How To Exercise With Chronic Pain

“I can’t exercise because I have too much pain.”

Is this something you have said or thought as someone with chronic pain? I understand how so many might think this, but the opposite is actually true. If you do NOT exercise, you will hurt MORE. 


Chronic pain is defined as pain that persists for more than 3-6 months. The pain can be constant, or it can come and go. Sometimes, it is a result of an injury in which the pain lingers after the injury is healed. The CDC reported that in 2016 an estimated 20.4% of adults in the United States had chronic pain. Let’s take a closer look at this condition, and how we can help treat and limit its symptoms. 


Chronic pain can be put into two broad categories:

  • Neuropathic pain: Caused by damage to the nerves themselves. It is often described as shooting or burning pain. It can be caused by an injury damaging the nerves or a malfunctioning nervous system. According to the Cleveland Clinic, diabetes is responsible for 30% of neuropathy cases.

  • Nociceptive pain: Occurs when there is an injury that triggers nociceptors to send pain signals to your brain. These receptors can malfunction and continue sending pain messages even after the injury heals. This type of pain is categorized further into two categories.

      • Visceral pain: Often described as feeling achy and difficult to pinpoint the origin. This pain is caused by damage to internal organs that have nociceptors.

      • Somatic pain: Often related to joint injuries or arthritic conditions, this pain comes from injuries to the outer body. Skin, ligaments, tendons, muscles, joints, and bones can all cause somatic pain. 

The most common types of chronic pain we see in practice are neuropathic and somatic. Some examples would include low back pain, plantar fasciitis, and osteoarthritis.


Symptom limited exercise relies pain.

  • Your body was made to move. Frequent exercise can help maintain healthy neural pathways and keep your neuromuscular system communicating and functioning efficiently.

  • A sedentary life causes joints and musculoskeletal structures to degenerate at a rapid rate. Joints have synovial fluid which is a thick liquid that works to lubricate and provide nutrients to the structures in the joint capsule. When there is movement (even passive movement) this fluid increases and essential nutrients are delivered; creating a more healthy, happy, and pain free joint. 

Address imbalances and weaknesses first.

  • I frequently see chronic pain as a result of a reoccurring injury, or an injury that was never allowed to properly heal. Often, this is due to an imbalance or weakness in a certain area, and the cause of the pain may not be in the same place you feel the pain.

  • For example: say a client comes in experiencing lower back pain after lifting a heavy object about 6 months ago. After a movement screening and a few tests, I notice that this person has weak hip structures and poor mobility. As a result, they have been compensating by using their back to pick up slack. After strengthening their glutes, hip flexors, piriformis, and abductors and improving mobility, their pain goes away.

Don’t shy away from strength training.

  • Lifting weights at an appropriate level with proper form will usually not cause more pain. Think of it this way: the stronger your body is, the better able it is to support itself. This is especially true for those with chronic illnesses such as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Osteoporosis etc.. Strength training also improves conditions such as obesity which causes undue strain on musculature and joints, and diabetes which can result in peripheral neuropathy. 

Progress at an appropriate rate and reach out to a professional.

  • Exercising with chronic pain is a balance of pushing your body to make positive adaptations and changes, and not aggravating already angry or painful areas. ‘Start low go slow’ is applicable here and careful consideration should be taken when progressing in intensity. This is why hiring a professional is so beneficial. We are able to provide necessary modifications to accommodate pain, and know how and when to progress you in your program so that your pain is not worsened and you are not further injured. The goal is pain free movement!

If you or someone you know is experiencing chronic pain, we understand the difficulty surrounding this. Not only physically but also mentally. Our trainers at Momentum are here to help you and want you to experience the happy, pain free movement your body was created for. Please reach out to us to see how we can help you feel your absolute best!



Talk with a coach about your goals. Get the plan to achieve them.


Take the first step towards getting the results you want!

By providing your phone number, you agree to receive text messages from Momentum Fit Incorporated