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.

Advertisements

Electrotherapy for chronic pain

The biggest breakthrough I have had with reducing pain has been through electrotherapy.

Some doctors jump to thinking I am referring to TENS therapy. When I was experiencing severe pain in 1991 I trialled a TENS machine. It only produced another sensation on top of the pain. I tried once again a few years later with exactly the same results. I am unequivocal that for my type of condition TENS produces no benefit. If it is working for you then your condition or your pain differs from my chronic myofascial pain.

A lot of new devices using electrical current have emerged more recently. The difficulty as a patient is finding how to gauge their suitability without being able to personally trial them before making a decision to buy. This can be an expensive exercise because the various claims for pain relief are so tempting.

I will tell you what I have found to be effective in reducing pain. The first discovery was a very reasonable price and was so helpful that I would have been prepared to pay a lot more. This set me off on the path of using electrotherapy and I now have 4 therapeutic devices which I use according to different situations or different parts of my body. One is a unit which lasts 300 hours before it needs to be totally replaced and the other 3 involve the on-going cost of purchasing lead wires, electrodes, batteries. I will describe and assess some of the strengths and weaknesses of the 4 devices so that you can decide according to your own circumstances if any are suitable.

There is actually a website http://www.electrotherapy.org/ which has a medical basis and provides research articles for the different modalities of electrotherapy. I wish I had known about the studies and the publications that are listed on this site. Perhaps some of the doctors would not have reacted with such scepticism when I told them about the wonderful pain relief I obtained from the first electrotherapy unit I used. Only about 5 years ago I asked a specific pain specialist whether he or his colleagues at a pain clinic had ever encountered any medical literature that suggested  microcurrent was an effective way of treating chronic pain. He was very dismissive, said that the device was likely to have produced a placebo effect and challenged me to find the medical proof myself! It is a strange world when patients need to convince doctors through accessing and filtering the research themselves.

This is partly the driving force behind this blog – if I had only listened to the doctors (and most have been very compassionate) there really was very little that could be done about the pain besides management with medication and exercise. I am very grateful to avail myself of these two methods but I would have led a very diminished life if that was all there was on offer.  I will write about exercise at a later date as it is a significant tool in pain reduction.

Actually no one thing, even electrotherapy, is THE answer to pain. It’s like having a toolkit and I bring out of the kit whatever helps most with whatever I am trying to do… as I write this I am standing up because I want to avoid aggravating the pain in my right buttock – it’s the oldest trick in the kit, common sense tells me to avoid sitting!