Exercise works

Exercise may be the last thing you feel like contemplating when your body is in pain. So let me tell you I would be one of the last people on earth to recommend exercise UNLESS I had found that it really reduced pain. Exercise on its own will never be enough but it can make significant inroads into your pain levels.

Strangely enough I can now remember the different types of exercise I have tried according to places I have lived. In Whyalla, South Australia I began with walking. I would get up before the children were awake and walk a number of blocks. My husband persuaded me to go to circuit classes at a local gym and there I found that the cool-down stretches made a big difference to the pain I was experiencing. This was followed by freestyle swimming at the Whyalla Recreation Centre. I would pay a babysitter to come at dinnertime and off I would go to swim a number of laps. By the time I got home the children were in bed, I would eat dinner and take some Mersyndol (Codeine plus antihistamine) – otherwise I would develop excruciating headaches in the night. I kept up with the swimming regime because it really reduced the pain in the lower half of my body. Much later I learned to swim with a snorkel and mask because this stopped the need to turn my head which brought on the headaches.

Some memorable backdrops to exercising have been

  • Mt Victoria in Devonport, Auckland, NZ.  Walking the dog on the circuit of this mount with panoramic views of Hauraki gulf and the green-blue waters of the harbour.
  • A small secluded beach near Whyalla. Watching multitudes of rainbows fragmenting in the sea around me.
  • A heated olympic outdoor pool in winter in Perth, W.A.. Getting there early to watch the rising mist as the pool covers were removed, breathing in the clean crisp air.
  • The bush pathways around Claremont, Perth.
  • The pathways around the New Farm Park, Brisbane which connect to paths along the Brisbane River.
local landscape whilst walking

enjoying the local landscape whilst walking

Somehow these surroundings have the added dimension of improving my mental state which can be overloaded with pain management.

Altogether, as well as walking, swimming and going to the gym, I have tried PUMP™, Pilates, Yoga, Jogging, Power Walking and Denise Austin aerobic videos – now replaced by other exercise DVD’s such as Increase Your Flexibility with Hun Yuan Tai Chi Chan Si Gong Foundation Exercises (see http://www.taichiacademy.com.au/products.php). Lately I have improved my backstroke swimming and I am currently learning more about Walkactive™.  (Learn about Joanna Hall’s method at walkactive.com)

I have found out for myself that Pilates and Yoga are too difficult for my body and instead of getting a nice deep stretch I can easily strain the muscles resulting in  a long episode of pain. Likewise jogging is too jarring for my body and can leave me with terrible headaches. Conversely ordinary gardening and housework are insufficient to bring about pain relief.

Another important tip I have learnt regarding myofascial pain is to stretch my muscles after the exercise not before. If you want to walk or jog or swim just start off at a slow to moderate pace and gradually build up speed and intensity. Then your body will be ready for deeper stretching at the end of your session.

Let me give you an example regarding the benefits of exercise. Twenty years ago I was attending a *fibromyalgia support group which a rheumatologist had recommended. A speaker talked about the idea of helping this condition by resting. It sounded quite attractive so I put it into practice.  I was running a household with 5 children, and my husband and I were preparing to go away for his long service leave. A few weeks had passed without exercise and I now felt I needed to clean the house  for my mother who was coming to mind the children. After a couple of very intensive cleaning days (barely sitting down) the bottom of one of my feet started to burn. Whenever I put my foot to the floor I experienced significant pain to the extent that I got myself some crutches. I was now forced to spend quite a bit of time resting on the bed. A couple of good friends came and helped with the chores til my Mum arrived. But the more time I spent lying down the worse my whole leg became – sometimes feeling a bit cold or heavy.

I realised that I needed to do something or I would not be able to go on this trip of a lifetime. So I began swimming in a heated pool at Takapuna (I hope those damp change rooms have been upgraded!). This was the best strategy – not to keep staying on my feet as that only made the pain in my foot worse but to keep the leg moving and active in another way. I kept this up for a few days more when my Mum arrived and thankfully I was able to get on that plane. [Years later I learned that the foot pain was stemming from the buttock/pelvis area and the swimming had mobilised that area.]

Obviously the lesson I learned from this was to KEEP on exercising, forget resting – and now if a certain part of my body gets stirred up I still need to keep it in motion but not with the activity that caused the area to malfunction. For instance I currently need to do gentle exercising of my shoulder but I mustn’t keep pulling out weeds as this caused the shoulder to flare up – admittedly we live on a large property and I have been pulling out thousands of weeds so that the land will return to native bush. I have also had to switch the arm I use for the computer mouse as that also fires up my shoulder even through it wasn’t the original cause.

