Movement Is Medicine: Re-framing the relationship with exercise to reduce pain.
September is Pain Awareness Month, and while it is incredibly important to educate and validate the experiences of chronic pain, I also wanted to provide some empowering self care ideas for you.
Our society tends to frame the idea of movement as productivity. Movement as exercise. That we need to "work off" the calories we take in, that we have to "earn" the food we need or crave to nourish our bodies (and sometimes to satisfy cravings!)
This idea is flawed and out of touch. It can lead to damaging practices that actually degrade our health. It leads to a problematic relationship with food, and lowers self esteem. It fosters "all or nothing" thinking, instead of meeting your body where it's at.
Throughout this month, I encourage you to challenge your views on movement. Movement is a way to celebrate your body! Movement is a way to nourish your muscles! Movement encourages an idea of play and fun. Movement as medicine meets your body where it's at. It is an act of love.
Benefits of Movement for Chronic Pain
If you have a formal diagnosis of a chronic pain condition such as migraine, POTS, hypermobility spectrum disorder, Fibromyalgia, etc. you are likely to be told by your doctor to exercise to reduce your pain. There's good research to suggest that movement is therapeutic in the treatment of chronic pain, but being told to exercise isn't very helpful. How do you go about exercising when you're battling daily pain and fatigue levels that sometimes keep you in bed? The thought of adding in exercise in the middle of a day in bed tending to your chronic pain or migraine symptoms can feel impossible.
This is why the all or nothing thinking that our society has about "exercise" is so damaging. What if we changed that perspective to "movement is medicine" or "therapeutic movement"? It encourages us to survey our bodies to see what feels good at that time. In the middle of a flare up, that might mean a short ten minute stretching sequence in bed. Making intention to move your body in a way that feels good, and encourages healing in the muscles, and may help you feel better in the moment. The act of love in this level of self care alone has a therapeutic effect.
Benefits of Movement During Pregnancy
Movement during pregnancy has enormous benefit to your health, your baby's development, and preparing your body to be strong during labor and recovery during postpartum. Shifting energy levels, nausea, and the muscular discomforts during pregnancy can make the idea of exercise daunting task.
Again, the damaging effects of the "all or nothing" ideas our society has around "exercise" creep in. If you can re-frame it into "movement as medicine" and meet your pregnant body where it is, you can encourage more movement, and reap the physical benefits.
It can also be helpful to understand that some things that are common muscle aches and pains during pregnancy would qualify as chronic pain. That low back and hip pain during pregnancy for example. If it lasts longer than 12 weeks, it's considered chronic pain. Understanding this can help you give yourself the permission to be gentle with yourself. If a 10 minute walk around the block is what your body can do today, that's okay! Celebrate that you set aside the time and intention to care for yourself!
Benefits of Movement Postpartum
As your body enters into postpartum recovery, many of the same mentality shifts from pregnancy can be applied. Your body will be well prepared for healing if you prioritized physical self care during your pregnancy. New demands placed on your body of caring for a newborn can come with their own set of common muscle aches and pains. And still, even though pain and soreness in the hips from long seated positions, and upper back and neck pain from holding baby and from feeding positions are all common, if they last longer than 12 weeks, they are chronic pain. Treat your body with the same tenderness you give to your newborn. If your body can do an upper body stretch routine or if you feel like taking baby on a 30 minute walk, celebrate it! Your body is amazing!
The Compounding Benefits of Movement & Massage Therapy
For the treatment of chronic pain, or pain experienced during pregnancy or postpartum, I always recommend some type of movement to my clients as aftercare. During each massage session, I want to hear what type of movement feels good to you, and what movement causes pain. Do you have a consistent threshold when it comes to movement? And is that better or worse than your recent prior experience?
For example: You can only seem to walk about 15 minutes now before your pain is flaring up and your body is asking for recovery. This is great news if last month your threshold was 10 minutes! This can show us an area of focus if you're used to being able to complete 30 minutes.
Massage therapy and physical activity are both powerful ways to stimulate the body's production of endorphins, or the "feel-good" chemicals.
Movement Is Medicine Month Challenge
Inspired to share some empowering self care during Pain Awareness Month, Gaia Massage is hosting a Movement Is Medicine Challenge.
The challenge details:
Re-frame your idea of "exercise" to "movement is medicine" or "therapeutic movement". This challenge is about mindset. We're moving to feel good, and because it feels good!
Move your body every day in a way that feels good. Movement Is Medicine meets your body where it is, and because of that, we do not need "recovery days".
Follow along on Instagram! I'll be sharing what I do every day for this challenge!
Share only if you want! This challenge is all about self care and self love. I encourage you to do this for yourself and only share if that feels good to you!
Examples of Movement That Feels Good
The following is for inspiration, please expand into whatever feels good for you!
15 minute YouTube yoga
5k with friends
walking the dog around the block
hiking in nature
10 minute stretch sequence in bed
living room dance party
joining a Pilates or Yoga class at your favorite studio
playing with your pet
Sources for Additional Reading
by Ginevra Liptan, M.D.
by Penny Simkin, PT, et. al.
Links are provided to purchase for your convenience. Gaia Massage does not profit from any purchases.
Hi, I'm Samantha, owner and Licensed Massage Therapist at Gaia Massage, LLC. I'm here to empower women and pregnant people to help them
feel better through massage therapy techniques specialized for pregnancy, and through sharing knowledge, tips, & tricks for self care!
This information contained in this blog post is my opinion as a Licensed Massage Therapist specializing in chronic pain relief and prenatal and postpartum massage. It does not substitute medical advice.