When your body hurts, you tend to lay low and avoid any movement that may cause more pain. And that instinct is helpful after an acute injury because rest promotes healing. But if chronic pain has kept you inactive for weeks, months, or years, rest has the opposite effect — it causes pain.
Our board-certified physiatrist at American Rehabilitation Medicine, Dr. Stanley Mathew, understands this cycle of pain and inactivity and helps patients break it. Whether you suffer from fibromyalgia, arthritis, neuralgia, complex regional pain syndrome, or any other chronic pain condition, we can help you reduce your symptoms through traditional and alternative treatments, including the simple act of walking.
You’ve heard the adage, “Use it or lose it,” and it certainly applies to your body — it’s called deconditioning or disuse syndrome. If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, whether by choice or because of chronic pain, it changes your body. In fact, disuse disrupts your body’s major systems, including:
Without use, your muscles atrophy, becoming smaller and weaker. They get stiff and painful. Joints stiffen, as well, because they rely on movement to keep synovial fluid running through and lubricating them. Lack of movement weakens supporting ligaments and tendons, so you lose range of motion and flexibility. And when you don’t move around and bear weight, your bones lose density, leading to osteoporosis and possible fractures.
Because your heart is a muscle, disuse syndrome affects it, too. Your systolic blood pressure rises, and your blood plasma volume drops along with your oxygen uptake.
Your nervous system falters as well, leading to cognitive issues, such as memory problems and difficulty concentrating. And because chronic pain is both a physical and mental problem, it can trigger feelings of hopelessness that exacerbate the pain and may even lead to depression and anxiety.
Fortunately, studies show you can avoid or reverse disuse syndrome by becoming more active.
When you suffer from chronic pain, the last thing on your mind is going to the gym. Even if you understand the concept of movement as a form of pain relief, a strenuous workout isn’t the way to go.
A walk, however, may be just the ticket.
The simple act of strolling can do wonders for your body, especially if you increase the duration of your walks a little every day. Here’s what walking does for you:
Weak muscles put your body at risk for injury, and they become stiff and painful. Walking strengthens your support structures, including the muscles in your core trunk, your back, and your legs, reducing the pain the stems from waning muscle tissue.
When you lie in bed all day and night, your blood vessels narrow and restrict blood flow. But walking opens up your blood vessels and allows blood to flow freely through them so it can deliver oxygen and nutrients throughout your body. This is essential for tissue healing and pain relief.
Every time your muscles flex and relax, they produce chemical toxins that usually get flushed out with normal use. But if you’re sedentary, these chemicals stay in your muscle tissue and generate pain. Walking gives your muscles the activity they need to get rid of the toxins and the pain.
Deconditioning shrinks and shortens your muscles, which makes you stiff and inflexible. Walking counters this by stretching and lengthening your muscles and ligaments and reducing your pain.
Going for a walk also eases the mental and emotional symptoms related to your pain. As you move more, your body releases hormones called endorphins, which are natural pain relievers. They also make you feel more relaxed and happier, which can help you stave off depression.
Walking is just one way of addressing chronic pain. Dr. Mathew evaluates your unique symptoms and medical history to develop a personalized treatment plan to reduce your pain for good. Your treatment may include walking, as well as any of our traditional and alternative chronic pain treatment options, such as trigger point therapy, ultrasound, epidural steroid injections, acupuncture, psychological counseling, yoga, nerve blocks, and more.
To find out which combination of treatments can address your chronic pain, schedule a consultation with Dr. Mathew by calling or booking online. We have offices in Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, and Anamosa, Iowa.