Celeste Corkery, a physiotherapist and clinical manager with Toronto Academic Pain Medicine Institute at Women’s College Hospital, explains how to customize an exercise routine to help manage chronic pain.
For many people living with chronic pain, movement is an integral self-management strategy. When we stop participating in exercise, we gradually lose strength and flexibility, which can cause pain levels to increase. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to exercise for people with chronic pain, but there are some things to keep in mind when incorporating movement into your self-management plan that can help you be successful:
- Learn what you love to do. It’s important to remember what you enjoy doing and what type(s) of exercise you’ll actually stick to! By choosing activities you like, you’re much more likely to get into a routine that you’ll be consistent with over time.
- Vary the amount of exercise. Different people will be able to tolerate different levels of activity, and this can vary in the same person, as well, depending on flare ups or other energy-consuming activities happening in your life.
- Consider a gradual approach. When trying to incorporate movement and exercise into your life, it’s important to start small and gradually build up over time to an amount that feels right for you.
- Pace yourself. It’s easy to fall into a boom-or-bust cycle with exercise, where you overdo it one day and need to take a break for a few days, before repeating the cycle. It’s better to pace activity and build gradually to avoid the ups and downs of overexerting yourself.
Self-management for chronic pain will look different from person to person and people may have different levels of what they can tolerate and stick to. Start by getting to know your body. Your level of activity may change from day to day or week to week, but a good goal to work towards is developing a consistent movement routine. Remember, movement and exercise don’t have to be a chore – they can and should be something you enjoy and, ultimately, tools that help you manage your pain.