There is growing evidence that when it comes to many aches and pains, our exercise choices do not have to be as specific or ‘correct’ as most people think they do. In fact, ALL exercise reduces pain in many different ways. One way that exercise reduces pain is by releasing endogenous opioids (AKA natural “painkillers”) in the body. Exercise also reduces fear of movements associated with pain, which in turn decreases pain during everyday tasks. Another important way exercise reduces pain is that exercise promotes healing by stimulating tissue repair and remodeling in tendon, muscle, cartilage and bone. However, our exercises don’t have to be that specific, perfect, complex, or complicated to help those in pain. They just have to be done.
Multiple studies have shown that general exercises are just as good as specific exercises at reducing pain. For example, one study found no difference between specific core exercises and walking in reducing low back pain and improving function – both had good outcomes! Another study found that doing squats works the same muscles as doing planks, and the squats actually worked some core muscles more than planks. There are even studies showing that general shoulder strengthening exercises are just as good at reducing shoulder pain as specific rotator cuff exercises.
Now this does not mean that if your job or lifestyle involves moving around a lot that you don’t have to exercise – nice try! There is actually evidence to support that this is not the case. It appears that work related and other daily activities do not produce the same health and well-being benefits as intentional exercise. Research says to improve fitness or strength, the intensity of exercise needs to be around 60-80% of maximum effort. Most work related and daily activities doesn’t reach this level.
To summarize, there are many options for exercises to reduce pain. This is great news because it means you can do whatever form of intentional exercise you enjoy including walking, running, cycling, kickboxing, weight lifting, and boot camp. Just pick something you like and can stick to! There is no “bad exercise,” the only bad exercise is the one you are not prepared to do. If you do not exercise, or are having pain with your regular exercise routine, see one of our Physical Therapists to make sure your body is adequately prepared to handle what you are asking it to do. Our Physical Therapy clinics in Little Rock, Maumelle, and Sherwood will help you start exercising while being mindful of your pain, and address factors that could be causing pain with your regular exercise routine.