In osteopathy, a main principle we subscribe to is that the body is completely inter-connected. When someone has a symptom, be it pain or an illness, it is not enough to just treat those symptoms. We look at the whole person and only then be able to determine what needs to be treated.
At Thrive Therapeutics, we see many who have long standing chronic pain and chronic illnesses. The one thing we notice over and over again is how much effort these patients put in to help alleviate their pain. They often google the newest research in diet , supplements, medication, treatments, and fitness ideas. All in the hopes they will find one ‘magical’ method of alleviating their pain and go back to their life.
Unfortunately, this is a common story. And it doesn’t work. As I often explain to patients, the more they try, the more pain they have. Why is that?
In the hopes of finding another therapy or another person they hope will help them, they are doing so in a state of stress. They are searching, and trying, but underlying it all, they have the deep seated belief that it won’t work. And who can blame them, after everything they have gone through. But it is exactly this underlying, almost subconscious belief that is creating their stress. And with increased stress in their bodies, from their thoughts and beliefs, they are creating more chemicals in their bodies that inadvertently causes even MORE pain. This is the vicious cycle.
This is exactly the reason why many people have the good intentions of helping themselves by starting another fitness regime….. CrossFit, HIIT, training for a triathlon, etc. They believe by ‘exercising’, they will actually alleviate their pain symptoms. Some do, no doubt. Often, it’s because they are actually focus on purpose and well-being which goes a long way to help with pain and illness. Those are the stories we hear and read about. Those are the stories that many have chronic pain hear about and hang onto, hoping they too will have the same relief.
In fact, however, rushing into a fitness program is the exact thing that exacerbates pain symptoms. Increasing pain and fatigue so much that it then affects their normal activities of daily living. Thereby causing them to stop, feeling badly about another ‘failure’, and then having even more pain.
Does this mean we do not endorse exercise? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Exercise is very important in maintaining optimal health. But exercise does not necessarily mean fitness. And that’s the difference.
What is more important is to have consistent physical activity, throughout the day, every single day. The type of exercise is not important AT ALL. It is engaging in physical activity every day, as much through the day as possible, that will give the health benefits.
To be even more specific, we need to ENGAGE OUR MUSCLES. That’s it! We need to use all our muscles and we need to challenge them in order for them to grow and maintain strength. If you, for example, live in a bungalow, you may not be used to climbing stairs. So when you go somewhere where you need to do stairs, you may find your leg muscles get tired from doing even one flight of stairs. And that baffles you because you are so used to walking daily or riding your bike. The way our muscles are developed completely depends on HOW we challenge them. If you don’t challenge your leg muscles by simulating stair climbing, stair climbing will be more difficult then other activities that you are used to doing on a daily basis.
This brings us back to what then would be an appropriate exercise program? Exercise programs should be designed to ensure that the person are able to do ALL the functional activities that they want to engage in AND the recreational activities that they want to work on.
If you were going to the gym and you are working on the treadmill, you may be improving cardiovascular health. However, walking on the treadmill does not necessarily prepare you for hiking in the woods, or walking for long periods of time outside, or being able to do stairs or playing with your grandkids on the floor. If you were trying to prevent low back pain and you work on your core, doing a plank challenge or a squat challenge will not guarantee prevention of low back pain because doing planks is not functional. You’re working on your core in a non-loaded, non-standing position. What happens when you have to bend over the trunk of your car to pick up groceries, or bend forward to pick up a toddler on the floor? Will your stabilizing muscles kick in enough to help prevent pain?
It is important to ensure your exercise programs work on:
If you have suffered from chronic pain and have increased pain symptoms with exercise, it is important to step back. To first focus on alignment and mobility before going all out and hard on the other components of exercise. By doing a little bit at a time, you will be preventing stressing your systems out further. The important thing is to move, every day, a little bit at a time. Over a short period of time, you will find that you can move longer, further, and not exacerbate your symptoms.
An old Chinese proverb says: It is better to take small steps in the right direction then to take a great leap forward only to stumble backwards.
Are you ready to try our live classes or use our library of mobility exercises to begin your small steps towards optimal movement?
Click here to register for a free class!