Chronic Pain and Fitness

So I’m not even gonna lie. Except for random attempts at yoga these past 18 months, exercise and I have been awkward strangers. Aside from my last job where I was engaged with 1st and 2nd graders and needed to be active my life has been void of exercise. I make an effort to stretch upon waking, mostly because sleep has left me so stiff, but I have no formal exercise routine and I am painfully aware that I should. Still, the nature of this illness makes it so very difficult to be active, even in someone like me who used to be a yoga instructor and knows the benefits that regular exercise can have for ailments such as this. So much of our life is prioritizing what we need to do and what we can do and sometimes, exercise falls into this “stand-by” pile that we hope we can get to. Today I am taking a stand. I am going to try to formulate an exercise plan that includes yoga because I am familiar with it and a few other exercises that I will talk about.

So a typical day for me starts between 6:30am and 7am. I roll out of bed and spend 5-10 minutes trying to stretch and wake up my body that feels stiff and achy. Even my new, very comfortable bed, does little to change the fact that most days I do not sleep well. Because it’s not the bed, it’s me. After stretching I hobble to the family room and switch on the Television to watch the news. It’s really the only time I watch actual news. Let’s face it, the news really isn’t pleasant and aside for some feel good stories its death and destruction and sadness. Now, depending on how my tummy is feeling and the IBS-d I struggle with, I decide whether or not it will be a coffee or tea morning. And again, my IBS dictates whether or not it will be a breakfast day, or nibble on crackers day. Then I hobble to my recliner where I have one of those back pillows some use when they watch T.V. in bed and, (I kid you not) two regular bed pillows that I sit on. I have discovered that fibromyalgia makes me much akin to the Princess and the Pea and I have tons of pillows everywhere in an attempt (sometimes futile), to get comfortable. This is a typical day, when I can work on my blog, work on ideas for future discussions and keep up with the chronic pain community on both Twitter and Face Book. In addition to that, I am continually looking for freelance writing work to supplement our income as my husband is the one working at the moment. The most exercise I really get is letting my dogs outside and playing with them, which I try to do because I adore my pups and they really help to keep me sane.

The days I deem “good” or “better than average” I end up trying to do everything I don’t do on the other days. My kids help me run errands because I cannot drive. I have an unexplained seizure disorder among all the other ailments I have. I am definitely over-zealous on the days I feel “good” and more often than not, I pay for my drive. I am aware that I have to stop and try to balance things better. It used to be that my over-zealous nature left me hurting a bit more than usual, but now…I am really left crippled for a few days just unable to do much more than take of my basic needs. It really has taken my family to make me aware that my obsessive nature is taking its toll on my body and all because I just had to clean the bathroom. It’s hard for me as an independent woman to put that into perspective. A once mundane chore, now something I either must delegate to a teenager to do or simply let it go until I can manage it on my own or my husband can do it. I used to have this mantra when the children were smaller. I had two in diapers at one point and thought I was going to lose my mind. The mantra I chose and clung to was “to pick my battles wisely.” It’s funny how that mantra has become, once more, such an important part of my life.

I am learning to accept my limitations. It is an ongoing thing and some days are easier to surrender than others. I know the benefits of exercise and I want to fight to help myself where I can, even if I can only do 15 minutes per day. This has become less about wanting a slimmer waist line or looking hot in bikini and more about giving me more “better” days. Because I am comfortable with yoga and know a lot of about yoga because of my history with it and being an instructor, I am going to share with that with you first. It is a starting point for some and I hope I can help motivate you too because I know how hard it is.


-Helps with keeping limber, keeping balance and helps with chronic fatigue.-
We know that chronic pain triggers changes in the brain which are linked to anxiety, depression and even cognitive function. But by practicing yoga regularly, you may help yourself ease these symptoms naturally. This form of mind-body exercise in combination with physical postures and relaxation and doing breathing techniques has been used for centuries to naturally heal the body. What I like so much about yoga is that you can do it at any age, you can have any body size and you can be any ability level. You are able to modify every pose to accommodate your discomfort and still make it challenging and engaging. However, please seek out the assistance of a certified instructor to ensure that you are doing things correctly and modifying the way you should, if needed. Here are a few poses to get you started:

Downward Facing Dog or Adho Muhka Svanasana

This will stretch your back and you can also do it against a wall to help reduce too much pressure on the back. The first image is the pose most modified for comfort, the second less so and the third, is the normal downward facing dog.

