Choosing the Right Machine: Mitigating Body Pain Through Appropriate Exercise Machine Use
By NICKI KARIMIPOUR, PHD
Body pain can be a frustrating side effect of certain medications, overuse of muscles, aging, or a host of other factors. However, many people who suffer from body pain also want to continue getting regular exercise and may be wondering how to do that without further aggravating their bodies.
Understanding the causes and treatments for body pain are important aspects to taking a holistic approach to personal health. In this article, I will discuss why body pain happens, who suffers from body pain, and what you can do to make it better.
Also, certain exercise machines can help mitigate body pain when used properly. Read on for an explanation of the sources of body pain, potential treatments, and an outline the types of machines suitable for use by people who have body pain.
Body Pain Causes
“There is a misconception by everyone, physicians and patients alike, that pain is a purely physical phenomenon. The problem is that pain is not and has never been purely physical or biomedical in nature,” said Rachel Zoffness, Ph.D., Health & Pain Psychologist and Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine. “Pain is never exclusively medical – rather, pain is what we call biopsychosocial, which means there are three domains that make up the experience we call pain, which are biological, psychological, and social.”
Body pain can be constant or episodic in nature, depending on a few factors. For example, some biomedical causes of back pain include an injury, lifting a heavy object improperly, wearing high heels, sleeping on the wrong mattress, or poor posture. Some of these issues can be resolved by biomedical interventions, including changing your footwear, mattress or taking the proper precautions when lifting heavy objects. However, these interventions don’t address the psychological and social factors that trigger and maintain pain.
Other pain-related issues have a genetic component and cannot be easily resolved. Some body pain is caused by chronic conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, gallbladder disease, and/or obesity, which can put strain on the joints. Whether acute or chronic, genetic or accidental, all pain conditions require targeting biological, cognitive, emotional, behavioral and social factors in order to be effectively treated.
Who Experiences Pain?
Survey data from the National Institutes of Health shows that American adults are living in pain, whether it is brief or extensive in duration (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, 2015). In fact, more than 100 million adults experience chronic pain, defined as having pain every day for the last three months (Institutes of Medicine, 2011). In addition, 40 million adults experience severe pain that significantly interferes with their daily lives.
Although it can occur in people of all ages, chronic pain is most prevalent in older adults age 50 and older (Cirino, 2018). Other than older age, certain things can increase the risk of developing chronic pain – such as sustaining an injury, having surgery, and being overweight or obese. Females experience pain more than males (Cirino, 2018).
Certain animal research has suggested that female animals have lower thresholds to pain and lower pain tolerance overall, whereas some findings suggest that male animals have lower pain tolerance, and some studies suggest there is no gender differences at all. In human studies, however, researchers have found more reliable results when it comes to differences in pain tolerance and thresholds amongst males and females. Threshold refers to the minimum amount of pain someone can feel until they report feeling pain. On the other hand, pain tolerance means the amount of time that someone can feel consistent pain. Researchers from Pennsylvania State University found that women are more sensitive to pain, and that men have higher pain thresholds and pain tolerance than women (Stevenson, 2008).
Types of Body Pain
Not all pain is created equal – you could be experiencing nerve pain, musculoskeletal pain, psychogenic pain, joint pain, neuropathy, or something else entirely. Different types of pain can affect the body differently and you may feel different types of sensations as a result.
Nerve pain can feel like tingling, burning, prickling, shooting or stabbing pain. It can also vary in its intensity, sometimes feeling like slight “pins and needles” or it can be agonizing (Jacques, 2019). Nerve pain is relatively common, with more than 20 million Americans reporting that they experience nerve pain (WebMD, 2020a). An unpleasant side effect of a chronic condition like diabetes or because of a treatment like chemotherapy is neuropathy, which can feel like tingling and numbness in the limbs especially the arms, hands, feet and legs. This kind of pain can be triggered by certain activities or occur at certain times of the day or night. In fact, sometimes this pain is worse at night.
The musculoskeletal system refers to the complex organization of muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, bursae, cartilage and joints in the human body (Eustice, 2020). Conditions associated with this system include different types of arthritis, and this type of pain can feel like stiffness and swelling. In addition, you may experience fatigue, limited range of motion, and decreased ability to partake in physical activities (Eustice, 2020).
Finally, when a person is experiencing pain due to emotional or mental issues, it is called psychogenic pain. This can involve muscle pain, back pain, headaches, and stomach pain (WebMD, 2020b). Research shows that emotional and mental pain can have physical manifestations. For example, individuals suffering from stress may feel unexplained aches and pains (Ferguson, 2020). If you’re feeling anxiety, you may feel numbness or tingling throughout your body.
“The brain’s limbic system is the brain’s emotion center, and it can change pain volume. For example, negative emotions turn pain volume up, and positive emotions turn it down,” Zoffness said. “In terms of psychological strategies for pain management, we want to ensure we are taking care of our emotional and cognitive health, especially during a pandemic. For some people, this can involve utilizing coping tools like gardening, watching movies, taking a bath, or talking to a friend as part of a comprehensive pain management plan. It’s important to be in tune when we are very overwhelmed, anxious or stressed out because these emotions amplify the pain we feel.”
Choosing the Right Machine for you
When working out with exercise machines, it is important to take a few things into consideration: your mobility, your age, and the body part you’re trying to work.
Of course, having consistent access to workout machines is also key, which is made more difficult with gyms and workout centers closed due to the pandemic. However, for those who can access gyms or have machines at home, using machines can be a great way to get some physical activity in while also not putting strain on muscles and joints.
