Chronic pain, or pain that lasts for more than six months, can drastically reduce the quality of life for those it affects. Everyday activities like bringing in groceries, loading the washing machine, or cleaning the dishes can end in severe pain that could prevent people from living their lives.
Some people give up the movements that cause them pain altogether to avoid the resulting pain. However, inactivity has its own toll on patient health. Not getting enough physical activity contributes to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity, loss of functional strength and even increased pain in the face of activity.
On the other side of the spectrum, some fight against the pain and push through painful movements. However, repeatedly performing painful activities could eventually lead to more pain and disability or crippling pain flares. One of the key factors in remaining functional despite having chronic pain is a program of planned and well-paced activity.. In this blog, learn about a paced movement approach and how you can start incorporating it into your chronic pain management routine.
What is Pacing Your Movement?
Pacing is a self-administered chronic pain management technique that some patients use to live with and even lessen their pain over time. While some people see positive results with movement pacing without ever seeing a professional, we recommend that you visit a physiatrist for the best outcomes.
Pacing involves finding a happy medium between avoiding all painful movements and pushing through chronic pain all day. In other words, pacing sets a fixed time to perform painful actions.
For example, if cleaning the entire house for several hours causes you significant pain, reduce the time you spend cleaning. Instead of cleaning for two or three hours, set a quota for 20 minutes. After those 20 minutes are up, stop cleaning and wait until your quota resets.
Even if there is some pain (but not a pain flare) that occurs during the 20 minutes, keep going until the time is up. However, if the timer runs out, even if you just want to clean that last bit of the house, put away the cleaning supplies and rest. The entire purpose of the quotas is to force yourself to move the amount that your body is ready to handle, and breaking the quota defeats the whole purpose of movement pacing.
How Do You Pace?
Step 1: Find Your Quota
Before you begin pacing your movement, you need to find the baseline movement you can perform without a pain flare-up. To find your starting quota, complete an activity you would like to improve on and see how long you can go without a pain flare.
Some pain during the period is expected, so push through minor discomfort.
Do the same activity and continue timing yourself over the next several days. After three or four days elapse, take the average of your times and consider that to be your starting quota for that movement.
If there are multiple movements that you want to improve, find the baseline for that specific activity by repeating the steps above.
Step 2: Repeatedly Perform Your Quota
Using the amount of time you found in step one, perform that activity for the next week. If you experience a pain flare, stop the activity and lower your quota. However, if there are no pain flares, it is vital that you continue to perform the movement for the entire quota.
The quota will acclimate your body to doing as much movement as it can at the time. If you give up early because you get tired or frustrated, your body will only take longer to adjust to its new activity level–harming your chronic pain management results.
Step 3: Gradually Increase Quota
Once you have successfully performed your movement quota for a week or so, it is time to step up your movement level. During the second week of your movement pacing, try increasing your original baseline by 10%.
With your new quota, continue to perform your activity daily for another week. At the end of that week, increase your quota by another 10%.
If 10% is too large of a jump, try a 5% increase instead. As long as you progressively increase your movement quota and make consistent progress, your pacing is doing its job.
Step 4: Give Yourself Time to Recover
Pushing your body to do more even with your pain may take a toll on your energy levels, and could modestly aggravate your pain in the near term while sticking to your movement quota, plan for breaks or relaxation periods before and after the exercise. Use these breaks to “recover” the pain back to baseline by combining pain modalities, such as ice, heat and massage with mind/body tools for pain coping, such as relaxing breathwork.
Your body needs time to recover, and planning for such breaks will make your movement pacing more sustainable. Or, if there is a day where your body is not up to the task of performing your movement quota, still do something to stay active. Stretching or going for a walk will give your body the break it may need for a day while still keeping you active.
Maximizing Your Chronic Pain Management
Activity pacing and planning can be an effective tools for your pain coping tool kit at home. With dedication, consistency, and a will to improve, you can gradually increase your pain-free movement levels.
However, to get the most out of your chronic pain management, there is no replacing the value that trained professionals offer. Physiatrists that use cutting-edge recovery technology, like those at EmergeOrtho–Triangle Region, can provide you with insight into your pain and a customized recovery plan to ensure that you don’t waste time and effort. Pain psychologists help patients develop and implement their pain-coping skills and get more control over the role of pain in their lives.Learn more about planning your activities to reduce pain in this video from Dr. Les Phillips, PhD, our pain psychologist.
EmergeOrtho–Triangle Region has the experience and the expertise for your chronic pain management needs. To get the best results for your chronic pain, we encourage you to schedule an appointment. Or, call us any time at (919) 220-5255.