Exercises for reducing chronic pain

Everyone feels pain from time to time. When you cut your finger or pull a muscle, pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Once the injury heals, you stop hurting.

Chronic pain is different. Your body keeps hurting weeks, months, or even years after the injury. Doctors often define chronic pain as any pain that lasts for 3 to 6 months or more.

Chronic pain can have real effects on your day-to-day life and your mental health. But you and your doctor can work together to treat it.

According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, exercise is a common treatment for chronic pain. Depending on your current state of health, it may help decrease inflammation, increase mobility, and decrease overall pain levels, no additional medication required.

Try a combination of the cardio, relaxation, stretching, and strength exercises below and you may feel some of your pain ease away over time.

Cardio exercises
Cardiovascular exercise has several physical and mental benefits and can be particularly helpful for people with chronic pain. Cardio can be done any time of day and often requires little or no equipment. Try these two exercises.

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Walking 30 minutes 3 to 5 times per week can help increase strength, endurance, and heart health. If walking is challenging for you, start slow and work your way up to longer walks as you get stronger. If you use a walker or a cane, make sure to take it with you.

Deep breathing and visualization

Lie on your back or another comfortable position on the bed or floor.

Place your hands on your belly and relax your shoulders and feet.

Close your eyes and take a deep breath in through your nose. Exhale through your mouth, being sure to release all of the air.

Continue breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, feeling your belly rise under your fingertips with each breath.

Continue this pattern and visualize pain leaving your body with every breath.

Repeat every evening before bed or throughout the day as needed.

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Stretching exercises
If you have chronic pain in your low back or neck, stretching can relieve tension and stiffness. Try these equipment-free stretches for the back and neck to improve overall mobility and facilitate proper movement.

Low back and glute stretch

Lie on your back on the floor.

Bring your knees towards your chest, then wrap your arms around your knees and give yourself a gentle hug.

Rock side to side, feeling a stretch through your hips and low back.

Try crossing one leg over the other for an added glute and piriformis stretch.

Stand or sit beside a door.

Raise your elbow above the shoulder on the side you want to stretch.

Rest your elbow against the door jam. This will rotate the outside of the shoulder blade up.

Next, turn your head away from that side and bring your head to look down.

Gently deepen the stretch by placing your free hand on top of your head and applying slight pressure.

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Levator scapula and neck stretch

Strengthening exercises
Building strength is important for stabilizing the joints and preventing future injuries.

For people living with chronic pain, adequate core strength is especially important. It helps you maintain proper posture and balance and reduces the risk of injuries that could lead to more pain.

Working the muscles of the abdomen, hips, and back can help improve core strength and stability. Try the exercises below.

Dead bug
Begin by lying on your back with your arms extended above you, like you’re reaching for the ceiling.

Lift your feet into the air and bend your knees to 90 degrees. Engage your core by relaxing your ribcage and drawing your bellybutton down towards the floor.

Exhale, then extend your left leg down towards the floor without letting it touch. At the same time, extend your right arm towards the floor above your head. Hold this position for 1 second. Return to starting position.

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