If I could possess one super power, I would have the ability to feel everything that my clients feel in their bodies, especially during an exercise session. Knowing if they are activating the correct muscles and if there is anything painful about the movements is very important.
I feel like I sometimes ask a million questions about how things feel and if it hurts or feels wrong. Knowing when it’s okay to push through pain and when to stop and modify is a concern for both exercise professionals and their patients or clients.
Some people have the mindset of being extremely tough and just pushing through. On the other hand, other people feel a slight discomfort and use that as the perfect opportunity to avoid the exercise altogether. Both extremes can be detrimental. The ideal approach lies somewhere in the middle of these extremes. Knowing where the line is between pushing ourselves in order to make progress and listening to our body’s intuition that says something isn’t right- that takes some practice.
There is one thing that I know for sure in all my years teaching exercise-
doing absolutely nothing is going to get you nowhere, except maybe backwards.
When you set aside time and energy to exercise, you need to do everything you can to protect that sacred self-care time. What you do during that time can definitely change from your original plan, but honoring the time and space to do something beneficial to your mind, body and spirit is what I am here to encourage you to do, my friend!
We are on post #7 in this series of posts describing the top 10 reasons why moms don’t exercise as much as we’d like. Pain and injury are common reasons for avoiding exercise, unfortunately. If you know me though-I like to flip these reasons or excuses around and say that having pain or injury makes it even more important for you to exercise consistently.
Physical therapy is the perfect example of using exercise to help treat an injury or alleviate pain. In fact, it is the catalyst for inspiring people to start exercising in many cases. Once they get relief through diligently doing their rehabilitative exercises, they trust that exercise is truly beneficial.
This reminds me of a story about my dad. He has had psoriatic arthritis since the age of 37. Someday I will share his entire story about how he uses food as medicine, but for today’s topic about exercise and pain, let’s go back to about three years ago. We were water skiing at my parent’s cabin, and when it was my dad’s turn, things didn’t go so well.
He looked ready to go. My brother-in-law was driving the boat and yelled “Are you ready?” My dad said, “No!” but my brother-in-law heard, “Go!” We took off, and rather than popping right out of the water into the skiing position, dad was dragged for a bit and stretched awkwardly until he let go of the rope.
Dad’s hip was in quite a bit of pain, and he eventually ended up going to the doctor, where he found out that he had osteoarthritis in that hip. The route he went for treatment was to do physical therapy, which helped him tremendously.
He found the exercises to be so helpful in fact that I overheard him telling someone about how good of an exercise “the plank” is for strengthening the core. Funny how his daughter had been telling him that for many years, and it took getting injured for him to finally give it a good try! Don’t worry, there’s no hard feelings!
The point of this story is that
having pain or getting injured can be the reason that people stop exercising in some cases and the reason people start exercising or do new forms of exercises in other cases.
Think about your own story now, and how has pain or injury shaped your experience with exercise? Have you ever been told by a medical professional that you should avoid doing certain activities because they make your pain worse?
This was the case for me in my early 20’s when I was teaching a lot of yoga. My wrists were not happy with me at all so I went to the doctor to get them checked out. Basically, I was told to take Advil and stop doing yoga.
Neither of those options were going to work for me. I had to take my issue into my own hands, and I decided to cut back on how many pushup plank positions we did in my classes. I also modified by using dumbbells or going to my elbows for planks when possible. These solutions helped to ease my pain while also allowing me to exercise because I needed to for my job.
Back to your story, what comes to mind when you think about pain you have felt in your body or injuries you have had? How have you navigated through those experiences? How acute or chronic has each experience been? Have you received support from a physician, physical therapist, chiropractor, personal trainer or other health professional?
The science of pain is absolutely fascinating. I do not claim to be anywhere close to being an expert in this area, but I intuitively know that what you think about, you bring about. If a former experience that caused you pain has created a pain pathway in your nervous system, you can literally manifest more feelings of pain.
Your body also can protect you from experiencing pain naturally with adrenaline and oxytocin. When you exercise to a certain level of intensity, you release endorphins, which are another natural way of relieving pain and promoting well-being.
Pain is a way for your brain to protect you from doing something harmful to your body.
Keeping all of this in mind, you can understand the importance of being mindful during exercise.
Mindfulness allows you to find that balance between pushing too far through the pain and giving up due to fear of getting hurt.
There are times when you may experience an injury and the appropriate steps are to rest and recover. This is common for acute injuries. Even during these times of rest, you can do something different or new to enhance your well-being such as meditation, breathwork, meal planning and prep, or connection with friends and family.
Taking a break from exercise to heal from an injury does not mean doing nothing. It just means substituting one healthy behavior for another.
Chronic pain is a whole different beast. It involves so much emotion and stress. Treatment for chronic pain is generally not to rest because the healing path can be so long and ambiguous. Using lifestyle medicine to treat chronic pain is a relatively new concept, but one in which I was involved with at the hospital where I work.
We created a three month lifestyle medicine intervention for a group of 34 healthcare workers who experienced chronic neck and back pain. Lifestyle medicine includes physical activity, nutrition, avoiding risky substances, managing stress, social connection and getting quality sleep. Long story short, the results of our program were positive and supported through data.
The people I worked with specifically on exercise during the time of this program felt so much better, and I was not surprised. For twenty years I have witnessed the power of exercise for helping people strengthen their joints, move with more ease and less discomfort, and bring awareness to postures and movement patterns that cause or contribute to the pain.
Yes, I would like to shout from the mountaintops that if you are experiencing chronic pain, there is a form of exercise that will help you feel better. You just need to take the time to discover what this is.
If you get injured, there is a form of exercise that can help you recover in a healthy, efficient way. The last thing to do if you are injured or in pain is nothing.
Using your own intuition and the guidance of a health and exercise professional is something I definitely recommend. Why? Because you deserve to feel your best, and children deserve to see their mothers moving with ease, freedom, and strength.
Life is too short, and I believe it is worth the time to do all that we can to address our pain in safe, healthy, and productive ways.
I want you to take these reasons for not exercising, and use them as fuel to light you on fire for the joy of all the types of movement! Let’s go! You’ve got this!
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