You may recognize this question from FPC’s last blog “When to Stop Exercising” as one of the assessments. If you do have pain, you should continue exercise. I wanted to expand on this topic and give some details on how exercise can help with pain management. Get ready for your Physiology lesson!
Pain is a very broad term. We can experience pain from injury or wound, illness or disease, aging, or even emotionally from stress or tragedy, manifesting in our muscles and joints or even places we struggle to identify.
Our immediate instinct when we incur injury is to rest. This is initially important while the body orchestrates a team of defenses to recover. We want to save energy for this process while eliminating risk of making matters worse for ourselves. However, this rest phase needn’t be too long before we begin rebuilding what we’ve lost. Inflammation occurs at onset of injury, which is basically a local collection of mending materials the body organizes to heal from the inside, without us even being aware of it! Fascinating. All this extra “stuff” crammed in one place brings pain. As our bodies constantly send in more troops, we want to aid in flushing out the waste materials (dead cells, scraps, and workers that have completed their tasks). All of this travels in a fluid medium, which we can facilitate the outward flow of through our lymphatic and circulatory systems. What’s the best way to get fluids moving more readily through your body (say blood flow for instance)? Exercise!
So, inflammation is important to us, as nasty as it may seem, we just don’t want it hanging around too long. When inflammation camps out in one place, say in the case of disease like arthritis, it begins to inhibit normal muscle function. Inflammation wants the damaged materials to take it easy, and won’t allow involved or surrounding muscles to do their normal job. If this goes on for too long, that muscle atrophies, and forgets how to do its usual task. Other, surrounding muscles may step in to compensate for the acquired weakness, causing an imbalance in strength, and the discrepancy just grows over time. Simultaneously, the constantly called upon, stronger muscle can become overworked, leading to chronic strain, tightness, or tendonitis. Oh no, more pain! How could we balance out this muscle effect? Exercise.
Aging may be the most innocent way we develop pain. It seems unfair! Where does that achy knee come from? Over time, we accrue a unique collection of ailments from all the living we’ve done. It’s a snapshot of who we’ve been. Have no regrets, because this can be managed. I often hear the phrase from my seniors, “Oh, I used to do this exercise all the time!” I come to find it’s been a good 20 years since they’ve actually done the exercise. Not only must we consistently practice an exercise to do it well, but what’s the difference between doing a push-up then and now? 20 years of aging. The best way to fight this is not to do what you’ve always done, but to go beyond that with exercise perfectly tailored to your body’s needs at this new stage.
Emotional pain or stress has a way of transferring its impact to our physical bodies. Perhaps a lack of sleep has accompanied our troubles. We may feel fatigue, lethargy, headaches, muscle aches, back problems, etc. Newton’s First Law states that an object at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. If we shake things up and ARE that force, adding exercise in when it might feel a little more difficult to do so, we just might spark ourselves into constant motion, as opposed to feeling constantly stagnant. This turns into a compounding “feel good” effect. Not only do we tend to simply feel better about ourselves when we make good choices and accomplish productive tasks, but literally, our bodies release dopamine during difficult physical activity. Dopamine is a chemical that, when flowing readily, makes us happier. An elevated mood depends so much on the chemicals within us, and it’s based as much on eliminating bad chemicals as releasing good ones. If we put our bodies through a rigorous workout, we may tire enough to improve the quality of our sleep. (Resting all day makes sleeping at night less necessary). A good night’s sleep will control levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in our bodies, again, improving our mental state. Of course, who doesn’t love the changes in appearance that happen with regular physical activity?
The human body is our own incredible tool we use to navigate through life. Taking care of it with exercise keeps it in top form, where the chances of pain are at their lowest. Living a pain- free life means doing more with every day. In order to begin this process with care, safety, and attention to your own personal requirements, contact an exercise professional!