Five Forms of Exercise to Combat Pain and Aid Recovery

21 February 2014

Five Forms of Exercise to Combat Pain and Aid Recovery

Coping with pain damages quality of life, leads to more days off work and increases the risk of depression.

The cost to the country of chronic pain – meaning pain lasting more than three months - is unknown but back pain alone is estimated to cost £5 billion per year.

Here we look at five serious health issues that can cause pain and may be a result of medical negligence relating to surgery or medical aftercare.

Here we highlight some treatments and exercises to help fight it in each case:

1 - Spinal cord injuries

Around 40,000 people in the UK are living with a spinal cord injury, according to the Spinal Injury Association.

In fact, every eight hours somebody in the UK will have their life devastated by such an injury.

Road accidents, falls, illness and sporting accidents are the most common causes. Patients face a major challenge getting out of bed for the first time and often spend six months in a rehabilitation centre.

After that home adaptations may be needed, while treatment and exercise regimes vary depending on individual circumstances and should be agreed with a doctor or physiotherapist.

Pain can occur in parts of the body with little or no feeling, as well as in areas with normal sensation.

But sport and exercise can improve upper body strength and condition paralysed people for the physical strain of life in a wheelchair.

Water therapy in a swimming pool can provide a gentle form of exercise for patients in severe pain and make it easier to stand without equipment.

The water counteracts gravity, making it easier to stretch, while also providing buoyancy and mild resistance to movement to strengthen muscles.

There are no British national guidelines on exercise after spinal cord injury.

But guidelines from SCI Action Canada suggest adults with spinal cord injuries should do at least 20 minutes of aerobic activity – anything that makes your heart and lungs work harder - twice a week and strength training twice a week.

2 - Stroke

Every five minutes somebody in the UK has a stroke – 152,000 people in a year. Many survivors face a slow, gruelling recovery. About 80 per cent face some movement problems and many also continue to feel pain.

Stiff and tight muscles (spasticity), shoulder pain, sore swollen hands and general aching or burning can all be problems.

According to the Stroke Association, the main physical problem for stroke survivors is weakness in their limbs.

Stroke survivors usually start working with a physiotherapist as soon as their condition is stable.

By repeating a range of simple exercises recommended for the individual, the patient can begin to regain mobility and may reduce their level of pain.

Early sessions may focus on regaining balance and building up muscle strength, so a patient can stand unaided and begin to walk again.

Stretching exercises can reduce muscle stiffness and the associated pain and braces may be used to stop a muscle constantly contracting.

Patients seriously affected by stroke can do stretches while sat in a chair and still build up their strength and flexibility.

In some cases physios may restrain a patient’s ‘good’ arm so they have to carry out tasks with their damaged arm.

3 - Hip replacement

Many people need hip replacements due to arthritis or after fracturing their hip in a fall.

The operation is usually carried out in older adults, aged between 60 and 80, to help relieve pain and make it easier to move freely.

Hip replacements were introduced in the 1960s and around 70,000 are now carried out a year in the UK.

The surgery is usually considered highly effective and replacement joints are now designed to last for at least 15 years.

But after surgery patients may have swollen legs and feet and should expect to feel discomfort when walking and exercising.

A physiotherapist will recommend exercises to strengthen the hip. They may include:

  • lying flat on your back and sliding one heel at a time towards your body, holding it for 10 to 15 seconds and repeating 10 – 20 times;

  • lying flat on your back and squeezing your buttocks together without holding your breath – holding it for 5 to 10 seconds and repeating 15 – 20 times.

As recovery continues swimming and riding on an exercise bike may also be recommended to strengthen surrounding muscles.

But there remains a risk that the new joint will not continue to work as expected and further surgery will be required to repair or replace it.

This happens in around one in ten cases, according to NHS Choices.

In some cases it could be that medical negligence or mistreatment played a part in a patient experiencing continued pain or requiring further surgery or treatment.

4 - Cerebral palsy

About one in 400 children is affected by cerebral palsy in the UK. 

But the name covers a range of conditions that damage the brain and nervous system, causing problems with movement and coordination.

It occurs when the brain is damaged before, during or shortly after birth and possible causes include an infection in pregnancy, premature birth and abnormal brain development.

Diagnosis is usually made by the time a child is two or three but many tests may be required and the exact type and severity may not be known until they are of school age.

No two cases are exactly the same so treatment must be carefully tailored for each child.

Physiotherapy is vital in cerebral palsy to stop muscles children don’t normally use from weakening and to stop their muscles going rigid.

Muscle stiffness can make it difficult for children to stretch their muscles, meaning they do not grow as fast as bones – leading to pain and deformities.

A physio can teach various exercises for strengthening and stretching muscles.

Cerebral palsy sufferers may also benefit from:

  • Bobath – using special handling techniques to help a child change their abnormal postures and movements;

  • Rebound therapy – using a trampoline to allow a child to bounce through a range of movements and stretches, aiding strength, balance and co-ordination

  • Hippotherapy – placing the child in different positions on a horse to develop balance and help them learn to control their responses

5 - Meningitis and septicaemia

Recovery from meningitis is a very slow and gradual process for many patients, who can be left suffering extreme tiredness for many months.

Viral meningitis, which can be spread by coughing, sneezing and poor hygiene, is the less serious form and patients usually recover within a week or two.

But some may experience after effects such as tiredness, irritability and mood swings and should consult their GP if they do not go away.

Bacterial meningitis, caused by various bacteria and spread through close contact, is much more dangerous.

Around one in four people who survive bacterial meningitis or meningococcal septicaemia (blood poisoning) will experience after effects such as problems with co-ordination, concentration and memory.

Severe headaches due to inflammation of nerves and raised pressure within the head may take months – or in some cases years - to go away after the infection is cured.

Pain may also come from other physical problems caused by meningitis or septicaemia, such as damaged skin, muscle, joints or nerves.

It usually disappears during recovery but in rare cases it can become chronic.

Exercise can often play a role in helping recovery but it is vital that patients pace themselves in line with advice from a doctor.

Some patients who suffered severe inflammation may be left with problems walking or moving and will benefit from exercises to increase strength and flexibility and make daily tasks more manageable.

A spokesperson from says " was created to help people who have suffered after surgery, with advice and legal guidance. Exercise is a key aspect of recovery but if people feel that this is not going to plan and nobody at the NHS will listen to them when something goes wrong with their aftercare, we are able to help".

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