How to exercise in pain?
This question is dear to my heart, as I began Pilates with pain in my back, knee and ankle. So I have had lots of personal experience with pain and with working with students in pain. Through my experience I learned three key points. Know what it is you are dealing with, choose exercise that does not threaten you, and add aerobic activity.
First, get a diagnosis. Even if you just have generalized low back pain it’s important to know what is going on in your body. A diagnosis helps all the practitioners you work with down the line. It also provides a starting point and allows you to see a path forward towards healing. Not knowing, or lack of clarity can lead someone to feel anxious. If you are not seeing results, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion. Finally, don’t let the diagnosis define you. You are more than a painful back or shoulder. Pain and depression are tightly coupled so get the emotional and physical help you need.
Second, it seems obvious but make sure that you don’t choose exercise that makes your feel anxious or that causes you to feel threatened. These feelings can elicit the fight or flight response and make corrective exercises less effective. This is because of two reasons:
- The fight or flight response reduces blood flow and valuable resources to your stabilizing musculature. Why? Because in the fight or flight response all your care about is protecting yourself and getting away. This directs resources to your large muscles groups (Explain Pain Seminar Dallas TX 2014) and away from your stabilizing muscles. Frequently, after an injury your stabilizing muscles are weak, so it is important to turn them working again. Pilates and working with appropriate balance exercises are very helpful.
- When you are feel nervous or fearful it is harder to learn what the fitness teacher is telling you. This is because the natural ability in your brain to learn movement, the mirror neuron system is negatively affected by fear. (Immordino-Yang, 2007).
Finally, aerobic exercise produces pain reducing endorphins and helps increase blood flow which is helpful for healing. Getting outside has also been shown to reduce brooding (Bratman, 2015) and lead to greater feelings of wellbeing (Bratman, 2015), which is always helpful when you are in pain.
Good luck on your path!
Immordino-Yang, M.H. & Damasio, A. (2007). We feel, therefore we learn: The relevance of affective and social neuroscience to education. Mind, Brain, and Education, 1,3-10. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-228X.2007.00004.x
Bratman, G. H., et al. (2015). Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation Social Sciences. Psychological and Cognitive Sciences: PNAS 2015 112 (28) 8567-8572; doi:10.1073/pnas.1510459112
Bratman,G.H., et al. (2015) The benefits of nature experience: Improved affect and cognition, Landscape and Urban Planning,(138)41-50.