Can exercise be beneficial for forms of chronic pain?

Studies have shown that the prevalence of chronic pain in the UK may be as high as 43%. Conditions such as M.E. (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia or arthritis are affecting more people all the time. If you have been diagnosed with one of these conditions you may experience debilitating pain, fatigue and a range of other symptoms, which can fluctuate and vary hugely from day to day and person to person. There are over 100 kinds of arthritis (the most common being osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis), all of which can cause pain in different ways.

Post-exertional malaise is a symptom of M.E. which describes the body’s inability to recover after even minor activities. If you are an M.E. sufferer who tried to ‘push through’ the fatigue when you were first diagnosed, the experience may have left you feeling afraid to repeat trying to exercise, and whilst well-meaning advisers may have recommended to try something like Pilates, mindfulness, yoga, tai chi or qi gong, you may feel daunted by the idea of attending a class.

It’s difficult to start an exercise programme when you hurt all over. However, movement can help remove waste and damaged materials out of the tissues, which will begin to bring down inflammation. The key to using exercise to improve pain is to pick small movements that can ease the body and target tight spots that may have gone unnoticed for a long time, and will gradually help you regain confidence in your movement.

When learning to manage a chronic pain condition it seems the consensus is to only do about two-thirds of the total you think you could manage, however little that might be, so that you don’t over exert yourself. With practice, you will feel more confident with gauging what your ‘two thirds’ is, and your threshold will gradually increase so you can build up the amount you do without pushing past the limit of your current ability.

The alignment of your body has an impact on its performance, and in the same way that you would take your car to a mechanic if its wheels were out of alignment, being aware of how we move our joints will help the body to move more efficiently. Reducing friction in the joints and moving in a way that keeps your tissues fed can help to prevent the worsening of your symptoms, and movement that encourages blood flow to the parts of your body that tend to remain sedentary can help to keep your cells healthier and your energy levels higher.

For example, many people with M.E. suffer from neck stiffness, which can be associated with symptoms such as nausea, dizziness and headaches, so practising some gentle neck stretches can help to ease tension and therefore alleviate these symptoms, and learning to keep the head better aligned can help improve circulation.

MoveFree sessions are kept to a maximum of 4 so that individual attention can be given to each client and the movement can be tailored to your specific needs. When you first start, particularly with M.E. or CFS, it may be that you have to take breaks during the class and rest before you are able to continue. In this case, I recommend a meditation or breathing practice so that you continue to get the benefits of being mindful, which in itself has been proven to have anti-inflammatory effects.

Whilst I ask people to book a block of 5 sessions, it’s understandable that there may be times when you are unable to attend and that’s okay, the sessions you have paid for will run over as necessary.