speed or degree of skill. The best way to avoid this, the Go4Life experts say, is to practice safety. Don’t overdo it; make sure your goals are realistic and that your pace is appropriate for your fitness level. Other causes can be an injury (a strain, sprain or break) from a fall. Balance exercises can help you avoid these.

Exercising with acute pain

If you experience a sharp pain in your muscles and/or joints, the Go4Life experts say, stop exercising and see your doctor. She or he can let you know whether it’s safe for you to exercise, and if so, what exercises might be good for you. For example, your doctor might recommend stretching and strength training exercises that you can do to help your recovery.

He or she will be able to say whether it’s safe to exercise while experiencing acute pain and what activities might help. There may be simple stretching or strength training exercises that you can do with a physical therapist or trainer to help with recovery. Your doctor might recommend that you reduce the intensity of your activity.

If your doctor does say it’s OK to exercise, you should warm up to get your body ready for activity; the Go4Life experts suggest a few minutes of easy walking. And, they say, you should cool down after your Warm up before exercising to get your body moving and ready for activity and to help reduce your risk of injury. For instance, you might do a few minutes of easy walking. And, they emphasize, cool down after your workout to relax the muscles you just used, slow your heart rate and bring your breathing to a normal level. Cooling down can be done, they say, by slowing down your routine and trying some light stretching.

Chronic pain

Ongoing pain is often a symptom of a bigger health problem such as arthritis, cancer, diabetes, or shingles. Still, most people living with chronic pain can exercise safely, and that may assist with pain management. In fact, the Go4Life experts say, being inactive can sometimes lead to a cycle of more pain and loss of function.

Talk to your doctor about what exercises/activities might be right for you. Each type of exercise has its own benefits, so a combination could be best.

Here are some exercises and how they can help:

Strength exercises can help maintain or add to your muscle strength. Strong muscles support and protect joints. Weight-bearing exercises include using resistance bands or weighted wristbands.

Endurance exercises make the heart and arteries healthier and may lessen swelling in some joints. Low-impact endurance exercises include swimming and bicycling.

Flexibility exercises help to keep joints moving, relieve stiffness, and allow for more freedom of movement for everyday activities. Flexibility exercises include upper- and lower-body stretching, yoga, and tai chi.

Exercise can also help you maintain a healthy body weight, which may relieve knee or hip pain from osteoarthritis, for example. Putting on extra pounds can slow healing and make some pain worse.

The Go4Life experts urge you to listen to your body when exercising and participating in physical activities. Avoid over-exercising on “good days.” If you have pain, swelling, or inflammation in a specific joint area, you may need to focus on another area for a day or two. If something doesn’t feel right or hurts, seek medical advice right away.

No matter what kind of pain you have, though, it rarely goes away overnight. Ask your doctor how long it might be before you feel better. With lessening pain, you can probably become even more active.

Used with permission of the National Institute on Aging (https://www.nia.nih.gov/) . For more information on senior fitness issues, visit https://go4life.nia.nih.gov.


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