Working Out with Chronic Pain

Working Out with Chronic Pain

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen my post a couple weeks ago about how my workout didn’t go so well.

Most of you probably don’t know, but I suffer with chronic pain from a car accident 20 years ago. The accident left me with a neck injury and chronic migraines and also triggered degenerative disc disease and osteoarthritis in my neck and osteoarthritis throughout my body (my neck, hips and knees, particularly on my right side).

For the most part, my pain is managed made tolerable with pain killers and muscle relaxants.


But there are days when even the highest dose of pain killers isn’t effective. Monday, 12/21/2015, was one of those days.

Working Out with Chronic Pain

Working out usually helps keep my pain levels under control. Going one or two days without exercise typically results in stiff joints and muscles and a killer migraine.

Some days it’s harder to get started on my workout than others, either because I slept in the wrong position or the pain is exacerbated because it’s raining or cold. But once I start working out, it gets easier and by the end of the workout, I’m usually all but pain free.

On December 21st, I started my workout as usual, but as I progressed, the workout got more difficult, instead of easier, and it’s the same workout I’ve been doing for the past two months, which means it should be fairly easy by now.

Workout 12/21/2015

I pushed through it and actually finished it, but the rest of the day, instead of feeling better and in less pain, I was actually in more pain. Thankfully, I didn’t have much to do at work, I was doing some administrative stuff, but even sitting to watch OSHA webinars was painful because it allowed my joints to stiffen up.

Unfortunately, the pain lingered for the next two days, and I was unable to workout until Christmas Eve. But that workout was awesome! I got weight training in along with squats and lunges and of course cardio.

Christmas Eve Workout

Typically regular exercise helps chronic pain for several reasons.

  1. Decreases inflammation and loosens up stiff muscles and joints
  2. Releases endorphins the body’s natural painkillers
  3. Boosts serotonin, our natural anti-depressant which increases our pain tolerance
  4. Increases dopamine, the brain’s reward neurotransmitter
  5. Gives the immune system a boost which can help in cases of autoimmune disease

Other Effects of Chronic Pain

But chronic pain doesn’t just affect my workouts, it permeates my life, as anyone who suffers with pain can tell you. One of the biggest influences chronic pain has is on mood. When I’m in pain, I’m not a happy camper. I’m more likely to snap at people (most commonly my family), I don’t enjoy my favorite activities, and I just feel miserable overall.

But chronic pain also affects my willpower.

Waking up with severe pain in my neck and shoulders makes it really difficult to get up and go to work in the morning, let alone get up at 04:45 to get in my workout.

And once I’ve used my willpower to force myself to workout, avoiding sugary foods and other diet killers is extremely difficult. I also have to use my willpower to avoid inflicting harm on stupid people patients, which is extremely difficult when you’re in severe pain.

Unfortunately, unlike a broken arm or leg, chronic pain is invisible. So it’s difficult to tell if someone suffers pain on a regular basis unless they tell you about it. And even then, many people question whether or not the pain is really as bad as they say it is. Many chronic pain sufferers are labeled as complainers or told to “suck it up.”

Sadly, only those who suffer with chronic pain understand other chronic pain sufferers.

If you suffer with chronic pain, know that you are not alone. I get it. I know how hard it is to get up in the morning to workout, or avoid the donuts a coworker brought in. I know the fight for a normal life seems like a war you will never win.

Don’t give up.

If the pain is so bad when you wake up that you can’t do a workout, accept it. Find another way to get in some exercise like doing some squats at lunch after the pain meds kick in, or walk around your office once or twice to get closer to your step goal.

But don’t ever give up.

Regular exercise and weight loss can make a huge difference in your pain levels, mood and overall quality of life. You can reach your goals and live a happy, fulfilling life.

Despite the pain.

Sometimes it helps to talk about your pain, or just connect with someone else who knows what you’re going through, someone who “gets it.” You can reach me on My Fitness Pal, FitbitFacebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. I’m happy to listen.

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