A Natural Painkiller: Movement

Sep 26, 2022

Pain is a natural part of the human experience. 

Ughhh, worst news ever, right?! 

Not necessarily. By taking a closer look at the science-based perspective on pain, you can learn to use pain as an extra form of communication between mind and body. This extra chatter can enable you to understand why pain is occurring and encourage you strategize how to increase movement in a way that can decrease the pain response.

Pain is your body’s natural alarm system. It can alert you when you're suffering from an invisible illness, like infection. You learn from your pain. When you touch a hot stove, you get burned. Bet you won’t do that again (at least not intentionally)! When you trip and fall, you get injured. Bet you will slow down to watch for trip hazards and adapt your walking stride to be a bit safer next time. Your pain teaches you how to adapt and overcome. 

Even the potential of danger can trigger your pain alarm (Peep this mind-blowing Nail In the Boot story for a perfect example). As counter-intuitive as it may sound, the reason you feel pain is to keep you safe and preserve your wellbeing. Though pain is normal, and to some extent even good, you can experience the harmful effects that pain has when it doesn’t go away over time. 

When we hurt, movement is typically the last thing on our to-do list. Our pain alarm encourages us to take a chill pill, rest, sleep and disengage in activities that could bring about more pain. It makes sense then, that chronic pain can lead to increased fatigue, inactivity, weight gain, depression, anxiety, more pain and a multitude of other health concerns. 

This vicious cycle requires an endpoint in order to restore physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Movement can serve that purpose! 

The benefits to keeping our bodies active are endless. Movement can improve the strength of your muscles, stimulate metabolism, protect and strengthen your heart and lungs and support brain functions like memory and learning. Healthy movement also promotes bone health, good posture, serves to boost our mood, improve balance and support a strong immune system. Most importantly: we now know that movement is one of the best ways to reduce persistent pain.

The key is to learn to dial in the right type of movement, as well as the right frequency, intensity and level of difficulty that works best for you. This is called activity pacing. Easing into movement, gradually, has proven to be beneficial in reducing chronic pain and getting back to participating in life’s day-to-day activities and little enjoyments. 

To help you understand how to use movement to your advantage to prevent or counterbalance your pain, here are a few quick tips!

Move at your own pace! 

If walking around the neighborhood is too painful or difficult, start with walking to the mailbox! Walk slower than you normally would. Break your walk up into two walks instead of one. Try listening to your favorite music, podcast or chat on the phone to distract your pain alarms from ringing too loudly. 

Progress slowly!

Activity pacing is just that — pacing. Try not to push yourself too quickly, respect your body’s needs and trust that you are making progress. Repeat the same walk, swim, or bike ride that you know you can do multiple times before advancing the frequency, duration or intensity. 

Listen to your body!

If you feel tight, try gentle stretching. Feeling anxious at just the thought of increasing activity? Opt for a calming breath exercise or meditation. Progress is made one step at a time. 

Learn more about what is causing your pain! 

The more you understand about your pain, the better we can reduce our pain levels. Thoughts, emotions, sleep, diet and many other factors play a role in your pain experience. Sometimes you can identify triggers that make your pain worse and other key factors that can help reduce your pain.  Consider speaking with a mental health therapist, physical therapist or your trusted medical professional about your pain. Set goals (start small!) that are important to you to keep track of your progress. 

Pain has the ability to take you away from so many life-giving activities, but it doesn’t have to. This isn’t a quick fix for chronic pain, but rather part of the solution to improving physical wellbeing. Movement is a natural pain killer when it comes to chronic pain. Be persistent in your efforts to tolerate little bits of movement, engage in life-giving activities and listen to our body as you navigate this journey. Learn more about what increases/decreases the volume on your pain alarm and give yourself grace as you find your way back to a quality of life. And remember, it is one step at a time.

Interested in getting a custom pain-elimination routine from one of our experts? Click HERE to learn more about the Wellview services available to you. We can’t wait to work with you!

– Courtney Rusomaroff, DPT

Physical Therapist, Health Advisor| Email Courtney

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