Being active is usually one of the most important ways to reduce pain. But a fear that movement will lead to pain or further damage often stops us. The trick is to increase in a way that minimises any worry and helps the brain to realise that movement is safe.
First, Don’t Worry.
Everyone has their own starting point to move/weight-bear/exercise more. It doesn’t matter where the start point is, be it getting out of your chair, stretching at your desk, returning to the rehab room, BUT starting is important.
Second, Talk with a Trusted Medic/Physio, etc.
Check that they have no concerns about you increasing your activity. For example, a new injury might benefit from a couple of days rest to allow early healing. Also ask them what you should be able to do now and over time.
Then, Increase What You Do a Little at a Time.
This means to:
- Move at a level that causes discomfort, but does not cause you to flare up either during or after the activity. Moving at a ‘discomfort level’ is normal for anyone improving their body’s capability: It will also keep you safe. What you can do now will become more comfortable over time, then you can slowly increase a bit more.
- Build in rest and recovery, both in-between movement repetitions and in-between bouts of movement. E.g., if your physio has told you to do 3 stretches twice a day, have a short rest in-between each of the 3 stretches, and do one lot of 3 stretches in the morning, another later in the day. When thinking about having appropriate rest and recovery, also consider what other life activities you’re doing – don’t over do it across the day.
- Ensure you move smoothly, without fast, jerky movements, and do not add more weight/force than you can manage ‘within discomfort’ (i.e., not pain). E.g., if stretching, just stretch enough to feel a gentle stretch to the muscles.
- Do what you can to be relaxed before and during movement. Tension or fear of movement will work against what you’re trying to achieve, and may increase the pain. Maybe complete your movement at a relaxed time of day, listening to relaxing music, etc.
- Keep a daily record of what you do and when you do it. This will help you see progress that you might otherwise miss: Progress that might be crucial for keeping you going! Consider what’s best for you to record – there’s no rules here. Maybe just one small move is a triumph and worthy of note, or the amount of effort that you’ve put into it, or how much longer, further, easier, you can move.
- Note any barriers that you’ve overcome within your record, e.g., being active when you didn’t feel like it or despite others being nearby. Again, this is helpful to look back on as it reinforces that you can overcome barriers and move forward.
- Be patient: Be the tortoise not the hare – particularly if you feel that you’re making good progress or are desperate to improve. Doing too much one day will reduce your progress the next or even risk a ‘flare-up’. ‘Boom and bust’ does not solve pain.
- Keep at it. The rewards will come, however small and/or far away they might sometimes feel.
N.B. If you do flare-up, stay calm. Don’t worry. Let it settle. Learn. And again, start doing what you feel you can ‘within discomfort’.
- Motion is Lotion
- The tortoise wins the race: Don’t ‘boom and bust’.
We hope this article has been of interest and helpful.