If you had a dollar for every time you heard that exercise is the greatest thing since sliced bread (not that sliced bread is healthy—unless it’s just one slice of high-fiber 100% sprouted rye flour), you’d be rich. Maybe not in health, but at least in dollars. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of hearing that trite recommendation, even if it is tried and true. But for millions of people who have chronic pain, how can they exercise when even getting out of bed or off the couch is a challenge? Forget going to the gym or getting into pickleball! 

I have helped dozens of clients in my functional medicine practice—now based at the Diabetes & Wellness Clinic in Norfolk, Nebraska—overcome systemic inflammation, which is 99 times out of 100, the root cause of chronic pain. 

That’s why I’m calling for a paradigm shift. All the supposed health gurus out there must emphasize the importance of gentle exercise. Actually, check that. You see, even the word “exercise” often carries a negative connotation. “Oh, I have to lift weights or run for an hour until I break a sweat? Um, no thanks. Even if I could, I would have no interest.”

Can you relate to being reluctant to start an exercise program? Especially when nobody has given you guidance on what to do if you don’t have good mobility…

That’s why I want you to think of it not as exercise but as movement therapy. Doesn’t “movement therapy” have a nicer ring to it? 

But before we start with a very light, simple movement therapy routine, I want you to understand how systemic chronic inflammation (inflammation in more than one area of the body) causes pain. Once you have this knowledge, hopefully, you’ll be motivated to overcome deep-seated inflammation. But you don’t have to go it alone. That’s why I’m here for.

How Inflammation Causes Chronic Pain

For starters, inflammation activates the immune system. That’s a good thing if you have an acute condition like a virus. But chronically, an overactive immune system releases various chemicals, including immune cells that release inflammatory chemicals. 

In addition, chronic inflammation can lead to the accumulation of scar tissue, disrupting the normal structure and function of tissues and organs. Not only that, but it can also cause your nerve endings to be more sensitive to pain. (This is called “peripheral sensitization.”) Even if there’s no joint or tissue damage, the nerve endings can tell the brain that they are perceiving pain.

There are several other physiological reasons that inflammation causes pain. But let’s skip the rest for now and instead focus on the mental aspect. Too seldom are the psychological impacts of chronic pain mentioned. Chronic pain can cause stress, anxiety, and depression. It’s challenging enough to move the body when pain is present, much less have the motivation to move when you don’t have mental harmony. 

For these reasons, in my practice, I aim to make movement therapy accessible and enjoyable for everyone, regardless of their physical condition. So without further ado, here’s a sample of the movement therapy routine I oversee with my clients. This routine engages various muscle groups without causing stress to the main joints that are the source of pain. 

Jenna Witt’s Functional Movement Therapy Routine

  • Chair Squats (10 reps): Start by sitting on a sturdy chair with feet flat on the floor. Stand up slowly, keeping the back straight, and then lower back down to the chair. This exercise targets the lower body muscles.
  • Wall Pushups (10 reps): Stand facing a wall, arms extended at shoulder height. Perform pushups against the wall, keeping the body in a straight line. This exercise engages the chest, shoulders, and arms.
  • Up/Down Off the Floor (modified with a chair): Using a chair for support, practice getting up and down from a seated position. This helps improve mobility and strength.
  • March in Place with High Knees (30 seconds): Lift your knees as high as comfortable while marching in place. This exercise elevates the heart rate and improves cardiovascular health. 
  • Butt Kicks (30 seconds): Stand in place and kick your heels up towards your buttocks. This exercise targets the hamstrings (back of the thighs) and improves flexibility.
  • Bicep Curls (10-15 reps): Use lightweight dumbbells or simply your body weight. Curl your arms towards your shoulders, engaging the biceps (the muscles of the front of the upper arm).
  • Triceps Extensions (10-15 reps): Extend your arms overhead, holding a lightweight dumbbell or using your body weight. This exercise targets the triceps (the backside of the upper arms). 
  • Seated Leg Lifts: While seated, lift one leg at a time, extending it straight in front of you. This exercise strengthens the quadriceps (front muscles of the thigh) and improves flexibility.

Additional Movement Therapy Options For Chronic Pain

There are several other gentle exercises that individuals with chronic pain can incorporate into their daily routine, including gentle yoga, swimming or water aerobics. 

If you want to regain your life from chronic pain and inflammation, contact me at the Diabetes & Wellness Clinic in Norfolk, Nebraska, by calling 402.379.9600. 

Until next time,

Jenna Witt, NP

Nurse Practitioner
Functional Medicine Practitioner
Mother of 4
Founder, Fundamental Wellness of Nebraska