Can exercise relieve pain?

It may seem contradictory, but over the past 20 years research has found that exercise is an effective pain reliever – particularly when it comes to arthritis-related pain. Research shows that our bones, muscles and cartilage are able to adapt over time in response to exercise. This means stronger bones and muscles, as well as joints that are more stable and better supported. This means pain symptoms improve with exercise over the long term.

If you exercise sensibly you will be rewarded with pain relief similar to that of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as ibuprofen, and twice that of a non-prescription painkiller, such as paracetamol!

Here are two rules you can use to exercise sensibly:

1. Your pain after exercise should be tolerable.

How to measure this?

Let’s say you were to rank your pain on a scale of 0 to 10 like below:

If your pain is usually a five out of 10, and after exercising you rate it seven. That’s fine!

If your usual pain is five and after exercising you rate it a 10, you have done too much and should cut back the next time.

2. You shouldn’t experience any increase in pain from day to day.

How to measure this?

Again let’s say your usual pain is a five out of 10.

If your pain goes up to seven after exercising, but the next morning is back at five – your usual pain – that’s fine.

If your pain goes up to seven after exercising, and is still at seven the next morning (that is, more than your usual pain), you have done too much and should cut back. Keep at it, but at a lower level.

Today, exercise is recommended worldwide as treatment for painful joints.

Here are a few ideas to help you to exercise wisely and to find ways to be kind to your joints if you suffer from pain or arthritis.

  • Try some low weight bearing aerobic activities
  • Break your exercise up into smaller manageable
  • Do some strength training using light to moderate resistances, it will strengthen the muscles around the joints
You don’t need to be an athlete, you just need to move a little more than you did yesterday.

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