Managing and Preventing Pain Through Exercise

Throughout my exercise history, I have dealt with a myriad of pain issues, most of which had to do with the fact that my spine is fused from having surgery as a teenager for scoliosis.  The pain I’ve dealt with has ranged from little annoyances to being borderline debilitating, keeping me from doing the activities I wanted to do. When I first got into strength training, my main goals were to learn how to work out properly and get really strong so that I could be pain free both in workouts and in daily life.

Years later, I was definitely much stronger and put on a lot more muscle, but I still found myself dealing with pain flare ups, I finally realized that my goal of being completely free of aches and pains may not be realistic given the fact that my bodily structure will forever be messed up. My goal of staying pain free has since evolved into learning how to best manage these chronic issues so that the good days far outweigh the bad, and the bad days aren’t nearly as bad as they used to be.

Below are some of the things that have been a tremendous help to me in learning how to manage chronic issues and keeping pain to a minimum:

  • Stay active and do what you can even during flare ups: Staying active when dealing with pain or injury will not only help keep you in shape, but will also be a tremendous help mentally. When we are dealing with an injury, it’s very easy to fall into the “I’m broken and can’t do anything” mentality. This is almost always the farthest thing from the truth. Just because we can’t do what we typically are able to do, doesn’t mean we can’t do anything at all. I used to be a runner, but the constant jarring impact of running didn’t agree with my fused spine and ended up leading to a whole host of pain issues that left me sidelined from any impact-based activity for over 3 months. What did I do? At first, I felt sorry for myself. I then decided to use this as an opportunity to learn something new. I always wanted learn how to swim properly, so I took swimming lessons during those months and spent every workout in the pool. This helped take my mind off of my injury, allowed me to focus on developing a new skill, and also kept me in shape.

  • Take time to work on muscle imbalances: Muscle imbalances are one of the biggest culprits for either causing pain or leadingto a full-fledged injury. This happens for one of two reasons: a stronger muscle is doingextra work, making up for the work a weaker muscle can’t handle, or because a weaker muscle is being called on to do more work than it’s prepared to do. If you are notsure where to start with your own imbalances, begin with a focus on strengthening the back side of the body since the front side is almost always stronger than the back side. Spending time strengthening your weaker muscles as well as incorporating single-sided work into your workouts will make sure you stay strong, balanced, and will help keep pain and injury likelihood to a minimum.

  • Reduce Stress: The body cannot differentiate between life stress and exercise stress. Unchecked daily life stress compounded with the stress of intense exercise is setting you up for pain and potential injury. If you find yourself dealing with constant aches and pains that never seem to go away, take a look at your stress levels from not just your workouts, but also your life. A stressed body is a tense body, and constant tension can lead to overuse and chronic pain issues. Take time and learn how to relax during stressful periods. Massage, gentle yoga, stretching, and other calming activities you enjoy can go a long way in alleviating chronic pain. Learning to relax the body and mind is extremely important in optimizing overall health and quality of life.

  • Develop Smart Exercise Programming: Be thoughtful about your workouts and have a plan that ensures you are you doing the following:
  1. Performing exercises in the most effective order.
  2. Working both the front and back sides of your body equally.
  3. Working on your weaker muscles to correct imbalances.
  4. Progressively challenging yourself enough to get stronger, but not going overboard.
  5. Allowing enough time between workouts to recover (making sure to incorporate stretching, foam rolling and massage).
  6. Changing your mindset and reason for exercising from simply needing to “burn calories” to one of desiring to improve performance and bettering overall health.

By incorporating these four principles into your exercise routine, you will be well on your way to improving chronic issues and greatly reducing your risk for injury. For more information, you can check out these past blog posts:

Does Exercise Order Matter?

Ways to Vary Your Exercise Routine

Why am I Not Making Progress In My Fitness Levels?

Creating a Workout Plan You Can Stick To

The information found on this blog is based on my own personal thoughts and opinions. I am not a doctor or registered dietician. Please be sure to consult your health care professional before starting or changing any fitness or nutrition program.

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