Managing Chronic Pain: Activity

Man bicycling on neighborhood street.

Exercise can help lessen pain. In some cases, exercise may help treat your underlying problem. Activity can improve your mood and your overall health. It can give you more energy, help you sleep, and help you control your weight.

At first, chronic pain may flare up during exercise. But as your body becomes stronger and more flexible with exercise, it will be better able to relax, helping to relieve pain.

Exercise safely

  • See your healthcare provider before starting an exercise program. An exercise program should be tailored specifically to each person.  

  • Consider working with a physical therapist if you haven't exercised in a long time or have physical limitations. He or she can teach you stretches and exercises that fit your condition and fitness level.

  • Start slowly. Gradually increase time and intensity. Exercise several times a week, not just on weekends.

Ways to exercise

  • Use stretching and range-of-motion exercises to condition painful muscles and joints.

  • Choose low-impact forms of exercise, like walking, biking, swimming, and other types of water exercise.

  • Avoid high-impact activities. These involve jumping, running, or sudden starts, stops, or changes of direction.

  • Try strength training. Use light weights. Gradually increase the number of repetitions you do in a session.

Make a commitment

Work toward a goal of exercising at least 3 to 5 times a week for 30 minutes at a time.

  • Choose activities you enjoy. Exercise with a friend, or join a class.

  • Be more active in your daily life. Walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator. Walk instead of driving to do errands. Park your car further from your destination.

  • Keep exercise clothes and shoes handy at work or in your car.

  • Set small goals. Reward yourself when you meet them.

Safe exercise tips

  • Start each session with a "warm-up" of slow exercise. Work up to a brisk pace. Then, slow down to "cool down."

  • Expect some soreness at first. If you feel increased pain after exercise, stop and call your healthcare provider.

  • Use heat or ice as directed by your healthcare provider.