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Exercise for long-term pain

Couple out walking

Increasing physical activity and understanding the effect of good posture is vital to your health and can help you cope with long-term pain by:

  • having a positive effect on your ability to carry out daily tasks, such as climbing stairs or opening jars
  • making you feel better in yourself
  • giving you more energy
  • helping you sleep
  • helping to control your weight, which is especially vital if you have leg pain.

There are many ways in which you can increase your daily physical activity to improve your fitness. Simple things like parking your car further away from your destination will allow you to walk a little more, leading to small but important improvements in your physical fitness.

Exercise classes

Exercise classes are an excellent way to increase your physical activity and meet people. Leisure or community centres, libraries and GP surgeries often hold details of local activities.

Walking is particularly good for your heart. The Walking for Health scheme has over 600 groups, so there’s likely to be one close to you. The walks are designed for all abilities and are led by trained walk leaders.

While the walking group may help with your motivation, paying attention to the way you walk rests with you. Remember to stand tall with your stomach pulled in when you’re walking as correct posture minimises the strains on your body.

Other community activities which have been shown to offer significant health benefits and have a moderate effect on pain are t’ai chi and qigong. Both are examples of Chinese exercise and consist of gentle, low-impact slow movements which can be practiced either standing or sitting. It’s therefore a suitable form of exercise for anyone, whatever their physical challenges.

Yoga has been shown to be helpful for people with low back pain, and a clinical trial funded by Arthritis Research UK found that a special 12-week yoga programme led to improvements in back function, and helped participants perform everyday activities more confidently than those offered normal forms of GP care.

Whatever physical activity you prefer, it’s important that your instructor is properly qualified. There’s little regulation of exercise professionals in the UK, but taking time to speak to the teacher before starting an activity and communicating your needs will reassure you.

Getting help from a physiotherapist

Increasing physical activity through community groups and choosing to exercise provides the best long-term plan for persistent pain. But there may be times when you need help from a physiotherapist – for example, if you have particular difficulty with daily activities, such as rising from a chair, or if you experience falls, develop pain or lose function in a new area.

Your physiotherapist will assess your difficulties before teaching you specific exercises to move your joints, strengthen your muscles and improve your coordination and balance. Remember, you’ll only feel the benefit of any exercises if you follow the instructions given to you. Your physiotherapist will also advise on local community schemes to assist you in keeping up and improving your fitness.

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For more information, go to www.arthritisresearchuk.org.
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