Health

Exercise Away the Pain

March 5, 2014

iStock_000016164687SmallMy good friend Asher was flat on his back for months. Doctors and other medical professionals tried to help but were unsuccessful. Asher came to me and within a week, after doing back specific exercise and stretches, he was functional and had cut his pain by about 85%. Tova came to us for weight loss and was having problems with her daily walks because of knee pain. She thought she should rest it but we kept up the walking and started incorporating a stretching program too. Today she is pain free (and thinner!).

Aches and pains are a part of life and the older we get, the more often they occur and the more pronounced they can be. Their causes can be anything from an overused injury to osteoarthritis in any joint. Lower back pain is so common that at least 80% of Americans will experience one acute attack of it in their lifetime. As common as these aches and pains are, the wrong reaction to them is just as common.

Complete cessation of movement and activity is usually not the answer for healing faster. Actually, it is the exact opposite that we should be doing. Surprisingly, exercise can be the best pain reliever around! Bed rest might be tempting, but it can make the problem worse. Doctors used to prescribe bed rest for back pain and other chronic pain conditions, but studies have found that people who exercise and stay flexible manage their pain much better than those who don’t.

Most of the aches and pains we experience are caused by old injuries, posture problems, osteoarthritis, aging, general inactivity, and repetitive motions in our workplace or while playing sports. According to the Harvard School for Public Medicine, ignoring the pain won’t make it go away, nor will avoiding all motions that spark discomfort. In fact, limiting movement can weaken muscles, compound joint trouble and affect your posture, setting off a cascade of further problems. While pain relievers and cold or hot packs alleviate the discomfort, fixes like these are merely temporary.

By contrast, the right set of exercises can be a long-lasting way to tame ankle, knee, hip, or shoulder pain. Practiced regularly, joint pain relief workouts might let you postpone — or even avoid — surgery on a problem joint that has been worsening for years by strengthening key supportive muscles and restoring flexibility. Over time, you may find the limitations you’ve learned to work around ease. Tasks and opportunities that might have seemed impossible can come back into reach.

Using exercise to help alleviate pain is one of the cases where it is advised to see a personal trainer who has expertise in this area or an exercise-knowledgeable physical therapist. Trying to do this on your own might bring the opposite effect. Start by having a postural assessment so the possible cause of your pain can be spotted and then dealt with. I have found that very often minor corrections in exercise or walking form, or obtaining a good, functional orthotic to correct your biomechanics will more often than not help to relieve knee, hip, ankle and lower back pain. Many times, it is only a centimeter or two in your feet that is off and causing of pain. Wearing shoes that are good quality and fit properly is essential.

Aside from staying active and walking, the exercise that might be the most helpful for joint and muscle pains is stretching. This aspect of exercise is too often overlooked but is so important as it both prevents pain and helps relieve it. The way to increase flexibility and ROM (range of motion) is to do extensive stretching exercises. Here are some of the benefits of flexibility training:

* Increased physical efficiency and performance
* Decreased risk of injury
* Increased blood supply and nutrients to joint structures
* Increased neuromuscular coordination
* Improved muscular balance and posture
* Decreased risk of lower back pain
* Reduction of overall stress

It is important that when you stretch you use static stretching techniques, that is, hold your stretches for a minimum of 15 seconds each, but preferably for 30 seconds. This produces a gradual and controlled elongation of your muscles and connective tissue through a full range of motion. The longer you hold a stretch, the more you can ease into the stretch. Remember that stretching should never be painful. As long as you feel an easy stretch, you are accomplishing what you need to. Don’t bounce through a stretch. That is called ballistic stretching and is only for sport specific training. It may lead to injury.

Stretching makes both the muscles and connective tissue elongated and more elastic. It is best to stretch muscles that are warmed up since stretching cold muscles is not as productive and can lead to over-stretching injuries. Therefore, it is advisable to do some mild calisthenics or moderate aerobic exercise for a few minutes before stretching. While stretching, you will probably notice that one side of your body will be more flexible than the other on any given day. This is normal.

Aside from stretching, good old walking can be great. If you have a particular issue with walking that causes more discomfort or pain, go swimming. Swimming and walking in the water are both valuable for pain relief. In the water, you don’t have the impact on your joints that you do from regular walking. High impact exercise should be avoided.

There are times where certain types of injuries do require a period of rest, but laying around in bed day after day usually causes more problems than it helps. Listen to your body when exercising so you don’t overdo it either. We need to move and be active for our overall health and to help our pain heal. Some aches here and there may be inevitable but many, if not most of the daily pains we experience can be reduced or eliminated with the right kind of movement and exercise. Taking the necessary steps to keep yourself pain-free can “add hours to their days, days to their years, and years to their lives.”

Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a CERTIFIED WELLNESS COACH with over 18 years of professional experience. He is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss and stress reduction center Lose It! and is available for private consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at alan@loseit.co.il Check out the Lose It! web site – www.loseit.co.il US Line: 516-568-5027