Northeast Wisconsin
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • November 2016
Written by 

Taking the plunge: Working through chronic pain

Approximately 100 million people in the U.S. live with some form of chronic pain. Chronic pain is a condition where pain lingers long beyond the time of normal healing, lasting anywhere from a few months to many years. Pain levels may range from mild to disabling and intensity changes frequently.

Chronic pain can affect anyone. Those suffering deal with long-term pain and discomfort that can be a result of a sports injury or accident, or a diagnosed condition such as fibromyalgia, diabetes or multiple sclerosis. No matter the reason, the outcome is the same; the person is dealing with so much pain that they are often sidelined from living the life they want.

Chronic pain sufferers often get into a cycle of pain they can’t get out of. They are limited in their activity, which means doing any exercise or physical therapy can be difficult or impossible to complete. However, it’s those very exercises that aid them on the road to recovery.

Exploring warm water exercise can be a way to break out of the pain cycle by providing an environment where you can move and exercise with little or no pain. Water’s buoyancy allows individuals with chronic pain to move with a lower energy effort (energy preservation) while still increasing muscle strength and endurance. People suffering from ongoing pain need to stay in motion so as not to aggravate their symptoms of fatigue and muscle deconditioning.

Even if your pain is due to a recent injury or surgery, aquatic exercise can assist in the recovery more effectively than land-based exercise. Since you are not bearing your full weight in the water, you won’t be stressing the very joints and bones you are trying to rehabilitate. Many athletes rely on water therapy to heal hip, knee and leg injuries; those with spinal cord and brain injuries also find that water provides an ideal environment for full-body exercise without risk of falling or re-injury.

Relaxation is another important aspect of controlling chronic pain. Tense muscles, racing thoughts and worry are common symptoms reported by people with chronic pain. Learning to relax is a useful skill and has shown significant health benefits. The warm water of the pool brings relief by providing sensory stimulation to the entire body, relaxing both the nervous system and muscles, thus enhancing pain relief. Deep breathing exercises incorporated into water classes will strengthen the respiratory system and enhance blood circulation. Water also provides a playful environment for socialization and stress relief. Remember, it is not only through exercise, but also laughing, that release endorphins to the brain that reduce pain and help heal the body.

Thus, many people in chronic pain find water exercise programs positive, rewarding and mood enhancing. Ultimately, this builds hope and provides the motivation to continue staying active!

It’s not uncommon for individuals with chronic pain to experience feelings of loss, grief and helplessness. Accepting your condition is the most important step forward you can take. Acceptance does not mean you give up hope, but rather, refuse to let the pain dictate your life and activities.

Water provides the perfect environment to focus on your abilities, accomplishments and normalcy while participating in a variety of exercise programs with little or no pain. Participating in a group water exercise class is also a perfect social outlet to help restore self-confidence, and can serve as an additional support group outside of family and friends. I’ve seen many class participants leave a class with a smile on their face and a sense of satisfaction when they first realize water exercise is the very hope they needed to enjoy their life once again — in spite of pain!

Bonnie Murry

Bonnie Murray is a Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, certified in Adaptive Aquatics Interventions with multi-disabilities. She’s been at the Aquatic Center at CP since 2012 and works with patrons with neuromuscular disorders, post-trauma rehabilitation needs, pain management and personal fitness goals.

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