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Exercise & Pain

Exercise & Pain

Find out how to work exercise into your chronic pain management plan.

When you live with chronic musculoskeletal pain, exercising might be the last thing you feel like doing. But it pays to keep moving. Workouts encourage your body to release endorphins—neurotransmitters that act as natural painkillers. Regular exercise also helps you manage your weight, which is good news because extra pounds tend to aggravate persistent pain.

Your doctor can advise you on the best activities for you, but most pain-management exercise programs include this combination:

  • Low-impact aerobic workouts. In one study, people with knee osteoarthritis who participated in a walking program felt less pain after just eight weeks. Other aerobic options that fight pain include cycling and swimming.
  • Stretching. Studies have found practicing yoga and tai chi, both forms of exercise that enhance flexibility and range of motion, can help soothe pain.
  • Resistance training. This kind of workout builds joint-supporting muscles to help reduce chronic pain. Your doctor or physical therapist may tell you to build muscle using weights, resistance bands, water exercises, or even your own body weight.

Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program, especially if you've been inactive due to chronic pain. Also, "listen" to your body whenever you work out and avoid any exercise that hurts.

Medically reviewed in December 2018.

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