Another lesson I have learned is to take medication with breakfast and wait an hour or so for it to take effect before I start exercising. And I exercise most days of the week.

Over the years I have settled into moderate exercise with many repetitions of the same movement for a number of different muscle groups, while maintaining a good posture. I suppose this is best described as exercises that tone and stretch. I am grateful in particular for  a DVD that provides 10 minute workouts to shape and strengthen the abdominals, the thighs, the buttocks and the arms & shoulders. I find that most exercises therapists recommend for me after treatment are already embedded in routines on this DVD.

Cindy Whitmarsh will be forever young to me. XXX

Cindy Whitmarsh will be forever young to me. XXX

All exercise DVD’s come with a disclaimer and I stress that I am passing on what works for me but you need to work out for yourself what type of exercising suits you best (Disclaimer). You need to find ways of exercising that you actually enjoy and that suit your own temperament or else you won’t be motivated to keep exercising. So don’t be afraid to gradually build up an exercise regime – it will give you pain relief and also stamina to cope with the condition. You may as well have the benefit of looking fit!

* Other doctors have since dismissed the diagnosis of fibromyalgia.

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Headaches are the hardest

I have accumulated a number of electrotherapy devices to reduce pain but I must admit that I cannot give unqualified support to these aids when it comes to chronic headaches. Thank goodness for the effective medication which I will describe.

I have been given various diagnoses such as cluster headaches, non-classical migraine, neuropathic pain, old whiplash injury, the C2 joint becoming locked, restrictive movement of head caused by postural weakness/ muscle rigidity/ joint stiffness in upper and mid-back, shoulders or neck which can disturb the occipital nerve,  hormonal fluctuations that causes rigidity of upper back which impacts on my neck, fibromyalgia,  aggravation of myofascial points in my shoulders …whatever!!!

My headaches are easily exacerbated by heat, by working on the computer, by sleeping on the wrong side at night, by chiropractic adjustment, by menstrual patterns, by expending a huge amount of energy, by turning my head whilst swimming, by travelling long distances, by emotional tension, by looking at electronic screens for too long, by lack of sleep, by BEING ALIVE!!!

a headache is starting

stuck on public transport when I need to get home to bed NOW!

I am interested to know that there is now a theory* that migraines involve neural activity which (if I understand this correctly) would fit with my whole condition so that the headaches are just one painful manifestation of nerve disturbance which I also experience in other parts of my body. A specialist explained to me that the overly sensitive nervous system is at the base of why the muscles, connective tissue and nerves become so aggravated.  Over time repeated episodes of pain lead to entrenched and faulty reactions in the body. Again, if I understand it correctly, this malfunction of the nerves works in conjunction with the malfunction of soft tissue around the skeleton to produce pain that perpetuates itself.

Older medications for migraine (e.g. Ergodryl) were not as effective at reducing the pain for me or took a lot longer to work and required more than one dose. Even then I would spend inordinate amounts of time lying in bed with a cold washer covering my left eye and that side of my head. Sometimes I would still need an injection to stop the vomiting and rushing to the toilet. As I write this I feel myself  re-living how the minutes passed so slowly as the pain kept jabbing into the back of my eye … the waiting and waiting for the driving pulsating pain to subside or be obliterated by merciful sleep.

 ### throbbing eye ### 

throbbing eye

jab#jab#jab#

Thankfully Sumatriptan has intercepted this torturous occurrence and within 45 mins of taking this medication I can feel the pain subsiding. Of course you cannot simply shop for this – it has taken years of pain and various treatments to arrive at the effective medication I now take – your headaches may not be identical to mine so keep  my Disclaimer in mind.

There is one thing I can recommend for the reduction of headaches for fellow sufferers – swimming! especially back-stroke!  as much as possible! It seems to work for me in 2 ways. 1. The constant coldness of the water on the back of the upper body and head dulls the pain and generally seems to calm the nervous system. 2. The repetitive but smooth action of the shoulders relieves the deep clenching of one of my shoulders and the tension in the spine of my upper body. I am not talking about tense muscles which massage can ease – yes the muscles are tight, but this is a lifetime of restriction which operates continuously on the structure and fabric of my body. An extra tip about backstroke – while moving through the water lengthen out the back of your neck by looking at your toes splashing but don’t lift the head, instead, tuck in the chin. Somehow swimming (every 2nd day)** tones the body so that it reduces the number of headaches I suffer. Swimming also provides greater alleviation of pain than having a deep massage – plus it is something I can do for myself! I hope  you can think of another activity that will reduce your headaches if swimming is not possible.

* http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11359360

** On alternate days I do different types of exercises that are more effective for the pain in my lower body.

### pulsing eye### Courtesy http://www.creativecolours.org/freebies.html