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Pain Management and Exercise

Nina Ghamrawi, MS, RD, CDE
December 22, 2023
December 22, 2023

Are you in pain? Oftentimes when we are in pain it may be difficult to move. In fact, we may find that moving makes us hurt more. But research has found that adding in activity carefully with the guidance of a professional can actually reduce your long-term feelings of pain. Before starting a routine for exercise for rehabilitation from chronic pain, it is important to discuss what exercises are appropriate for any physical limitations you have with your doctor or physical therapist. Here, we will take a look at why exercise is important in pain reduction, and what classes of exercise have been found to be the most helpful.

This article published in 2019 discusses the modifiable and non-modifiable factors which contribute to chronic pain. It highlights the role specific lifestyle factors play and how addresses these may improve pain management, specifically, things to stay away from, and things to do more.

Stay away from:

  • Smoking – heavy smokers report high pain intensity scores and increased numbers of painful sites.
  • Alcohol – analgesic properties of alcohol are short-lived; alcohol withdrawal can increase pain sensitivity; alcohol dependence can cause a dysregulation of pain neurocircuitry and neurochemistry contributing to chronic pain.
  • Processed foods - foods high in sodium, chemicals, and sugar, and low in fiber, vitamins, and healthful plant compounds can decrease the body's defenses against inflammation.

Get More:

  • Physical Activity – improves function and quality of life, reduces pain severity. Particularly, aquatic exercise, tai chi, yoga, and aerobic and strength training.
  • Plant Based Nutritioneating more plants can reduce inflammation, improve quality of life, and reduce pain severity and intensity.
  • Sunshine and Vitamin D – low vitamin D levels have been seen to cause anatomic, endocrine, neurological, and immunological changes, which predispose to onset and perpetuation of chronic pain.
  • Sleep – poor sleep increases the intensity and duration of chronic pain.


Pain is never an excuse to stay inactive. Research has shown that adding in physical activity carefully with the guidance of a professional can reduce your long-term feelings of pain. Stay away from alcohol, smoking, and processed foods, and get more physical activity, plant-based nutrition, vitamin D, and sleep can help alleviate pain.

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