If you have lower back pain, using machines like the lateral bar can help strengthen your muscles (Croswell, 2020). In addition, it has a built-in safety feature in case the weight you’re pulling feels like too much to handle – just release the bar and it will go back to its original position. If you are concerned about sustaining further injury, you can start out with very low weights.
People with back pain can use machines like the elliptical safely to lubricate their lumbar discs (Kessler, 2020). Other machines that are suitable for use by people with back pain include treadmills, as walking has less impact on the joints than running does – and walking on a treadmill has less impact than walking outdoors. Additionally, surfaces outside may be uneven and lead to injuries (Kessler, 2020).
For those suffering with knee pain, there are a few machines you can use. The elliptical is a good choice, as you can control the pace, incline, and resistance levels. The rowing machine allows you to work your arms, legs and back without adding tension on your knees. Another good machine to use for those with knee problems is the stationary bike, because you can work your core without putting strain on your knees – and you’re in a reclined position which is more comfortable (Bogle, 2019).
Hip pain can prevent you from working out, but not working out can lead to more muscle stiffness (Theobald, 2015). Machines suitable for those with hip pain include the treadmill due to its shock reduction effects. Other good choices include the elliptical, stationary bike, tread-climber and Stairmaster.
Constant working from home has likely exacerbated neck pain for most of us. A good first step would be to engage in exercises that will strengthen the neck (Jensen, 2019). Ensuring you don’t further aggravate your neck means focusing on machines like the elliptical in which you can control various aspects of the workout. Making sure to keep your spine and neck upright during walking and running will also be helpful.
Body Pain Treatments
Even after working out, you may still experience some lingering pain. The good news is that there are solutions. To ease the feelings of pain in your body, you may want to take a multi-pronged approach.
“There are dozens of alternative treatment options available. Widely recognized alternative approaches include acupuncture, massage, and chiropractic care,” said Nicole Hemmenway, CEO of the U.S. Pain Foundation. “There are also lesser-known modalities, like aromatherapy, art or music therapy, reflexology, Reiki, and hypnosis. Everyone with pain is different, so it’s important to try out different options and see what works for you. There’s no magic bullet, and it often takes a few treatments in combination to experience significant relief.”
“A person’s emotional state, degree of anxiety, attention and distraction, past experiences, memories, and many other factors can either enhance or ameliorate the pain experience. Hence, we have a unique opportunity to address factors that contribute to the pain experience, which naturally become therapeutic targets and give patients a sense of control over their pain experience,” said Maisa Ziadni, Ph.D., pain psychologist and researcher at Stanford University’s Pain Division. “We have several coping strategies that are rooted in cognitive-behavior therapy. These include, but are not limited to, psychoeducation (pain neuroscience), relaxation strategies, activity pacing, cognitive reframing or restructuring, improved sleep hygiene, increase pleasant activities (behavioral activation), SMART goal setting, assertive communication, and enhancing patients’ efficacy in coping with their pain,” added Ziadni.
In the physical realm, experts recommend losing weight if you’re overweight or obese in order to relieve pain on the joints. Foam rolling can also help alleviate pain. Foam rolling involves rolling out the fascia and can help loosen tension in the muscles. In addition, foam rolling can be beneficial for situations in which people cannot get a massage (Healey, Hatfield, Blanpied, Dorfman, & Riebe, 2014). Finally, certain medications can help with pain relief such as over the counter medications and prescription medications approved by your physician.
“There are behavioral strategies for pain management. A cycle we see with chronic pain is that people stop exercising, going out, and playing sports, but research shows that pain volume amplifies when we aren’t engaged in movement and pleasurable activities,” Zoffness added.
She recommends “pacing for pain,” in which you plan to do a small amount of activity daily, whether it’s a high pain day or a low pain day. The activity you choose can be an activity of daily living, such as grocery shopping, or a physical activity like walking or swimming. She also recommends mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy as other evidence-based strategies.
“When we think about how to expose brain and body to small amounts of activity, there are a lot of different options such as stretching, yoga, swimming, tai chi, and walking. We recommend physical activities that are low impact and accessible,” Zoffness said. For more tips and tools on effectively managing pain, click here.
Finally, it’s crucial to make sure to find a healthcare provider who listens and wants to be a partner in helping you manage your pain.
“It’s vitally important to find a provider who listens to your concerns and takes you seriously; keep searching until you find that person,” Hemmenway added. “To help providers better understand your pain, make sure to use very specific descriptors, like ‘burning,’ ‘throbbing,’ etc., and to talk about your pain in terms of what it’s preventing you from doing, like lifting your child or exercising. We often talk about pain using numbers on a scale of 1 to 10, but everyone’s 10 looks different, so descriptive information about your symptoms’ impact on your function can be more useful. I also recommend writing down questions before your appointment and taking notes as you talk with your provider. Better yet, bring a loved one with you to your first appointment who can help you stay on track and remind you of information you may have missed.”
Pain can come from many different sources, so it’s important to identify and isolate the causes so you can figure out the best method to treating the pain. Staying active is also a great way to engage in pain management and focusing on exercises that don’t further exacerbate your muscles, joints and ligaments will allow you to work out without further adding pain within the body. In addition to strengthening exercises, you can use machines to aid in your workout if you take the proper precautions and are careful to not intensify your injuries or pain.
Author Bio: Nicki Karimpour, PHD
Contributor and Health Advisor
Dr. Nicki Karimipour is a communications expert and experienced researcher. She obtained her master’s degree and Ph.D. in Health Communications from the University of Florida. She has previous experience in writing and editing for both print and online publications, and almost a decade of experience in teaching health writing, public health, and public relations at the undergraduate and graduate level. She is based in Los Angeles, California and currently works at the University of Southern California as a director of communications and clinical research. Follow her on Twitter: @NickiKPhD
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