Strategies and Solutions for Pain during Exercise


Dealing with chronic pain can be challenging if you are trying to exercise and at the same time manage your level of body fat. Below are some prevention strategies that have helped me remain active - even during the most painful periods!

Exercising with pain

There is a real balancing act required when it comes to exercising with chronic pain. You may need to exercise to lose weight, but overweight people can find exercise uncomfortable. Physical activity can help to loosen and strengthen the muscles around sore joints, yet movement may trigger pain.

However, bed rest and inactivity may make things worse. The key is to participate in controlled, gradual and progressive exercise that is manageable and adaptable to your individual needs and abilities. It is also important to combine your activity with a suitable amount of rest and recovery.

Latest research on exercise and pain

It may seem counter intuitive to exercise when suffering pain, but there is research to show that the right type of exercises can act as a pain reliever.

A recent study found that patients with osteoarthritis of the knee or hip who stuck with a recommended program of physical therapy exercises experienced more improvements in pain and physical function. The researchers stressed that long-term adherence to a recommended exercise program was important in determining its effectiveness.

The types of individually tailored exercises that were recommended in this study included strengthening exercises, walking and cycling.

Tips on how to exercise with pain

Following are some general recommendations on how to minimise and prevent pain during exercise.

  • Seek professional guidance - Before starting a new exercise program, talk to your doctor or physiotherapist about how exercise can fit into your overall treatment plan. They can take into account the specific type and extent of pain you suffer from in addition to any postural concerns, and determine what activities would suit you best.

  • Get warm – A good warm up is vital before you exercise to best prepare the body for activity. This allows you to ease into an exercise session at a low level of intensity and judge the extent of pain you will experience. Spend at least 5 – 10 minutes walking or cycling, or performing your chosen activity at a lower intensity. Don’t forget to cool down after your work out as well.

  • Get lighter – A leaner body that weighs less will reduce the stress on your joints, and may make exercise more comfortable. Work especially hard on the dietary aspects of weight control to help you achieve weight loss.

  • Get supple – Gentle stretching exercises performed regularly (at least three times a week) will help keep your muscles and ligaments more flexible, and may help you to move more freely.

  • Get stronger – Having strong thigh, hamstring and gluteal muscles in your legs will help you to carry your weight more efficiently. Stronger muscles also help to maintain stronger, stable joints which can potentially reduce pain during movement.

  • Know when to stop - If you have pain that is uncomfortable, it’s important not to work through it. Stop exercising immediately if you experience severe pain. Over time, you will get to know what activities are best, how long any pain last for during and after exercise, and at what level you can exercise at without pain.

  • Cushioned comfort – Invest in good quality shoes designed to provide adequate cushioning. This should ease the stress on your ankles, knees and hips, and may potentially reduce pain during weight bearing exercise. Be aware too that shoes can lose their cushioning over time.

  • Choose the right activity – Look to participate in low on no-impact activities, especially if you are starting a new exercise program, or recovering from an injury. Some examples include walking, yoga, Tai Chi, cycling and exercise classes performed in a hydrotherapy pool.

  • What to avoid – Avoid high impact exercises involving running and jumping that could jar your body. It may also be wise to avoid one-sided activities like golf, tennis or squash until your fitness and strength develops.

  • Perfect your posture – Muscular and spinal imbalances can cause tightness, instability and poor joint control , resulting in general stiffness during movement. On the other hand, good posture decreases strain in muscles and energy expenditure, improves joint function and allows for pain-free movement.