As a specialist in pain management, Dr. Harvey Finkelstein knows that millions of Americans feel the impact of chronic pain in their lives. This pain can make even the simplest everyday tasks harder, negatively affecting an individual’s quality of life by impairing their daily routines. Many of these same individuals struggle to find a solution to their pain problems.
One proven effective solution that can work for many people, says Dr. Finkelstein, is regular exercise. While it may seem counterintuitive, regular and moderate exercise can serve to ease or even eliminate pain in many different locations experienced in the bodies of chronic pain sufferers.
A Huge Health Issue in Disguise
As Judy Foreman of USA Today explains, chronic pain is the biggest health problem plaguing the United States today, even though it is often absent from major news reports. According to a report from the National Academy of Sciences’s Institute of Medicine in 2011, chronic pain as it is typically defined—pain that lasts longer than three to six months—affects approximately 100 million adults in the United States.
Chronic pain is also the main reason why many people go to their doctors, which ends up costing the country as much as $635 billion every year. This makes chronic pain a more expensive health issue than cancer, diabetes, and heart disease combined.
How Exercise Can Help
Many people, from chronic pain suffers to their physicians, are not aware of the growing number of treatments available for chronic pain beyond prescription narcotics, says Dr. Harvey Finkelstein. However, one of the most useful of all of these non-narcotic treatments is free and readily available: exercise.
“When you’re in pain, it’s understandable if exercise is the last thing that you want to do,” Dr. Harvey Finkelstein says. “You already hurt and you may think that working out will only worsen the problem. Many people worry that exercising while suffering from chronic painwill cause the painful area to flare up even more, or maybe even damage something. More often, though, it is the opposite that is true.”
According to a feature article on WebMD, remaining sedentary with chronic pain may actually make the problem even worse. While doctors often used to prescribe bed rest for conditions like chronic back pain, more and more studies have found that exercise is actually a better pain management strategy because it keeps pain sufferers flexible.
As Vice President Trent Nessler of Champion Sports Medicine told WebMD, “Exercise improves your pain threshold. With chronic pain, your pain threshold drops – in other words, it takes less pain to make you feel more uncomfortable. With cardiovascular, strengthening, and flexibility exercise, you can improve that pain threshold.”
The Best Exercises for Pain Management
Of course, not all types of exercise will be as beneficial to chronic pain sufferers, as Dr. Harvey Finkelstein points out. “Depending on your type of chronic pain, some forms of exercise may be more useful than others, and some more challenging than others,” he explains. “But don’t think that using exercise to control your pain means that you have to go out and run a marathon. Everyone can do some form of exercise no matter what shape you’re in or your level of pain.”
One of the simplest pain management exercises, according to Health magazine, is simply walking, which is both low impact and easy to do. By walking more during their day, either as part of their routine errands or as a pastime, any individual can take the first steps to better pain management.
Swimming is another great exercise for managing chronic pain, especially pain from musculoskeletal or joint issues such as osteoarthritis. Because being in the water keeps exercisers buoyant, swimming is even lower impact than walking, which keeps the unpleasantness of sudden jolts to the joints from flaring up. The gravity defying properties of swimming also make it an excellent idea for individuals whose pain stems from being overweight.
Yet another highly beneficial exercise for chronic pain sufferers is yoga, which combines soothing breathing and relaxation techniques with highly beneficial stretching and flexibility training. Pain sufferers should be cautious, though. As assistant professor of anesthesiology and rehabilitation medicine Steven Calvino, M.D., points out to Health magazine, “Yoga can involve very extreme ranges of motion involving the spine and other joints so there is a risk of injury. You want to do whatever is a comfortable range of motion within your abilities. Don’t push it unless you’re in very good condition.”
The Importance of Professional Guidance
The potential dangers to chronic pain sufferers who approach exercise incautiously is not unique to yoga, says Dr. Harvey Finkelstein.
“If your chronic pain is severe enough that it’s causing you daily problems in places like your shoulders, hips, back, or joints, and then you shouldn’t begin an exercise program without proper guidance,” Dr. Finkelstein warns. “This guidance should come from your doctor or a qualified chronic pain specialist like a physical therapist. You want to know what appropriate exercise for your condition is before you launch into a workout.”
By working with a pain management specialist like Dr. Harvey Finkelstein to work out an effective exercise plan, chronic pain sufferers can find their best shot at improving their health and their lives without expensive or invasive treatments.
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