17th November 2016. For many millions of people around the world, chronic pain is an unfortunate part of daily life. The source of that pain is often as diverse as the individuals themselves. This diversity makes treatment difficult; it can take time and considerable effort to find an acceptable treatment for chronic pain. Not only does the pain create challenges for individuals in their lives, but it also often has an adverse effect on physical fitness. The side effects of pain medication often make for difficulties of their own as well. However, exercise and swimming in particular, can have a positive impact on easing one's chronic pain. At first, it might seem counter to common sense, especially if your chronic pain is back-related. Won't exercise just exacerbate the painful effects you feel now? The reality is a little different, though. From helping to break bad habits to its low impact characteristics, swimming can absolutely play a role in reducing your chronic pain. While it isn't a cure, it can provide you with positive benefits. Let's discuss how chronic pain affects your ability to exercise and why swimming might be the solution. It may be that the time is right for you to strap on swimming goggles and practice your freestyle! First, though, have you ever heard of a "pain cycle"?

Breaking the cycle of pain-related habits

Those coping with chronic pain understand that some days are a constant battle to find relief. The pain can make one develop particular habits and postures. For example, those with back pain may habitually sit in a position that isn't ideal. While it may provide relief from the regular source of one's chronic back pain, the poor posture can create secondary pain and even injury. The individual then shifts to a new position and the cycle continues. It's a daily struggle to find a way to move and be active without incurring greater pain. Speaking of activity, a lack of exercise is often a side effect of a pain cycle's deleterious effects. It is all too easy to convince yourself that any significant activity or exercise will only exacerbate the chronic pain. For those who strive to have more "good days" than "bad days" regarding their pain level, that often means exercise isn't on the agenda. As a result, though, a lack of exercise can contribute to increased pain levels. Stiff joints and weak muscles sometimes equal worsening symptoms. Freeing yourself from the cycle of chronic pain begins with recognising the role exercise and your fitness play in feeling better. While you may not be able to eliminate the pain, you can certainly ease it by equipping your body with the right tools. You might not be able to lace up your running shoes, but most people have access to a pool in their communities. They may even have one at home. The water provides a place for you to train and strengthen your body. Exercise has positive mental benefits, too, just by breaking away from the norm, you might start to feel better. A positive attitude goes a long way when living with chronic pain. Once you recognise that it's time to break the cycle, going for a swim is the first step. Why swimming, though? Could exercising in the pool have an effect on pain? Let's investigate.

How swimming benefits sufferers of chronic pain

The pattern of inactivity which chronic pain can lock you into results in stiffer joints, as we mentioned, and other problems that accompany a lack of exercise. The very act of going for a swim in the first place will work to undo those problems. Swimming improves the availability of the lubricating fluid joints need to move smoothly. It does this without the high-impact stresses that accompany some exercises, such as running. The water provides you with a place where you can move about with ease. Even spending an hour a day in the water paddling from one side to the other can boost joint mobility. For those suffering from chronic arthritis pain, that means a better chance for less pain the rest of the day. Perhaps you still have concerns that swimming will worsen your pain, though. Why is it so different from exercising on land? First, we mentioned that swimming is a "low impact" exercise, because the buoyant properties of the water can support almost your entire body weight. It's hard to place sudden, injuring stress on a body part in the water because of buoyancy as well as resistance. Try to stomp your feet on the bottom of a pool. What happens? You don't go very fast at all! While the right strokes can have you gliding across the water quickly, overall the pool protects your body. Meanwhile, the buoyancy supporting you takes pressure off your spine, perfect for those with chronic lower back issues. For those with access to spas or hot tubs, a soak in the warm water after your swim is even better. The warmth will help relax your muscles. That should make it easier to release the tension your pain creates. Swimming in a heated pool is an option too. Many scientific studiescontinue to demonstrate the positive and pain-reducing effects swimming generates for individuals. However, the physical benefits that contribute to pain reduction aren't the only positive aspect. Swimming and similar fitness activities contribute to triggering an endorphin release. You may know these as the "happy" chemicals the brain produces. Through breaking away from your pain cycle and moving your body, you can improve your mental and physical wellness. The right mindset and a stronger body can help you push back against chronic pain.

Making swimming part of your routine

Step one is recognising that it's time to pull out of the cycle that chronic pain creates. Step two is making the decision actually to go for a swim. It's step three, figuring out how to make it a regular part of one's life, that is often a particular challenge. The pain-relieving benefits of swimming work best as part of a consistent exercise plan. While the thought might be daunting now, let's think about a few ways you can begin to work out in the water. It's good to start out slow, allowing you to acclimate to exercise and loosen up your joints after a potentially extended period of inactivity. Instead of going straight to attempting to backstroke across the pool, try something gentler, like water-walking. Try using a weighted belt to keep you steady; this exercise involves repeatedly walking across the pool. The water resistance and physical exertion will help you to adjust to exercise again. You may even find classes where people with similar issues gather to exercise together. After developing your comfort level, consider stepping up to swimming laps. Some strokes could create discomfort, depending on where your pain originates. Others, though, allow you to get a particularly robust workout while also easing the pain you experience each day. Whether that's a free-form stroke or the standard breaststroke, depends on what works best for you. Finally, set a schedule for yourself. You may wish to consult your doctor on this subject. How often you should exercise depends on many factors. Your physician can help you create target goals to work towards each week. Even if you only get in the pool once or twice a week to start, you're likely to feel the results right away. Soon, you may find yourself wondering what took you so long to take the plunge.

Start your journey towards relief and better fitness

It all starts with recognising that it's time to try and break out of the cycles chronic pain creates in your life. By taking to the pool and practising how to swim, you can undoubtedly bring yourself a host of benefits. From reducing pain to improving your total fitness level, swimming can help you to take back more of your life from chronic pain. The freedom of movement you'll experience in the pool is a definite mood-booster, too! Remember that it's okay to start slow. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about your ability or the appropriateness of a given swimming exercise. With the medical green light, it's time to make a splash. Don't forget to have fun while you swim!