We live in a society where the fitness industry often portrays exercise as intense, sweaty, and exhausting.

This can lead people to believe that exercise is an unattainable goal. When in reality, effective exercise and movement looks different for everyone and even small amounts of execise benefits overall health. 

It is pivotal that we change our mindset around what “good” and “effective” movement looks like, especially for those suffering from chronic pain. 

Chronic Pain and Movement:

Effective movement can be gentle, enjoyable, and most importantly, tailored to suit your individual preferences and limitations. The goal is to find movement that brings joy while supporting overall well-being and rehabilitation goals.

If you live with chronic pain, movement can actually help manage pain and improve overall function. However, it’s crucial to find the balance between overdoing it and staying within a safe range to prevent damage.

Understanding the Traffic Lights System:

At our clinic we often talk to patients about the traffic light system. This can serve as a helpful guide when implementing movement when you are also dealing with ongoing, chronic pain. 

Green represents a tolerable increase in pain during an activity, yellow indicates a discomfort level that lasts longer but doesn’t cause actual harm, and red signifies that you’ve done too much. 

The key to making progress in your movement program, without increasing your pain beyond a tolerable level, is understanding progressive overload. This means gradually increasing the intensity or duration of an activity by small increments, over time. For example, if you can walk for ten minutes comfortably, consider adding just one more minute instead of doubling the duration.

Listening to Your Body:

One of the most crucial aspects of a successful movement program when living with chronic pain is listening and tuning in to your body. Pay attention to how your body responds to different movements and make adjustments! 

If an activity causes some discomfort that subsides within a reasonable timeframe, say within 48 hours, it’s likely within the green light zone. If it lasts longer but doesn’t lead to additional harm, it’s in the yellow light zone. However, if an activity is quite debilitating and/or leads to a flare-up, that would be considered the red zone and it’s time to stop and reevaluate.

We recomend trying different forms of movement to find what you truly enjoy. If you enjoy what you’re doing – you’ll be much more likely to stick to it long term. 

To sum it up: 

Movement is an essential part of your chronic pain management program. In fact, it is one of the 4 foundational pillars of rehabilitation that we talk about this blog. Be sure to check it out!

The good thing is- your daily movement doesn’t need to look like that of a fitness influencer to be beneficial to your physical and mental wellbeing. 

By finding movement you enjoy and listening to the signals your body is telling you (don’t forget about the traffic light system!), along with looking at your chronic pain rehabilitation in a holistic manner – you can make gradual strides to living more comfortably with chronic pain. 

As always, if you need more tailored help, we are here for you.

Hope this helps, Eryn & Katie – Registered Physiotherapists


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