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Staying consistent with exercise can be hard for a lot of people but for those with chronic migraines or any type of chronic pain it can be more difficult and many people avoid it because of the fear of physical activity triggering pain. For years I was that way and avoided exercise it was to the point my occupational therapist noticed and she didn’t know how much I exercised just that it wasn’t enough. She encouraged to increase my physical activity and even gave me low-impact ideas on how to increase strength but even with all the tools, you can’t make someone use them. I was in a place where I legitimately convinced myself I couldn’t exercise because of my pain and any ideas you gave me I shot down. I finally broke that cycle and have been exercising six days a week which is what I was doing before I had chronic pain. Now the workouts are a little bit different than they were before and not as high of a intensity but you don’t need super high intensities for exercise to benefit your chronic pain. It took me years to find the right balance of exercise and to get out of the mindset that I can’t so in this post I am going to talk about how I finally overcame the fear of exercising.
Take it slow– I have this really bad habit of going into a work out and being overly ambitious with what I am acutally capable of so I end up pushing my body too hard and quitting within the first of couple of months because I am too exhausted and burnt out from exercise. When you don’t have chronic pain you may be able to get away with going beast mode a couple of time a week and feel totally fine but when you have chronic pain that is not always an option but for most people it can cause some serious problems when you try to do workouts you did before you had chronic pain. Take it slow and remember working out is different with chronic pain and you don’t have to feel like you have to meet the standard of everyone else because often you won’t be able to or even come close to what everyone else is doing. If you are only able to do five mintues of stretching that’s okay be proud of that because something is always better than nothing at all!
Stopped making excuses– Before having chronic pain I worked out six days a week and had no trouble with getting my workout it because I loved everything about my routine. Working out is different now and not nearly as enjoyable because I have pain to consider the routines I do now are pretty much the same as before except I have to watch my intensity level. Before having chronic I would do super high-intensity workouts and was able to do it safely but now if I were to do that it would not be safe! I would likely trigger a migraine attack and my heart rate would get way too high to the point it would probably be dangerous. I had every excuse imaginable why I shouldn’t hit the gym and as soon as I lost these excuses I realized everything I was telling myself I couldn’t do were just lies and it wasn’t as hard as was making myself to believe it was!
I wanted to gain confidence- Before chronic pain, I could do full pushups for several minutes without stopping but the more I was not doing anything to maintain my strength I started to lose it. My confidence really started to tank and I felt ashamed and embarrassed just to leave my home and if I could get out of an event I totally would. I didn’t have the strength or endurance to even open doors by myself and a couple of times I have struggled to open doors by myself and sometimes something that should be easy took a couple of tries. I felt embarrassed around friends and family because people think that since I walk with crutches that I naturally have a strong upper body but it doesn’t work that way and disabled people have to do strength like everyone else and walking alone is not enough! Finally, I came to terms with my strength and realized the only way this was going to change so I was confident is if I built enough strength that I didn’t feel I had to hide anything and could maintain it.
Workout in the morning- There are some parts of my workout I don’t mind doing and doesn’t take a ton of motivation to do it while other parts like strength training that is like pulling teeth. I can do ab workout’s without a problems and have actually overtrained them before because I like doing them so much which is why I watch videos so that doesn’t happen but strength training not so much. I have gotten a little better with strength training and have found ways to trick my brain to enjoy but it’s still not my favorite thing. Sometimes if I am doing a workout I kind of like I can put it off until later in the day but if I know it’s going to be harder I usually make exuses the later I wait. Working out in the morning doesn’t make harder workouts any easier but it can get it over with so you are less likely to make excuses and avoid them.
I changed my view of exercise- When people start a fitness journey usually, in the beginning, they are super consistent but as time goes on a lot of the time people get frustrated when they don’t have a total body transformation in three weeks so they give up. Working out with chronic pain is not the same and for the last couple of years, it has been a serious drag to the point I literally had to drag myself to the gym and even when I did force myself I still wasn’t motivated like I normally would be and it wasn’t until recently I discovered I was doing it for the wrong reasons. Everyone is probably guilty of working out of becoming to obsessed with looks and working out for vanity reason. In the beginning of my chronic pain journey, I fell into that trap and worked out to look a certain way and then wondered why I was never motivated. I had no reason to want to get stronger so I changed the way I look at it and reminded myself that I should work out but I don’t have to and I get to! Working out for many disabled people is not an option and body confidence is a big struggle even more so than those with physical disabilities that have limitations. I am just grateful I can do something because I can’t imagine what it would be like if I couldn’t.
Reminded myself it’s only one hour- Workouts can be tough and you may feel like you are dying while you are doing your routine but if workouts were easy everyone would be super fit because noone would have any problems with doing them. Let’s be honest here how much time out of your day do you an hour workout is? It’s probably only like two-percent of your day so when I feel like I can’t do this I remind myself it’s only one hour and if I can binge Netflix for five hours regularly I can certainly workout for an hour everyday.
I accepted my chronic pain- When I first started having chronic pain I thought there would be some surgery that could be done or some medication I could take that would get rid of my pain because in the past that is what has happened. When it go away go away I became very depressed and if you were to ask any of my friends how I was during that time they would probably say very angry and not the same person because I was loosing friends like hotcakes. I felt sorry for myself and had constant daily muscle pain for several years and it wasn’t until I made the connection it was from not exercising and becoming too weak. The pain went away after a few weeks of consistent weightlifting and I still have trouble sometimes when I am having a bad migraine attack but it isn’t constant and it’s only when I am having a bad pain day. My chronic pain is not going to go away any time soon but I secretly hoped it would for a really long time and when I let that go and accepted my pain it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulder.
Commit to five minutes- Sometimes I will lie there for hour trying to motivate myself to want to exercise and comtemplating if I should. Most of the time I would come up with some lame excuse why I shouldn’t and never got around to it. Now instead of laying around waiting to become wildly motivated I commit to five minutes and if I still am not motivated to continue my workout I take a day off. It’s okay to take a day or two off but sometimes we need and it only becomes a problem when a day or two off turn into weeks off on a regular basis. Starting is the hardest part because once you get started you will get in the zone and not want to stop!
I pay more attention to my nutrition– For a while I didn’t pay attention to what I was eating without realizing how much food can have a affect on pain and worsen if your not eating the right things. When I was really struggling I was eating a lot bread and things that are high in carbs because that was my comfort food but it made me feel sluggish so I had no energy when I showed up to my workout and all I wanted to do was take a nap so that is usually what I did. Paying more attention to my diet and eating a little less carbs has given me more energy so I can show up to my workout and do them without being half asleep.
When you have chronic pain it can be difficult to get started with a fitness routine and for some people with more severe chronic pain exercise does not help and can make it worse so never tell chronic pain sufferers they would feel better if they were more active because that’s not always true. Exercise can be difficult with chronic pain but that doesn’t mean we should avoid everything that is just a little bit challenging. Can you imagine if I thought that way I would never do anything because everything I do is somewhat challenging and I just find ways to make it work but by no means does it make it easy! My exercise routine can be done six days a week because it’s just some light pilates and some strength training so it’s totally safe and there is very low risk for injury as long as you are doing exercise properly but not all exercise routines will be safe to do that often. Some higher intensity routines shouldn’t be done that often without risking injury and overtraining. Listen to your body and if it feels right then keep doing it but if your body is saying you should stop then don’t continue! It can be dangerous to push through a workout when your body is give you clear signs that something is right because that usually is because your not doing exercises correctly and will only injure yourself doing them. Have you struggled to stay consistent exercising with chronic pain?