The Progressive Approach To Exercising With Chronic Pain

Written by: Dean Liuzzi
Published: September 27, 2023

Many of those who have a chronic pain condition are reluctant, unsure of, and sometimes fearful of exercise due to the uncertain nature of how their body will respond and the amount of pain they may be in afterward. This believe it or not is a normal reaction due to the body being hypersensitive to new stimulus or increased stimulus. Like approaching returning to work after a long time away or returning to completing everyday tasks at home the approach to exercise is almost identical.

A progressive/graded return to or increase activities is a strategy often used to gradually increase the amount/time/volume of the task but make sure you tick the boxes before progressing to the next increase in level. This same approach applies to exercise as well. As often tends to happen to the body everytime we complete a different or new task our body tends to respond with pain or soreness correct? But after we do this task or activity 2,3,4,5+ times it becomes easier and less painful right? This is how our body learns to adapt to the stimulus and begin to tolerate it. As we often discuss with anyone with chronic pain conditions, the tricky part is working out where to start and the right amount of exercise that you will be able to tolerate, and within 24/48hrs your pain level is back to your baseline normal level. This isn’t an exact science as everyone is different with what they can tolerate and manage.

However, the aim of exercise isn’t to reduce your pain level to 0, as sometimes this simply isn’t possible due to other factors such as stress, mental health, home/work environment, or tasks that may contribute to pain. But rather increase your energy, stamina, and tolerance be able to do more activities before your pain reaches a tipping point more sooner. This is why through exercise overtime by making small progressions and making sure the body is tolerating this fine before making it more challenging will be beneficial for long term management of chronic pain. Like anything pain related, it is complex and sometimes all consuming but sometimes small improvements are still improvements.