If you have been living in pain, one of your top priorities should be to find an exercise program you can follow that doesn't make your pain worse in the short term. Over time as you become more fit, you should find that your pain improves. Exercise is one of the most potent forms of pain relief in existence. Exercise has a number of different effects on the body that help prevent pain or block the sensation of pain.
I'd like to make sure everyone understands the definition of pain. Pain is a personal experience that varies greatly among individuals in response to an apparently similar stimulus. Pain can be defined as an unpleasant sensation caused by stimulation of the nerve endings. Pain is associated with actual or potential tissue damage, and can be manipulated by cognitive, mental, emotional, and environmental factors. Because all people respond to the same stimulus with varying degrees of pain, pain management must take into account the physical reason for the pain, but also the factors that influence and cause the sensation of pain. People can be taught to cope better with pain, even to the point of getting off painkillers when they previously believed they needed them.
Since this article focuses on the way exercise helps with pain, let's start with the ways exercise helps prevent many types of pain from cropping up in the first place.
1. One way exercise helps prevent many types of pain is by increasing flexibility in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons. For example, poor flexibility of the low back and hamstrings has been shown to contribute to low back pain. But it is important that your exercise program includes stretching exercises to fully enjoy this benefit. Weight training or cardiovascular exercise alone can increase flexibility in certain muscles, but can actually make other muscles less flexible if a proper stretching regimen is not implemented. Flexibility is an important component of fitness that is often neglected. Everyone should perform at least a full-body basic stretching routine following his or her workout session. Stretching is most effective following a workout, when your body temperature is higher and the blood is flowing through your muscles.
2. Another way exercise helps prevent many types of pain is by correcting muscular imbalances in the body. In daily life or in recreational activities, most of us use some muscle groups much more than others. For example, most household chores involve moving the arms in front of the body, but very little is done behind the body. This leads to stronger chest and front shoulder but weaker back and rear shoulder. For another example, consider what you do when you have a heavy object to carry. Most likely you hold the object primarily with your stronger (dominant) arm, and you also hold it close to your body, not far away from it. This can lead to overdevelopment on one side of the body compared to the other, and will strengthen the biceps to the exclusion of the triceps and shoulder. For one last example, consider a downhill skier. They strengthen their quads (front of thigh) and hips much more than the hamstrings, which can lead to a hamstring injury or low back pain.
A well-balanced weight lifting program will help correct muscular imbalances in as little as four weeks. In the beginning, you may want to emphasize exercises that target the muscle groups you have been "neglecting" in your former exercise program or during your daily routine. This will help the weaker muscle groups "catch up" faster.
Aside from the issue of whether or not your body should be more pain-free because your muscular system is balanced and you stretch regularly, exercise can decrease your sensation of pain due to the chemical effects it has on the body and the brain.
How does Exercise decrease pain?
1. Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins. Endorphins your body's natural painkiller.
2. Exercise increases the brain's supply of serotonin. One function of serotonin is to improve the flexibility of blood vessels. This is important because when blood vessels are flexible, they are less likely to cause painful irritation. Serotonin also improves your mood, which makes a given level of pain more tolerable. Serotonin provides an even more powerful function, however, because it can actually block the brain's perception of pain. Finally, serotonin has important implications for regular sleep. When you in pain, it is harder to sleep and sleep becomes more important for relief from the pain, so serotonin plays an important role.
3. Exercise helps stabilize levels of estrogen, and lower estrogen levels if necessary. Lower estrogen levels mean less body fat, and excess weight can lead to painful conditions. Moreover, estrogen is tied into serotonin, and if your estrogen levels are too high your serotonin levels will be off. This is a common reason why some women become depressed on some birth control pills: higher estrogen in the body from some forms of birth control pills lead to lower serotonin levels, which increases depression in many people.
*If you experience pain anywhere in your body, you may need medical treatment. Always consult with your practitioner before beginning an exercise program.