Many people want to lose weight because their body is in pain and are hoping weight loss will help. They know eating right and exercising are keys to weight loss, but when movement is painful, it seems even more overwhelming to lose weight. If this catch 22 sounds familiar, let’s take a closer look to find how you can exercise even when you are dealing with pain issues. Ironically, it is not about pushing through pain to get to your goal weight. Here is why:
- Pain is complex and involves signals from the brain. The level of pain does not equal the level of injury, or any injury at all. Evidence of this came from the fact that people who had a limb amputated still had pain in that part of their body. Its called Phantom Pain and inspired neurosciences to investigate the source of pain symptoms.
- Usually, pain is a signal from your body to your brain to tell you there is something wrong and it needs your attention. However, acute (initial) pain and chronic (long term) pain are different and need to be treated differently.
- The term “good sore” does not make any sense. There is absolutely no evidence that muscles need soreness to get stronger, nor that when you are sore you are burning more calories, fat or making more progress. Muscle soreness is only a sign of doing too much too soon.
The first thing to remember about pain is that it creates a ‘negative habit loop’ for your brain about exercise. That means, if exercise leads to pain, it is much more likely your brain will start making excuses why you cannot exercise. Pushing your body to do more than it is ready to do, only gets you more stuck.
The irony here is that when you learn to listen to your body and work with it, you end up exercising in a way your body and your brain can do long term. That consistency with exercise that leaves you feeling better in your body, rather than worse, and is the way exercise will help you with weight loss and health.
The details of how to do that depends on many factors including where you have pain, how long you have had it for and the cause of the pain.
If it is arthritis pain, you need to find the sweet spot of moving often enough so your joints don’t stiffen up from lack of movement, but not doing so much that it increases inflammation and causes more pain.
If it is an autoimmune illness like fibromyalgia, starting at a much lower level that what you think you should do, and using a slower progression is the way to work with your body. Also knowing different types of exercise you can do for different stages of the illness. For example, stretching during a flare up so you maintain mobility and help lower inflammation.
If it is back pain, knowing how your core is designed to function is essential for moving in a way that reduces your pain.
The specifics here are beyond the scope of this blog, but the overarching message is to listen to your body by using mindfulness; presence with kindness. Starting with that mindset, you will be more willing to listen to your body and give it what it needs to help calm the pain signals.
Living with pain is not easy, to put it mildly. Thankfully there is so much great new information from scientific research that has given us a better understanding about pain. The more you understand your body, and the more self compassion you can have for the situation you are in right now, the better you will be able to move away from pain and toward more comfort and function in your body. For all of you in this situation, please know exercising without pain is possible. I have seen it happen over and over again. Stay curious, mindful and most importantly be kind to yourself.
Keep moving, be well