Print This Page SparkPeople

Pain Medications and Exercise

What You Need to Know to Have a Safe and Pain-Free Workout
  -- By Jen Mueller, Certified Personal Trainer
Millions of people struggle with the problem of chronic pain (defined as pain lasting longer than three to six months).  The severity and frequency of the pain can range from mild, occasional discomfort (such as a typical headache) to intense, constant pain.  Whether pain is something you deal with on a daily basis or infrequently, you don't want those symptoms to derail a consistent exercise program. 

Pain is a complicated problem because the symptoms, causes, frequency and treatments vary greatly from person to person.  The most common sources of chronic pain include headaches, backaches, joint pain (such as knees and hips) and pain from specific injuries.  Depending on the severity and frequency of the problem, it can change a person's entire life.  Not only does pain take a physical toll on the body, it also takes an emotional toll.  For example, depression is the emotion most commonly associated with back pain.

Often, certain exercises can help you feel better and decrease your symptoms.  But when you need to take medication (either prescription or over-the-counter) to deal with the pain, is it still safe to exercise?  Are there any special concerns before, during or after your workout to keep you healthy? 

Common Pain Medications
Getting pain under control can be achieved through a variety of techniques, including medication.  Physicians often start with over-the-counter (OTC) medicines that have fewer side effects, and then will progress to stronger prescription drugs if necessary.  Here are some of the common side effects associated with pain medications, and how you should adjust your exercise program accordingly: All medications have side effects, some more significant than others.  It's important to take all medications as directed, and keep your doctor informed if you're experiencing any negative effects.  Keep in mind that individuals taking the same medication may have very different responses to it. 

Exercise itself can be a good tool for pain management. When you exercise, the body produces endorphins which are natural chemicals that inhibit pain signals to the brain. It's important to work closely with your doctor to create a progressive exercise program that helps deal with the pain instead of leaving you feeling worse because you pushed yourself too hard.  When you do have to take medication to relieve pain symptoms, have a good understanding how it works and how it can affect your body. Your local pharmacist can be a great resource if you have questions about your medications. 
 
This article has been reviewed and approved by Nicole Nichols, certified personal trainer.

Sources
American Chronic Pain Association. "ACPA Resource Guide to Chronic Pain Management and Treatment," (PDF) accessed April 2, 2013. www.theacpa.org.  

Associated Press. “Sports Cream Warnings Urged After Teen’s Death,” accessed April 2, 2013. www.nbcnews.com

FDA Consumer Health Information. "A Guide to Safe Use of Pain Medicine," accessed April 2, 2013. www.fda.gov/consumer.

WedMD. "Chronic Pain Management," accessed April 2, 2013. www.webMD.com.