When you’re experiencing chronic pain, staying active is often the last thing you feel like doing. You might find exercise painful, or you might worry that you’ll make your pain worse. And of course, chronic pain can really drain your energy. Why, then, are we encouraged to keep moving when we want to do the opposite?
Why is it so important to keep moving?
The NHS explains that lack of movement is a vicious cycle: when you feel pain, you move less, but when you move less, you get painful joints and muscles. Lack of activity can lead to weight gain, which puts even more strain on the body, and makes it even harder to get active. And so the downward spiral continues…
The good news? You can escape this by staying active, even when you don’t really want to.
Why does stretching help?
Stretching is a gentle and effective exercise with lots of benefits for chronic pain sufferers. When you stretch the soft tissues around the joints, you increase their flexibility and range of motion. That can help to make exercise and everyday movement less painful, and it also makes you less likely to injure yourself.
Here’s the really great thing about stretching: it can reverse that downward spiral and put you on an upward spiral to better health!
With your joints moving more freely, you can feel more confident about exercising. This builds muscle, which supports the joints and reduces the strain on your body. It also tones down your body’s pain signals and triggers the release of endorphins, or “feel-good” chemicals. The more active you become, the better your body and mind feel, and the more you want to exercise.
It’s hard to imagine feeling that way about exercise when your body is aching all over. Trust us, we know the feeling! But that’s why stretching is so perfect. It’s a gentle, zero-impact activity that you can do even on your worst days. Even if it doesn’t inspire you to run a 5k, you’re still supporting your joints and giving your body some much-needed TLC.
Start with small stretches and build up slowly.
Push the stretch until you feel a mild pull, but never to the point of pain.
Don’t hold your breath! Take a nice controlled breath, and then exhale as you lean into the stretch.
Aim to find stretches you can do on both good and bad days.
Make stretching a habit. If you do your stretching routine at the same time on the same days, you’re more likely to stick with it.
There are plenty of guides and videos for stretching online. You can find some NHS-developed video tutorials on stretching here, or you can look for stretches that target specific areas like the wrists, hands and fingers or the back. If you want to take your stretching up a level, look for exercises that incorporate stretching, such as yoga, Pilates and tai chi. Good luck and good health!
P.S. While exercise is important for your health, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor before you start a new routine to make sure it’s safe for your specific condition.