When to Push Through the Pain

Krista Howell
By Krista Howell September 15, 2014 22:04

Krista Howell Two phrases come to mind when I think about pain. First, “Grin and bear it.” Then of course, that notorious coaches’ mantra, “No pain, no gain.”

Words of wisdom? Perhaps not. Although the body can gain strength and endurance by persevering through the pain of exhaustion, exercising through chronic muscle or joint pain is not a good idea.

Pain is inflammation in the body that tells the brain something is wrong. Typically chronic pain is a form of arthritis, tendonitis or bursitis. Arthritis is the nation’s leading cause of disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So how do you know when to continue exercising or when to quit?

If arthritis is the source of your pain and you are beginning to exercise, you should probably carry on. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis. Most are osteoarthritis (caused by old injuries and by the wear and tear of age) or rheumatoid arthritis (inflammation which can lead to joint deformities). Exercise is an excellent way to reduce arthritic pain, which is more common as we age.

It may be a little difficult to get going at first, but symptoms usually decrease after a few minutes of light cardio activity or stretching. And long-term benefits can be remarkable.

My office is next to an elevator and a set of stairs. I watch and wonder why some patients with very limited mobility take the stairs while other seemingly healthy patients choose the elevator. So one day I asked an elderly lady with a walker why she was climbing.

“I need to always know I can use stairs,” she said. “If I quit, I will lose my confidence.”

I have had many patients who started to exercise while using a walker and who, after months of perseverance, built up the strength and stamina to walk on their own.

Despite its many benefits, exercise does not relieve all forms of pain. Some conditions cause chronic pain that is often aggravated by exercise. These include peripheral artery disease, which causes circulatory problems due to narrowed arteries in the lower body; neuropathy, a disease associated with diabetes that results in nerve damage, causing weakness in hands and feet; and plantar fasciitis, in which connective tissue in the bottom of the foot becomes inflamed and heals only with rest.

Seek professional help when pain reduces the quality of your life, or pain is consistent and not relieved by mild stretching or by moderate aerobic activity.

Simply ignoring the pain or trying to soldier through it can often worsen a condition. When we compensate for pain with a slight limp, for example, we can create an imbalance in our posture that will lead to other orthopedic problems. Here are my top tips:

Listen to your body If your knee hurts while walking, switch to a non-weight-bearing exercise such as stationary biking or swimming for a few weeks. Only then resume walking.

Slow down For endorphin-addicted athletes, taking a couple days off from exercise can be difficult. But overtraining is the leading cause of exercise-based injuries, and breaks are necessary to allow the body to recover.

Cross-train Mix up your exercises to reduce injuries from repetitions. If you walk most days, try a yoga class, stationary bike ride or strength-building exercises for variety.

Increase flexibility Stretch more!

Krista Howell of Sonora works with cardiac patients and teaches senior fitness.

Copyright © 2014 Friends and Neighbors Magazine
Krista Howell
By Krista Howell September 15, 2014 22:04
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