Low-impact exercises for pain

Patients struggling with chronic pain find it difficult to engage in exercises. Yet research shows that physical activities is one of the most effective treatments for many pain conditions. It is important for patients to be strategic about exercise, & invest the limited time & energy on sustainable, beneficial forms of exercises.

Walking & Nordic walking

Walking is itself a good aerobic exercise with cardiovascular benefits. It does provide a degree of stress to the joints & bones which is beneficial to some.

For those with trouble with balance, and those who seek a faster pace, it is reasonable to consider “Nordic walking,” which uses walking poles.

Yoga & pilates

The recommendation for yoga comes with it a caveat. Over the years I have seen some yoga instructors excessively focus on extreme, sustained poses that require severe twisting & bending of the body. For patients with chronic pain, this may very well be counter productive, and is a set up for new exercise-induced injuries.

There are some yoga instructors with additional training & experience, and provide “medical yoga”.

Pilates is similar to yoga, but has a stronger emphasis on strengthening the cores. It may be a better fit for many patients with chronic pain.

Qi Gong & Tai Chi

Qi Gong is a Chinese art of “moving meditation,” which is gentle on the body and a good exercise. While Qi Gong is a fundamental component of Chinese martial art, it does not involve the high-intensity impacts of hand-to-hand fighting, but instead is more focused on building an awareness of Qi, the “internal energy.”

Tai Chi is built on top of Qi Gong and can be more vigorous since it is a form of martial art.

Pool exercises

Aquatherapy in warm pool can allow for vigorous stretches and aerobic exercises while reducing weight-bearing on the spine & joints. 
The underwater equipment for full, formal aquatherapy are often available at large physical therapy facilities. For chronic pain, patients should focus on developing a self-guided exercise routine that can be followed at pools closer to home.

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Dr. Ming Kao View All →

Pain physician & PhD computational biologist @StanfordPain • Advanced pain interventions with CIPS & FIPP • Opinions mine & not medical advice

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