Definition and Overview

Performing pain reduction exercises is one of the common treatment options prescribed for people suffering from both chronic and acute pain. Some studies show that exercise helps lessen pain because it improves a person’s pain threshold and flexibility and most importantly, strengthens the parts of the body that are experiencing the pain, allowing them to better fight off the sensation. While most people who suffer from pain conditions tend to reduce movement due to the fear of aggravating their pain, doing so can actually make their condition worse.

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

Pain reduction exercises are beneficial for all individuals who suffer from chronic or acute pain, which are typically caused by various medical conditions such as the following:

  • Fibromyalgia – This is a chronic disorder that causes widespread pain affecting the patient’s entire musculoskeletal system, which results in pain in different parts of the body.

  • Arthritis – This is currently one of the leading causes of chronic pain around the world and is characterized by pain and inflammation of the joints. Two of the most common types of this condition are:

  • steoarthritis – This occurs when the protective cartilage that connects the joints breaks down, causing the joints to collide against each other with each movement.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis – This type of arthritis affects the smaller joints, such as those found in the hands and feet. When left untreated, this can lead to deformities of the affected body parts.

  • Multiple sclerosis – This is a neurological condition wherein the immune system attacks the myelin, the protective sheath covering the nerve fibers, leading to chronic pain.

  • Shingles – Also known as herpes zoster, shingles can cause pain arising from the nerves, usually around the belly, neck, face, arms and legs.

  • Neuropathy or nerve damage – This is characterized by the damage to the nerves causing pain in the affected area.

  • Previous injury – Past injuries can sometimes cause lingering pain and may also increase a person’s risk of developing arthritis in the affected area.

Pain caused by wear and tear or overuse can also affect major joints and specific body parts. Some examples include:

  • Low back pain – This is associated with a spinal problem, a lower back muscle (erector spinae) issue, or a spinal or intervertebral disc problem.

  • Knee pain – There are many factors that can cause knee pain including anterior knee pain (which affects the kneecap), menisci or cartilage problem, bursitis, joint bleeding, gout and infection, among many others.

  • Shoulder pain – Shoulder pain can be caused by bursitis, tendinitis and other conditions affecting the many joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments in the shoulders.

These conditions typically share the same symptoms, such as:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Fatigue
  • Tenderness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Sleeping trouble
  • Painful response to pressure

Some of the exercises that are effective in reducing pain include:

  • Cardiovascular exercise, such as walking, swimming, or aerobics
  • Strength training
  • Core strength building exercises, such as Pilates
  • Flexibility exercise
  • Meditative exercises, such as yoga and tai chi
  • Stretching exercises, which help maintain the joints’ normal range of motion

All the exercises mentioned above are found to help with specific conditions. For example, cardiovascular exercises are proven beneficial for those who experience pain in their knees and lower back area, while strength training exercises are good for those who experience joint pain.

Aside from doing the exercises, chronic pain sufferers should also remain physically active throughout the day by doing their regular activities, such as cleaning the house, gardening and going to work, among others.

How the Procedure Works?

Exercise works to reduce pain and help people cope with it by doing the following:

  • Improves pain threshold
  • Improves joints and muscles flexibility
  • Strengthens the body
  • Boosts the production of dopamine and other endorphins
  • Prevents bone loss and maintain bone strength
  • Improves posture
  • Decreases tension
  • Keeps weight under control

To address various pain conditions or pain that affects different isolated body parts, patients can also combine different types of exercises.

If a patient wants to incorporate pain reduction exercises into his treatment plan for chronic pain, he or she can seek the advice of his attending physician or a fitness instructor.

Possible Risks and Complications

Not all exercises can help alleviate pain. In fact, there are some exercises that people with chronic pain conditions should avoid. These include:

  • High-impact exercises – Examples of these exercises are running and basketball. These activities can be very rough for the joints, making them more prone to pain due to constant and forceful landing and shifting that the sports require.

  • Certain sports, such as golf and tennis – Golf and tennis both put a lot of strain on the back and are therefore not recommended for those who are prone to back pain. Golf, for one, is also more likely to worsen pain because it causes a person to repetitively rotate in a single direction, causing one side of the body to become overly strained while the other remains relaxed. This imbalance can be addressed by performing other exercises that can strengthen the relaxed side.

Also, to avoid the risk of injury associated with physical activity, individuals should always follow the proper process of easing into and warming up before exercising. Upon choosing a particular type of exercise to try, patients should begin with slow and easy movements and take regular breaks. Also, before starting the exercises, it is important to warm up by moving the body gently for five to ten minutes.

There are also routines they can do before and after exercising, such as applying heat packs or warm compresses to painful joints and muscles for about 20 minutes to relax them, and applying ice to painful joints and muscles after exercising to prevent inflammation.

Also, when doing pain reduction exercises, it is important not to push the body to the limit. What’s important is to stay active without overdoing it. This is why people who want to exercise to alleviate pain should receive proper guidance from their doctor or fitness instructor.


  • Nettina SM. Musculoskeletal health. Lippincott Manual of Nursing Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2010;chap 32.
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