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Get a Move On!

I’ve written before about the importance of regular movement for reducing inflammation, but it’s such a significant part of managing pain that I feel more information is needed. In my last post, I encouraged walking daily – remember that 10 minutes 3 times a day can be more beneficial than 30 minutes all at once. But for many, even this practice is difficult to maintain every day. At The Doleys Clinic, we utilize a physical therapist to create realistic home-based exercise programs for our patients.

It’s considered common sense to rest an injured body part. But when it comes to chronic pain, lack of movement can lead to muscle loss, decreased blood flow, weight gain, and a host of other problems that make pain much worse in the long run. We view our physical therapist, Dr. Kathryn Turman, as more of a “movement specialist”. Because of her training, she can determine what movements are harmful and which movements are not. From there, she can develop home-based exercise programs for her patients, usually within just a one-time evaluation. Long term in office PT follow-up may not be necessary, but the long term benefit of home practice is tremendous.

It’s important to understand that physical therapy has MANY applications – sports injury rehab, surgical recovery, gait retraining to reduce fall risk, etc. For managing chronic pain a physical therapist is arguably the most important health care provider a patient can see. I recently read a quote from Stan Efferding stating, “What you have done to you or for you will never matter as much as what you do for yourself”. This is consistent with the message we preach to our patients that what they do in-between visits to our clinic will have a much greater impact on their success than what they do during visits to our clinic. Medication can be an important piece of the puzzle, but only to the extent that that allows patients to improve daily function. Often patients report that pain doesn’t hurt as much as the loss of ability to spend time with family and friends, work, and engage in hobbies. Improving function through movement can have profound “flow through” effects including:.

  • Reduced disability

  • Reduced depression

  • Improved health markers (blood pressure, weight, etc..)

  • Improved sleep quality

  • Improved quality of life

  • and more.

Strength athlete Ed Coan once said, “If you improve everything, everything improves”. In 2013 a study was published in which participants were asked to report their pain and level of exercise at the beginning of the study and then again every three months for one year (five total reports for each participant). This study included over 4,000 participants. Those who engaged in moderate levels of exercise reported less pain over 12 months at each survey (click for link to study). These results are further supported by research that shows just 20 minutes of movement each day can significantly reduce inflammation. By improving one’s ability to move each day, pain and its associated side effects may improve dramatically.

Dr. Cianfrini encourages her patients to try Tai Chi as a form of daily movement. She recommends online videos that can be viewed for free and even demonstrate how to perform movements from a chair or wheelchair. Hint: start here for free lesson! Daily Tai Chi is supported by research as, “a viable complementary and alternative medicine for chronic pain conditions”.

I do not want to overlook the fact that movement, or exercise, can be uncomfortable...but discomfort and harm are not always the same. It’s important to work with a physical therapist that specializes in pain management so you can have confidence that your daily exercise is not harmful. Once you build confidence, you can embrace the discomfort as a good thing. The body does not build muscle during exercise, it builds muscle afterward. The reason exercise gets easier is because the body adapts to make it easier. Weight becomes lighter over time because the body wants it to be easy. This adaptation has to potential to make life with chronic pain easier. To all of my readers, please understand the importance of daily movement and take advantage of a physical therapist for a home-based exercise program.

Yours In Good Health

Nick Doleys

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