Moving your body and exercising can be scary when you are suffering from chronic pain. You may worry if you do “too much” or “move the wrong way” that you’ll flare-up your symptoms. While it’s totally understandable that you may have these fears, avoiding movement is not ideal for the human body. Avoiding movement in certain directions for a prolonged period can lead to muscle weakness, muscle tightness, and restricted mobility of your joints.
This isn’t to say that you should just throw yourself into exercising without regard for the pain you’re experiencing; it’s just to encourage you to think about starting to introduce more movement back into your life. I want you to start to look at movement as your friend not your enemy!
In today’s post, I’m going to give you 5 suggestions to help decrease fear of moving/exercising with chronic pain so that you can feel like you have more freedom with your movement.
5 Ways To Decrease Fear of Movement When You Have Chronic Pain
1. Start to think about mind versus body limitations
Our mind and body are inherently connected which is why when you are working on healing from chronic pain, it’s important to work on both.
When you become fearful of movement due to being in pain for such a long time, the mind can start to limit you even more than your body is actually limiting you.
Let me give you an example so this makes sense. Say every time you’ve bent your knee for the past 3 months you’ve felt pain so you avoid moving your knee in this direction. Now, if you even attempt to start to bend your knee, you experience pain. While there could still be a physical limitation, another strong possibility is that your brain remembers, “this motion hurts me,” and it sends the pain signal regardless of if there’s a physical issue or not. Some people may even experience increased pain just by thinking about bending their knee which would indicate that this is a mind limitation not a body limitation and that it should be safe to start moving in this direction.
This example is to help illustrate a mind versus body limitation. While it may not be as easy as it is in this example to determine the difference, start to question this with movements that you feel limited in.
Now I’m not saying this is true in every situation but as a general rule of thumb, if you have increased pain with a movement but the pain goes back to your baseline after the movement is complete, it’s generally ok to gently start working into that movement. If you have increased pain after completing a movement, then you may need to either stop or modify the movement.
Determining mind versus physical limitations can be challenging with chronic pain but as you start to improve your body awareness, it will become easier to determine.
Even just starting to challenge yourself with this idea is a great start in decreasing fear of movement.
2. Start with gentle movements
When getting back into an exercise program with chronic pain, start by introducing gentle movements. Use light weights or body weight and start with a small range of motion. This is a great way to allow your body to get used to moving in different directions. Remember, avoiding movement is not ideal for the human body so we need to find a way that you can move without flaring up pain. When doing this remember suggestion #1 and try to think about what is a mind versus body limitation.
You’ll want to progress your exercises as you go but do this slowly! Gradually increase the weight you use, gradually move further into your range of motion, and gradually increase the time you’re exercising or amount of days you exercise. You can still make progress even when taking things slow.
Certain forms of yoga can be a great way to reintroduce movement to the body. Restorative yoga can be really great for this as it is more passive and tends to be more gentle on the body. Vinyasa yoga can also be beneficial but I suggest working with someone who understands what you’re going through who can take you through a more gentle flow and make the flow specific to you.
I have a free guide that provides 4 different yoga poses that are great for introducing gentle movement into the body with chronic pain. CLICK HERE FOR ACCESS TO THE GUIDE.
3. Connect movement with your breath
If you find that your mind is limiting you when trying to exercise, connecting your breath with your movement is a great way to reduce the influence that the mind will have while you exercise. In general, when doing an exercise, you want to exhale on the “more difficult” part and inhale on the “easier” part. For example, if you’re doing a shoulder press, you would want to exhale as you push the weight up toward the ceiling and inhale as you lower them back into position. You NEVER want to hold your breath while exercising.
Focusing on your breathing is a key principle in vinyasa yoga. Consciously using your breath while you move helps to eliminate any distractions from the mind and helps you stay in the present moment. In regards to pain, keeping your awareness on your breath can help you focus on the task you are currently doing and decrease any worries or preconceived notions related to pain.
4. Start moving areas of the body that are "less scary" to you.
What I mean by this is to start with exercises that focus on a body part that isn’t a key point of pain for you.
For example, if one of the main places you experience pain is your lower back, start by doing exercises for your legs first before moving onto the muscles directly surrounding the lower back. While it is ideal for you to be able to move through your lower back at some point, this can be a great way to start.
This will start to teach your brain that it’s safe to move and eventually you can work on areas that may be more prone to pain.
5. Show yourself (including your body) love and kindness.
As humans, we tend to be prone to comparing ourselves to others or to another version of ourselves. If you find yourself thinking about what you used to do and you use it as a goal for yourself in a positive way, great. If you find that these thoughts only bring up negative emotions and are not providing you with motivation, then maybe it’s time to try to start to let them go.
Show love for where you’re at today. This will only help you to get to where you want to be as it helps keep you in a positive mindset. As humans, we are constantly changing and that’s ok. The beautiful thing is that we also have the ability to make improvements when we put the work in.
I hope that you found these suggestions to be helpful and that you are able to start to add more movement back into your life. I have a gentle yoga flow for chronic pain on my youtube channel which I’ll link below for you if you would like to try.
Love and light,
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