Often times we are told about the benefits of physical activity. We are told how physical activity can lead to stronger muscles, weight loss and improved quality of life. We are encouraged to exercise and get our bodies moving in order to maintain proper health. Anyone dealing with chronic pain has been told by their health care providers the many ways in which regular exercise can improve overall health as well as help them to better manage their chronic pain.
What is often not clearly explained, are the effects of inactivity on the body. The connection between inactivity and chronic pain cannot be denied. In fact, a study published in 2008 showed a clear connection between inactivity and chronic musculoskeletal pains. This condition has been given the term “disuse syndrome” which refers to the changes that happen in the body as a result of being sedentary or inactive.
Disuse syndrome has been known to cause deterioration to the musculoskeletal system. When a muscle is not being used regularly, the muscle will begin to atrophy. Someone who has had their leg in a cast can attest that once the cast is removed, there is a clear difference in the diameter of their two legs. The one that was immobilized and therefore, not used, will appear significantly smaller in diameter.
The same logic applies to the other muscles of the body. The less frequently the muscles in our body are used, the smaller and weaker they will become. This decrease in muscle mass and strength can lead to chronic pain in the body. Disuse syndrome is a well known cause for chronic back pain. When the muscles that are meant to hold the weight of the body become weak, the weight of the body falls on the skeletal system, specifically the spine. This can lead to degeneration and chronic back pain.
Physical inactivity can also affect cardiovascular health leading to a rise in blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and a poor blood and oxygen supply to body tissue. When the blood and oxygen supply to the body tissue are not sufficient enough, the tissue does not receive the nutrients that it needs. This can also lead to muscle atrophy and chronic pain.
Physical inactivity has also been known to affect the way the brain and nervous system function. This can lead to an increase in pain sensitivity, difficulty concentrating, loss of memory and difficulty processing new information.
Inactivity contributes to weight gain, which puts pressure on the musculoskeletal system. This added pressure can cause a more rapid deterioration to joints in the body, leading to chronic pain. The back and knees, which are weight baring joints, are most affected by increased weigh and therefore, prone to chronic pain.
Physical activity can be a preventative measure to reduce the risk of developing chronic pain. It is also an excellent way to manage and decrease already existing pain. Regular exercise, along with the proper diet are the essential tools you need to combat chronic pain and maintain your good health. Speak with you primary care physician about how you can learn to be more physically active and how you can take on a primary role in your overall health.