Exercising with Chronic Pain

Let’s face it — a daily workout can be a challenge, for so many reasons, but sometimes it can be too painful for exercising with chronic pain – whether you’re exercising only a little or a lot!

So, what do you do if you’re already dealing with body pain every single day.  Should you skip your workout altogether and just rest?  Or, is it better to move your body no matter if you have chronic pain?

Chronic pain is a condition defined as pain lasting beyond normal tissue healing time, generally around 12 weeks.

Conditions of chronic pain can be anything from rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, low back pain or neck and spinal cord injuries, just to name a few.

Also, did you know that 50 million Americans and 1 in 5 Canadians are living with chronic pain?  The incidences of chronic pain rise with the aging population.  The numbers could go up to 1 in 3 or 1 in 4.  For seniors, chronic pain can negatively and dramatically affect quality of life.

Here are two basic ways you can still move and nourish your body for the sake of your health, when you’re dealing with chronic pain.

Exercising with Chronic Pain:  What Does the Doctor Recommend?

In the past, medical professionals recommended rest and inactivity as part of the treatment for many of these conditions.  Newer research, however, suggests that physical activity may be just what the doctor orders.

A person with chronic pain can use physical activity and exercise as an option to help themselves.  In doing so, it’s important to take into consideration one’s conditions, current state of physical fitness and health and to take both pacing and progression of exercises into account.  And it would be particularly beneficial to discuss one’s concerns with a trained physiologist and/or physician before exercising.

One study concluded that exercising with chronic pain helped to reduce pain severity, as well as to improve overall physical function and mental health in those experiencing it.

“Natural painkillers — endorphins, are produced by our body with exercise. After a bout of exercise, pain tolerance increases (for up to an hour, depending on the exercise),” says Dr. Darren Leong, senior physician at Changi General Hospital (Singapore), the Singapore Sports Institute and Singapore Sports Council.

Leong also maintains that exercise helps to reduce flare-ups of these conditions as well as to reduce anxiety and depression (a condition commonly related with chronic pain).  You can read more of his comments here.

When to Exercise and When to Stop

While there are many benefits to regular exercise, those with chronic pain are still advised to listen to their body.

Dr. Nathan Johnson, Associate Professor of Exercise & Sports Science at the University of Sydney says, “If you’re feeling joint or musculoskeletal pain or anything associated with chest pain, then that’s an indication to stop exercising immediately.”

Nutrition:  Put Out the Flames of Inflammation Through Diet

The Latin word inflammare means to “set on fire,” and most of us are familiar with that fiery feeling when we experience acute inflammation — like when you fall and scrape your knee.

The immune system is on duty and white blood cells are called into action.  You go through a wide range of symptoms, including pain (stinging or throbbing), heat, redness and swelling.

The onset is usually fast — within minutes or hours, and the signs are obvious such as a lump or cut at the site of the injury.  But, as your body heals, the inflammation subsides, and the symptoms (pain, redness and/or swelling) tend to disappear.

And by the way, inflammation is not always a bad thing.  In fact, it’s quite necessary in order to heal an injury or fight off an invading pathogen.

However, there’s another kind of inflammation known as chronic or systemic inflammation.  This type can be persistent and linger in your body for much longer periods of time.

Truth is, if left unchecked, chronic inflammation can be like a fire out of control!  (You may want to read my recommended post:  Key Foods to Reduce Inflammation.)

And according to the Integrative Pain Science Institute, “Those with chronic inflammation often suffer from pain, fatigue, anxiety and mood disorders.”

Chronic inflammation may sound rather ominous.  However, there’s one thing all experts seem to agree on:  An anti-inflammatory diet can help to significantly decrease symptoms of chronic pain.

Tasty Herbed Salmon Recipe

So, here’s a tasty Herbed Salmon recipe that’s jam packed with several inflammation fighting ingredients … and it’s so simple, too!


Recipe:  Anti-inflammatory Herbed Salmon


1 salmon filet
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon sliced, plus 2 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice (from same lemon)
3 cloves garlic minced
2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
½ Tsp. Himalayan pink salt
¼ Tsp. black pepper
Avocado oil for coating pan (~ 1 Tbsp.)


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Place parchment paper or aluminum foil on a baking sheet, and lightly coat or brush with oil. Place the salmon on the baking sheet.

Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper and 1 Tbsp. rosemary. 

Pour the sauce over the salmon, and place slices of fresh lemon on top.

Seal the parchment or foil around the salmon until it’s completely covered.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the salmon flakes easily with a fork.  Sprinkle with remaining 1 Tbsp. rosemary before serving and enjoy!


Is your workout a daily challenge due to chronic pain?  Have you adopted an anti-inflammatory diet?  Have you discussed with your doctor or a trained physiologist how you can use physical activity to relieve your pain?  Please comment below, and let us know.  We always appreciate hearing from you.

Categories: Anti-inflammatory Diet, Arthritis, Back Pain, Blog, Cancer, Chronic Pain, Depression, Diabetes, Exercise, Exercising with Chronic Pain, Inflammation, and Rheumatoid Arthritis.

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