Chronic pain is a health issue that disproportionately affects elderly Americans. According to a 2001 study, more than 50 percent of seniors (65 years and older) in retirement communities and more than 80 percent of nursing home residents said they suffered from persistent pain. Pain was the most frequently reported symptom among elderly test subjects in other findings. 5 Fitness Exercises for Relieving Chronic Pain
The fact that chronic pain is so prevalent in aging populations means that older adults are also being prescribed opiate painkilling drugs in “astounding” numbers, according to an Associated Press report released just last year. The same report estimated that nearly one in three on Medicare use commonly abused opiates—which may also help to explain how many of the clients who end up in addiction treatment fall within this same age bracket (65 years and up).
For these clients—and for anyone who wants to protect themselves from the health dangers of prescription painkillers—finding non-pharmaceutical methods of pain relief is critical. On that note, here are five fitness exercises for relieving chronic pain that are evidenced to work, based on the studies: 5 Fitness Exercises for Relieving Chronic Pain
- Pilates, particularly Pilates mat exercises, proved effective at reducing pain symptoms in a recent study of test subjects with chronic pain issues who took Pilates classes three times a week for 14 weeks. The Pilates method is a mind-body exercise that focuses on the conscious strengthening of trunk muscles and stabilizing of the body’s core, pelvic-lumbar region. These exercises, which also involve breathing, flexibility, and posture, can be performed with or without special equipment. (Pilates mat exercises do not require equipment.) In an earlier 2015 study, Pilates out-performed other forms of physical exercise in reducing back pain.
- Hatha yoga is a more gentle form of yoga that combines postures, breathing, and meditation and has reduced symptoms of chronic pain in women with fibromyalgia. (The disease’s most telltale symptom is chronic pain, but it is also characterized by muscle stiffness, gastrointestinal discomfort, and anxiety and depression.) A 2011 study at York University found that women who practiced 75 minutes of hatha yoga twice per week over the course of eight weeks experienced a notable reduction in physical and psychological symptoms of pain.
- Swimming or water aerobics, ideally in warm water (which loosens the muscles), is therapeutic for pain. The unique properties of water are one reason, according to existing research into water therapies for pain. The same studies reported that water aerobics and stretching exercises successfully reduced the pain symptoms of people with chronic lower back pain. 5 Fitness Exercises for Relieving Chronic Pain
- Tai chi is a Chinese form of exercise that has been described as “meditation in motion,” and is technically a non-competitive martial art. One of the health benefits of tai chi is an evidenced alleviation of pain. The exercises have also been touted by trusted mainstream sources like the Mayo Clinic as an effective form of stress relief.
- Strength and resistance training, such as progressive weight lifting, is also an effective form of pain management for seniors, as a growing body of research now attests. For example, older adults with osteoarthritis reportedly saw “significant improvements” in strength, function and pain reduction when they took part in a strength training exercise program. Similarly, in another more recent study, moderate and moderate-to-high intensity resistance exercises, (using exercise equipment and free weights), decreased sensations of pain and tenderness in women with fibromyalgia. 5 Fitness Exercises for Relieving Chronic Pain
By Linda Williams
Linda Williams is the Executive Director of Beach House Center for Recovery. She is also a seasoned clinician with specialization in addiction and trauma.