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Healthy Living with Chronic Pain: Low-impact Exercise

Definitions of chronic pain range anywhere from pain lasting longer than 3 months, 6 months, or a year. However, anyone with pain that has lasted longer than a few weeks understands how debilitating it can be. Chronic pain may limit a person's movements, reducing flexibility and strength leading to difficulty carrying out important or enjoyable activities.

This post will focus on benefits of low-impact exercise for relief of chronic pain. MedLinePlus.gov defines chronic pain as pain that has lasted more than 12 weeks and often persists for longer. Where those with chronic pain often benefit from exercise, exercise should be limited or avoided with acute pain caused by an injury to allow the body to heal.

This blog post is not intended to replace care by your primary provider. This post is to have you start thinking of how physical activity, specifically focused on low-impact exercise, can positively impact your health.

Why move?

Why should I exercise? I don’t want to. There is not enough time in the day. It hurts too much the next day. I hurt too much now.

If these statements or replies sound familiar, you are not alone. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services reports that only 1 in 3 adults get the recommended amount of physical activity each week and more than 80% do not meet the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity.

However, the importance of movement within a healthy pain management plan cannot be over-emphasized. As outlined in Pain Management 101, exercise and physical activity is the “lotion” to promote smooth functioning. Small movements such as daily stretching can also strengthen muscles and increase functioning. 

The American College of Physicians recommends patients with chronic low back pain to initially select non-drug therapy including exercise, mindfulness-based stress relaxation, tai chi, yoga, and others. Simply find the activity, exercise, or stretch that works for you. Start with movement that is low impact and targeted to relieving your specific area[s] of pain. Below are some ideas to get you started.

Incorporate low-impact exercise at home or the gym

Recumbent bike

A recumbent is a seated exercise bike is perfect for any user! It is designed so that you are seated in a slightly reclined position with the pedals out in front of the body. Recumbent bikes specifically have the added comfort of a wide seat and seat back that an upright or indoor cycle may not offer. This gives the recumbent the distinction of being ideal for beginners as well as those looking for low-impact movement.

The design of a recumbent is closer to the ground than most stationary bikes with pedals in front of the body allowing for alleviation of pain in the legs and hip joints compared to other cardio options. Due to its addition of a seat back, the recumbent is also a good option for those experiencing chronic back pain. The focus is cardio as well as lower body movement, so don’t forget to up the resistance (within your ability)! Keep in mind, any stationary bike will offer you low-impact, cardio exercise. Check out our R200 or R400G for a recumbent you can fit in your home!

Elliptical

An elliptical machine tends to be the “go to” cardio piece (after the treadmill of course). It offers a lower-impact option to walking on the treadmill. Ellipticals are built to simulate a combination of walking and running without pounding on the joints received from shoe-to-ground impact of walking or running. The elliptical is not impact-free, as a standing and walking motion is required to complete the exercise. However, unlike a stationary bike, the elliptical also incorporates upper body movements. It may be good to try them both out and decide what fits your needs best. Check out the ECT elliptical series as well as our seated elliptical at a dealer near you to see what fits your needs best.

Rowing machine

A rowing machine is an all-in-one exercise piece. With very little impact to the joints, a rowing machine can provide both an aerobic (cardio) and anaerobic (strength) workout. Keep in mind, a rower requires more knowledge of correct form and use to avoid injury. Please seek out assistance from a fitness representative or gym employee before using it for the first time. But, if you are looking for a higher-intensity, low-impact exercise, the rower may be the machine for you. Check out our VR series to find a rower that fits your style and budget!

Other Resources

If you do not currently have access to a home gym or gym membership that does not mean you cannot add physical activity to your pain treatment plan. Try walking, stretching, climbing stairs, or even seated exercises to initiate change that will have a positive impact your health. Aim to add a 5-10 minute walk to your day that you do not already do.  Climb the stairs an extra set or complete 5-10 minutes of standing or seated stretches. Try bicep curls and arm raises with canned food or water bottles when you’re watching TV. The possibilities are endless!

Always check with your primary provider or care team before starting any new exercise plan. Always keep in mind local community and senior centers as they are often a low or no-cost option for individuals in the community. Or let BODYCRAFT help you start with the convenience of a home gym! When you make healthier choices, your body has more energy for additional movement and physical activity. Physical activity can lead to improved mood, increased energy, weight loss, and decreased chronic pain.

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