You’ve heard it before. Surely one, or numerous Specialists, have recommended Exercise to help manage your Chronic Pain, Depression or Anxiety.
I received the all-clear from my Exercise Physiologist to start exercising again today.
We had an hour chat about all of my fears and goals. This was our second visit, out of the five that the Government give me for free.
After he told me to restart the regime, the expression on my face prompted his questioning.
I explained that I am excited to exercise, but am equally afraid.
There is a certain fear that accompanies being Chronically Ill and having to exercise.
I know that the non-Chronically Ill would just assume it is being “lazy”, but it is an actual fear.
We fear pushing ourselves too hard, and that we cause our symptoms to fluctuate for a few days following. By fluctuate, I mean fullforce pain, migraines, body aches, nausea and dizziness…. for days as our body recovers.
We fear consistency due to flareups. How do we have a daily routine when we can’t guarantee how we will feel on any given day?
We fear not being strong enough to exercise enough. How can we feel strong when our bodies are falling apart?
We fear people judging us.
We fear feeling worse, and not better.
We fear stopping. What happens if we have an exercise routine and we miss a day? Will our bodies punish us?
And then there are the things that happen that are out of our control – I was struck down with the worst flu I have ever had in my life (caught from a child, of course) and then to add to that week of hell, I ate some chicken that went off and I had “mild” food poisoning.
My Doctor strongly suggested no exercise until I regained my usual strength.
My Physiologist sat back and looked me straight in the eye when he said, “what do you really have to lose? Think about it. You feel sick every day. You feel pained, nausea. You exercise and feel worse for a few days. You don’t exercise and you are causing your body more harm. You will feel worse longterm, so we need to push the barriers. We need to feel sick for a few days in hope that in a few months we will feel better. You have felt the worst of this illness – at the beginning when everything was new and unknown. Think of exercise in the same way. In a few months you will understand it better, and understand how it works with your body and makes you feel. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain”
Valid point for a twenty-five year old young man.
We spoke further and he passed on wisdom to me that I’d like to share with you, because I noticed that I have never written a blog about exercise (probably because I have mostly been housebound for a year). So if you have already started to exercise, are making plans to exercise, or are not well enough to exercise now but hope to in the future, I have some tips for you:
We aren’t expected to benchpress, run a marathon or do 100 squats on our first day, our first week or first month. We must start incredibly small and build. I kept questioning my exercises as being too “light” on my body, but he compared me to a child. We are learning to use our muscles again – the ones that have been in bed for a year. We have relied on walking sticks, wheelchairs and people to be our leaning posts and aids when we feel dizzy. We sit down when we are tired. We don’t get to go out much. We don’t use our muscles like we used to.
Our bodies are weak. We are weak.
We must strengthen, but slowly.
BE CAUTIOUS WITH MANIPULATION AND MASSAGE FOR CHRONIC PAIN
We can’t trust everyone we see when dealing with Chronic Pain. I have seen numerous Osteopaths, a Chiropractor and a Physiotherapist, and today some alarming things were brought to my attention. I have been left literally crippled after manipulation by the three specialists above. I was told today that all of the exercises these people had asked me to do, and all of the money I invested in seeing them, was a waste and causing me more damage. For each manipulation technique that took place, I was twitching nerves in my neck and back, damaged by the Shingles.
The exercises they gave me to complete at home, in between our weekly sessions, were causing more strain on my back, which caused more strain on my neck, and the pain excelled instead of settled. I would go back to them for adjustments, and the cycle repeated.
Manipulation must be used with caution to chronic pain areas.
DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU READ ON THE INTERNET
I have spent months Youtube-ing videos of Yoga and Pilates exercises to do in the comfort of my own home.
Little did I know that these exercises are actually putting more stress on my body. They are designed for “healthy” people, not the Chronically Ill. You need to find a professional who understands your condition and your limitations.
Which leads us to the most important point:
CHOOSE AN APPROPRIATE PRACTIONER
I am not completely against Osteopaths and Chiropractors, as many years ago I found them to be great use for a muscle injury I had.
But if your sole purpose is to try and get fit, or you have been told that you need to manage your Chronic Pain through Exercise, then I recommend that you too find an Exercise Physiologist.
Don’t walk into a Gym and request a Personal Trainer – they will make your body train intensely and it will cause you more damage. Exercise Physiologists are trained to deal with Chronic Pain patients and will tailor an exercise routine to YOUR body and symptoms.
Best of all – they are not allowed or trained to manipulate your muscles. They guide you through appropriate techniques at your own pace.
GET INTO A ROUTINE
Routine for Chronic Illness is a must regardless of exercise.
If your body is in a routine, it functions a lot better than without a routine.
It does not have to be a strict routine – just a loosely based one, so you can still cater to your symptom fluctuations.
I wake up at 630am every morning, I have a coffee and take my supplements. I am out on a walk, or starting exercise by 830am. If you aren’t a morning person, then by all means train at night, BUT be weary that if you train before bed, your blood pressure will drop after your session and it is not recommended to go straight to sleep with low blood pressure. This is why I try to train before 2pm; before I get tired.
DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS
Not all of your friends or Gym buddies will have Chronic Pain or Chronic Illness so there is absolutely NO point in comparing yourself to them. Don’t compare your body to them, strength or regime. Their exercise regime is tailored to their needs, and yours is tailored to your condition.
TAKE BREAKS OR REST DAYS
This isn’t going to be easy. Remember how long you have been at home for, how much medication you are on, and how little movement you are able to do. My Physiologist stressed that we cannot train seven days a week. We must allow two days of rest, ESPECIALLY when we start training for the first time.
You can also split your exercises up throughout the day so your body doesn’t tire too quickly.
For example, my minimum time limit for walks is 10minutes, but my maximum is 20. I don’t have to walk ten minutes straight. I can walk for five minutes for times a day.
I am only allowed to do thirty squats a day.
KEEP TRYING AND BE PATIENT
Strength will come in time.
Time might mean three months, it might mean a year.
If you try and fail, try again.
It is okay to take a break and try again – I have a hundred times before today.
If you keep trying, you can’t be so hard on yourself if you fail. And, you will fail. Everyone one day your small steps will be much bigger ones.
You need to be patient.
Wanting to exercise is the first good step.
Remember that fear is healthy for people like us to experience, especially when it comes to exercise. A year ago, I never thought I’d exercise ever again. When you are not in control of your body, and its symptoms, it is hard to think of being “strong”.
I am including my Exercise Regime below, so you can get a rough idea of how “small” I am starting. I don’t want you to think that I am running around ovals, or doing jumping jacks whilst dancing to Zumba.
This is incredibly LIGHT exercise, and some of you might be saying “that isn’t exercise”.
I am incredibly sore the next day after doing this – trust me.
I am going to try my absolute hardest to keep up this regime, and will keep you up to date with progress. I hope that this piece makes you think about your own Chronic Pain, and possibilities of introducing exercise into your day.
If you are already on an exercise plan, I’d love to hear about it and how you are going/feeling. Please comment below!