Absolutely The Best Exercise Hack To Actually Heal Chronic Pain
OK, so this is a bit of a spin off of my last post "When Pain Is A Conditioned Response"...
When we have fear or resistance around increasing our activity it's most often because we've experienced a particular activity, or something about the place, the clothing, the people, the atmosphere or the equipment as a conditioned pain response.
This means that maybe we have a learned protective response to the bike we always feel our back pain while riding, or the bro mentality at the gym we go to that we feel uncomfortable or out of place with, or there's a particular movement that always triggers our pain.
It can be pretty confusing, and heartbreaking, when you've done a shit-ton of work around letting go of the belief that your pain is physical or structural, and then you go do some shoulder presses and get shooting pain down your arms and a migraine after.
I get it, I know it can be really hard to understand that this does not mean your pain equals a physical problem.
This is why I'm so passionate about getting people moving and working toward activity based goals in their recovery.
Exercise for nervous system regulation and chronic pain recovery is different from exercise for your muscles and cardiovascular health.
There's a step by step process of exercising for nervous system regulation and chronic pain healing.
This is a really important part of your recovery - to decondition your pain response to activity and exercise with safety reassurance, and the most potent pain killer we have available to us: Fun!
So how do we do this?
The answer is found in graded exposure.
Now, in the fitness world we have something called progressive loading... this is all about slowly adding stress to your physical structures while giving them a chance to adapt to the new stresses in between.
We're going to do the same thing, but with graded exposure the focus is not about your muscle, tendon and bones increasing capacity and adapting to new loads.... here the focus is actually on your nervous system capacity for and adaptation to more load - more stress - more exposure to that triggering activity.
First, consider your baseline:
If you know you can put mugs away on the top shelf when unloading the dishwasher, you know you can do as many reps as your dishwasher can hold mugs of that overhead press action with little to no weight. That would be a good baseline if that's true for you.
However, if putting dishes away on the top shelf triggers your symptoms, then you might need to start off a little easier... if this is you, start with visualizing the activity. Visualize going through the motions... if you're short like me you'll even visualize going up on your toes to reach the top shelf, you'll her the clink as one mug touches the others, you'll feel the smooth texture of the mug handles in your hand, and you'll feel yourself go through the motion of reaching overhead.
Then you'll do some somatic tracking.
You can follow the somatic tracking audio in my free mindfulness vault if you don't already have a practice established and want some guidance.
Then once you feel really comfortable with that, try unloading just one or two dishes... and somatic tracking. Then when that feels totally safe you can unload the whole dishwasher and reassure your safety find some humour in the whole situation with somatic tracking...
Eventually you can actually start adding weight and going through reps, just take it slow and remember that muscle, tendon and bones adapt relatively quickly, while the nervous system can take a bit more time to decondition from a protective response...
Just remember it's a step-by-step process of increasing nervous system capacity to exercise for chronic pain healing.
And as always, be kind and gentle with your self-judgements and celebrate your little victories, each and every one is worth celebrating!
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