When it comes to managing chronic pain, regular gentle exercise is something that should be incorporated into any treatment plan.  Physical inactivity due to illness or injury can contribute to a host of additional health issues including depression, weight gain and digestive problems but movement and exercise can play a very powerful role in facilitating positive mental, emotional and physical health responses. Here, we talk about some of the best ways to manage this.

It helps to remember that the human body was made to move and whenever we stop moving for any length of time, it can play havoc on many of the body’s basic functions such as circulation, sleep, metabolism, digestion, elimination and of course, joint mobility.


Many folks with a chronic pain condition will find it really difficult to get started with exercise – for a range of reasons – so for Allied Health practitioners, it’s important to explore some of the issues surrounding this.
Some patients may feel a sense of over-protectiveness and be concerned about the potential of exacerbating their condition, while others might be so badly seized-up from long-term inactivity that their bodies just seem incapable of much movement. It’s also worth considering the issue of ensuring safety for those exercising whilst on heavy medication (forget the treadmill!).

For anyone who was a regular exerciser prior to their illness/injury, it can often be really challenging to find the motivation to get back into it. Exercising again with new physical limitations can be confronting too, but the myriad benefits of movement – of any type – far outweigh the option of remaining sedentary.

It’s important to remember that exercise during rehab treatment does not need to be strenuous to count as beneficial. Any type of movement that engages the body is an opportunity to build strength, confidence and stamina.
The endorphins produced via physical exercise can help to relieve pain and elevate the mood too, and exercise is often an excellent distraction from pain.
Easily accessible options might include:

  • Gardening
  • Housework
  • Swimming or hydrotherapy
  • Taking the dog for a walk or
  • Getting off the tram a few stops earlier and walking an extra block or two.

And if the activity is one that gets the patient out of the house and interacting with their community again, even better!

Some of the key points for successfully reengaging your patients with physical exercise:

  • Ensure that you both identify and remain clear about their limitations
  • Recognise and avoid anything risky which might exacerbate the pain condition and have strategies for how to cope if the condition does flare up
  • There’s no one-size-fits-all so stay flexible in your approach. Different types of exercise will suit different people and their specific needs (at different stages)
  • Set goals, pace the exercise and be realistic. Your patient isn’t training for the next Melbourne Marathon they are simply looking to safely, gradually re-introduce movement into their daily life to build strength and confidence and (ideally) also reduce their experience of chronic pain.

What are the biggest issues that you face when working with getting your chronic pain patients mobile again? Talk to us! We’d love to know what you think. 

Steve McCrea.


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