Chronic Pain and Exercise

Chronic pain (also known as persistent pain) is pain that persists beyond the expected healing time of an injury. Unlike acute pain which is caused by tissue damage, chronic pain or persistent pain is less about the structural or tissue damage and more about the sensitivity of the nervous system and ‘non tissue related factors’.

Often when we experience chronic pain we avoid activity in an attempt to not cause pain flare ups. However we know that gradually over time, people experiencing chronic pain become less able to complete activities which were previously enjoyed, for example walking, and commonly also have difficulties in completing activities of daily living such as housework.


Why it’s important to exercise

Significant research has shown that exercise is an essential aspect in the treatment of chronic pain. Studies have shown that it can be an effective way to reverse this downward cycle of deconditioning and worsening pain, and gradually over time help those with chronic pain engage more in activities of enjoyment and essential activities of daily living with greater ease.

importance of exercise

Things to remember:

  • Remember that ‘Exercise is Medicine!’ and is an important daily strategy used to assist in the management of pain conditions.
  • Stretch to cool down, not warm up, and do short bursts of exercise, not long stretches.
  • It is important to start slowly when beginning an exercise program, and avoid pushing into stronger pain. It is often useful to use the 0-10 scale to monitor your pain levels while exercising.

If pain levels increase by more than 2 points from baseline you should stop and modify that exercise, to ensure that you do not cause a flare up of your pain.

Types of exercise recommended

Exercise Right recommends combining multiple forms of exercise for chronic pain, including:

Stretching exercises

It’s important to stretch at least once a day to help increase flexibility, loosen tight/stiff muscles, and improve your range of motion. Stretching everyday will help ease your everyday movements.

Strengthening exercises

To help build strong muscles, for example, squats, wall push ups or bicep curls.

Cardiovascular exercises

Walking, swimming or bike riding provide light aerobic exercise, which provides a list of healing benefits. If working out in a gym, try an elliptical trainer (which is lower impact than a treadmill).