Being active with chronic pain

Chronic pain is more common than most people realise. It affects between 20% and 50% of people in the UK although most are able to carry on with daily activities. 

For about 7% of people, the pain makes life difficult to manage and when this happens it may be helpful to ask to be referred to a pain management clinic.

Activity and exercise is helpful for chronic pain conditions but the exact type is not so important. What is important is that the exercise you chose to do is something you enjoy, and that you are able to do regularly. Here are some tips on how to get started with exercise.

  • It’s more helpful to start off “little and often” with any activity and gradually build up your ability and levels of fitness. 
  • The pain may, or may not, change with the exercise you choose to do but you should notice that you are able to do more of the activities you enjoy without the pain stopping you or flaring up afterwards. It’s useful therefore to notice how your ability to do activity changes rather than expecting the pain to reduce.
  • Being part of a community is important and activities that encourage you to get out and be with other people are helpful. There are many chronic pain groups in the local community that can help you with building up your activity and it can sometimes be helpful to reach out and connect with them
  • Exercise doesn’t have to be about going to a gym or joining a sports team. Think about other forms of activity that get you moving physically, and if possible that you enjoy, like gardening, dancing and even house work
  • Flare ups in pain are a normal part of living with chronic pain. The usual symptoms you experience with chronic pain change from day to day and there will be times when they increase. It is helpful to plan for these periods of flare up so that you can manage through them and keep doing the things that are important to you.

Active stories

Read about how taking up climbing helped Mark Campbell deal with chronic pain and PTSD, and how exercise helps Diane Dyer manage the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

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