Recently, there have been a lot of articles referencing studies that show how exercise can help people who are suffering from the pain of chronic arthritis. These are good articles and good studies and should be of benefit to those who are suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
***But what about people who are suffering intense chronic pain from other causes besides arthitis?***
These causes of pain include autoimmunie diseases, paraneoplastic syndromes, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome among many others. These people not only suffer from pain but are also very susceptible to a paradox that some call the push-crash syndrome.
***The push-crash syndrome is when a person with chronic pain and/or fatigue who pushes themselves to do too much only then crashes into days or weeks of the inability to do much of anything.***
It is these people who must be very careful with exercise. It is not only a problem of not doing too much but also of doing the right kinds of exercise. Exercises that might be promoted for the general population or even for a population of arthritis patients might send these folks into a dive that might even create a phobia from further exercise.
***An exercise phobia may be so hard to treat that these people can not exercise even in the proper way and benefit from what might help make their condition more stable, prevent them from getting worse, or even might help them reduce, manage or cope with their pain.***
Certainly many people fall into the cycle of having pain which decreases activity and thus increases disability and all so often resulting in even more pain.
***It is critically important to keep even those who have the least tolerance for exercise as active as possible.***
How do I know this? Because I suffer from chronic pain that can be made worse by the wrong exercise and a chronic fatigue that can send me into days of doing nothing if I push myself too hard. I have stage IV cancer that very thankfully is currently in remission – no evidence of disease on my most recent PET scan. However, I continue to suffer from a complex paraneoplastic neurological syndrome that is manifested by recurrent bouts with transverse myelitis that get worse with each recurrence, a progressive polyneuropathy, and autonomic dysfunction that has created a lot of daily living problems for me and my family. At the top of the symptom list are chronic pain and chronic fatigue!
***But I exercise. How do I do it? By following a carefully prescribed set of exercises that I can do every day in an amount that does not cause me to fall into the push-crash syndrome that I described above.***
What are some of these exercises? Here are my favorites and the ones I can include or exclude depending on how I feel and my symptoms on a given day.
For me, getting up and getting down exerts a lot of energy and results in a lot of wear and tear on my connective tissue and joints. So, I must limit how much I do in a given day. When I do get up, balance and weakness cause me to need a cane or, most of the time, a rolling walker or rollator.
For example, here is the assistive device I use most of the time:
On good days, I might plan to have three or four 5-minute walks during the course of the day. These walks might simply be with my walker up and down the hall inside my home.
***No power walks – that’s not what this is about. It’s simply getting up and being a little more active in a way that doesn’t push too much.***
Other times, it might be walking outside up the driveway – perhaps to the mailbox or perhaps to carry a small bag of garbage propped up on my walker to the garbage can at the street. I must do this with supervision because I am a “falls risk”. But even such small accomplishments create a feeling of satisfaction and cause you to be more active in other ways as well.
Simple stretching is exercise and done in a formalized way can help us be more active and can help relieve some pain. Again, be careful not to stretch so much as to cause more injury but enough so that you are helping yourself stay as flexible as possible in the face of chronic pain and stiffness.
***Simple stretching can be accomplished just sitting in your chair.***
- Lace your fingers together and turn your palms to face outward in front of you.
- Reach your arms as far as you can (don’t do more than you can do), curving your back and shoulders forward (as far as you comfortably can).
- Hold for about 10 seconds.
- Now release your fingers, and grab your wrists or fingers behind your back.
- Raise your arms as high as you can behind your back without releasing your hands so your chest opens and your shoulders roll back – it’s OK if you can’t raise your arms very much at all, it’s the effort that’s beneficial too! (do as little or as much as you feel comfortable doing, doing anything creates benefit)
3. Light weight training
Now, I don’t mean lifting even five or ten pounds. This is weight training with a twist.
- Take something like a can of soup in your hand. Lift it up as far as you comfortably can 10 times. Change hands and do it again. Stop! Don’t do too much. Do this two or three times per day at the same time every day. It will help. And try to lift it up father as you get more comfortable with the exercise!
***Helps me to hold onto things better. Keeps me from dropping more things than I otherwise would. And again, a simple task that is not that hard to do that can give a sense of accomplishment.***
If you feel up to it, do two sets of 10 after you have been successful with this exercise for a period of time. But again, even with this, be careful to not overdo!
4. Therapy putty
Don’t laugh, I’m serious. And, if you don’t have actual therapy putty, buy an egg of Silly Putty at the grocery or drug store next time you are there. Same thing!
If you can’t do anything else with it, simply squeeze it in your hand as hard as you feel comfortable doing and repeat. Do this for a couple of minutes two or three times per day.
***After a while, you will feel your hand getting a little more flexible and a little stronger. Then, try to do it for 5 minutes, three times per day.***
If you can, exercise each finger independently. I am able to do this with one hand but not the other. So, I do what I can. Keep it up and maybe you will keep you fine motor skills a little sharper for a little longer.
***This is what doing exercise is all about. Not necessarily regaining what you have lost, but keeping as much as you can for as long as you can.***
5. Stationary bike
Now I know that this one might not be for everybody but it doesn’t have to be hard to be good for you. For example, I will get on the bike and simply pedal at the lowest level of resistance for 5 minutes. I will do this without holding my arms onto the handles because sometimes that is just too much for me to withstand. For me, this is another exercise that requires supervision because of my balance and weakness issues.
***But just doing the pedaling at the lowest resistance every day for just five minutes one to three times per day will help with endurance.***
If you feel capable, hold onto the handles and get a little more exercise. My bike handles do not move, so it is easier for me to hold on for as along as I can. I simply can not hold on with my left arm, so I no longer try to do it – I don’t like to fail. But most of the time, I can hold onto the handle with my right arm.
Again, a simple exercise can help keep you more stable and perhaps slow down the progression of your disease and perhaps help you cope a little better with pain!
Develop a plan with these five simple and easy exercises. Then try to do it every day. You don’t need to do all the exercises at the same time. In fact, that may actually be the worst thing you could do. But try to do each exercise multiple times each day. Maybe associate each one with an activity that you do every day. Good luck and I hope it helps you like it helps me!
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