Triangle Pose or Trikonasana

This helps to stretch legs and also pain relief in torso and improves respiration. Because it improves flexibility of the lumbar and thoracic spine, it can help relieve a back ache. This is also beneficial for shoulders, knees, ankles and ligaments in arms and legs.The first image shows the most modified version of this pose.

Cobbler’s Pose

Great for opening hips and strengthening knees and groin. Use blocks or bolster’s as necessary as this can be a challenging pose at first.The first image is one with modifications to make it less stressful for hips and knees. The second illustrates the traditional form.

Child’s Pose

This is a favorite of mine, and I do it all the time. This pose allows you to focus on breath and if you want a small bit of a stretch. You can round your back with arms stretched behind you or reach forward with arms and sink into the pose deeply.The first image is modified Child’s Pose using a body pillow. This is how I do it.

* Always practice gently and with mindfulness of your body and what you can safely and comfortably do.

Tai Chi

Like yoga, Tai Chi is an exercise those who struggle with chronic pain can participate in. Tai Chi is a no-impact type of exercise as it contains no jumps, no running and no aerobics. Rather than these sharp and bone jarring movements you are moving your body fluidly through a sequence of deliberate movements.
In traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Chi means life energy. TCM teaches that Chi moves through your body to keep you healthy and vibrant. When you experience disease, what you are actually experiencing is a disruption in the flow of Chi. those that practice TCM believe that restoring the proper flow of Chi will bring about good health.

Those with Fibromyalgia or chronic pain who can tolerate exercise, even modified exercise could benefit from both Tai Chi and its promotion of flexibility and strength. Please remember that even a gentle exercise you must start slowly and lengthen your work our gradually. I’ve spoken to a local instructor who said everyone can do it at their own speed because there is no “right way.” My father, who just turned 80 years young in July, has practiced Tai Chi.

Water Therapy

It makes sense water therapy would be beneficial for people with chronic pain. The buoyancy of helping us to exercise with less pain and less stress to the joints. However, if you cannot get to the pool you may want to try this from the comfort of your home, in the shower. Yes, you heard me right. The shower. Though you will not get the same experience and full range of exercises as you would in a pool, it may help you start your day or head to sleep with less pain. Here are a few you can try out:

Wide Squat

For tight hips and aching lower back. Stand with feet wider than hips width apart. Bend your knees and squat down trying to bring your feet so they’re parallel. Rest your hands on the floor in front of you and relax your head. Hold for 30 seconds as the hot water drenches you.

Clasp-Neck Stretch

Stand with your feet hips width distance apart. Interlace your fingers and place your palms on the back of your head. Gently press downward, tucking your chin into your chest, breathing here for 30 seconds or longer. The hot water pouring on your neck will further help to relieve soreness. A lot of is with fibromyalgia experience a lot of pain around the neck. Mine, when it flares is at the base of my neck and shoulders and the base of my skull. This is gentle enough where I do not feel like I have bruises after, the way I sometimes do after trying to give myself a massage.

Shoulder Opener

Give this one a try, one shoulder at a time. Remember to be gentle. Place your right palm on the wall behind you, with your fingertips pointing to the right, palm spread wide. Walk your feet toward the left as far as you can while keeping your hand pressed firmly. You can place your left hand on your hip or across your belly, whichever way feels most comfortable. Gaze softly to the right, holding here for 30 seconds. Then slowly walk back to the right and repeat this stretch on the left side.

Remember to be kind to yourselves when trying to exercise. Remember that there should be absolutely no competition and that your goal is lessening pain and stretching muscles. Please start out slowly, be mindful of what you are capable of doing and as always seek out medical advise before starting any programs. The next post will cover Energy Supplemental Nutrition and then to close out this section we will cover Body Work [massage, acupuncture and reflexology.] Thank you for taking the time to read these and please leave any comments you might have!

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