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Gentle Movement for Chronic Pain

Although we all know that our bodies were designed to be active, chronic pain can often create a barrier to our body’s natural desire to move.


When we experience chronic pain, our first reaction can be to avoid movement in order to prevent additional pain and to protect ourselves from harm. However, when our muscles are left unused, they can quickly atrophy. Because our muscles protect our joints, weakened muscles can cause more pressure and stress to be put on our joints, which can in turn actually increase pain and reduce healthy function. Finding ways to keep physically active - despite chronic pain - can ensure that your pain levels aren't made worse by immobility and weakness.

So what are the best ways to facilitate healthy and gentle movement in spite of chronic pain, in a way that doesn’t further aggravate it?

You’ll want to choose a low-impact form of exercise; that is, exercise that doesn’t put too much pressure or stress on your joints. Some examples of low-impact exercises include:

  • Walking
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Tai Chi
  • Pilates
  • Yoga

Once you have chosen what exercise(s) work for you, you will want to keep mindful of how your body feels. Before beginning any exercise, ask yourself questions like:

  • How much pain am I in?
  • How fatigued am I?
  • Would exercising be likely to help my pain, or worsen it?
  • How much exercise do I feel I could commit to without putting myself at risk of a flare?

Pacing becomes very important, because you don’t want to push yourself too hard and exacerbate your pain. Start off small and be realistic about what you can achieve. Slowly increase the amount and/or difficulty of the exercises at a rate that feels sustainable and safe. It can be tempting to try and “make the most” of days where your pain levels are lower, but this can create a “boom-bust” cycle – this is when you push yourself too hard and end up causing a flare. Take it easy! Remember: exercising for your long term health is marathon, not a sprint.