Move it or lose it, everyone has heard this. You have got to move your body, exercise is necessary for everyone, even if you don’t have a chronic pain issue. It keeps you mentally healthy, releases stress, fights depression, and keeps everything pumping and moving as it should. When you throw in CRPS, it becomes 1000 x’s more important since all activity helps keep the your brain and nerves connected, and talking. Which means in general that symptoms are better kept in check, and could even help reduce some of the symptoms.
Exercise – do it. No excuses.
Daily exercise and stretching goes against a lot of the early recommendations for sufferers of CRPS, then known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), they were generally advised to not exercise the limb that was afflicted. While we don’t know a ton still about CRPS, we do now know that was the wrong advice. Movement is a big part of keeping the symptoms in check, and possibly keeping them from getting worse. Most people have an aversion to moving a limb that is painful, when movement is exactly what it needs. It is a natural response to protect, and develop protective habits, for areas in pain. If you have CRPS in the arm or leg, they tend to used less and treated gingerly, when what they need is to be moved more. This protective instinct is a natural response, but we do not realize that we are most likely making the situation worse. It is important not to allow yourself to give into the fear of pain, since bad habits will develop that could cause more injuries. So as much as you want to don’t give into the negative voice that says it hurts too much to do anything, and try to be mindful of using that limb more than unaffected ones.
It is vitally important to move and use your body, everyone needs to. It is even more important if you have any part of your body affected with CRPS. You will need to, as I said before, move as much as possible. It can be hard to be disciplined about this, trust me some days I really don’t feel like moving, it all just hurts too much. And sometimes, even though it is hard, I just have to accept that I am just not able to. Other days, it comes easily and I make myself get up and move, in pain or not I almost always feel loads better after. The feeling better after moving, mentally and physically, gives me the knowledge that if I put up with the pain and just get on with it, I will be rewarded. Rewarded with a sense of accomplishment, as well as pain relief. Being able to check off “do some exercise” from your list of things to do, is a great feeling of accomplishment as well as relief from pain. I have to be strict with myself, and to keep with telling myself I have no excuse for not moving because it hurts, since I will feel better once I do. Even if that day, all you can manage is a walking circuit around the house, you still made sure you got up and moved around.
Some days we all just feel too crummy to work out, that is OK, now and then. You need to listen to your body and understand what it is telling you, pain is a signal that something is wrong so you need to listen to that signal and understand its nuances. Know your limits, pain exhausts the body so push yourself to move, but be reasonable. Muscle pain from working out is good, that familiar fiery ache you get from working out, push through that. But if it feels like a sharp stabbing pain or sharp pain, is a bad sign and means you should probably consider stopping, slowing down, or a different exercise. Again know your limits, you may not be able to walk 3 miles everyday, so if it is just around the house celebrate that you were able to do it. Remember there are some that can’t even do that, be happy you can.
Exercise means better blood flow, and that’s a good thing.
Movement gets the blood flowing better, and helps to move along fluids that may be pooling in the area causing edema. Vasomotor dysfunction (a fancy way of saying the veins and arteries have issues expanding or contracting like they should) is a symptom of CRPS, and leads to the color change and temperature change in the affected areas. By moving the body, it makes the heart pump faster, which signals the rest of the circulatory system to dilate, making the path wider to allow more blood to travel. Blood brings nutrients, oxygen, and the body’s immune system to the muscles and other parts of the body. If it isn’t allowed to make it’s full circuit in the circulatory system it can’t do it’s job.
One of the first things I noticed about my “bad” leg was my heal was dry and cracking no matter what I did, and was quite the mystery until my CRPS diagnosis. The leg was paler compared to the right one, as well as swollen, with a sickly blue hue to it. This was because the de-oxygenated blood was backing up in the leg, amongst other things, and was not allowed to move back to the lungs due to the swelling narrowing vessels blood needs to pass through. De-oxygenated blood, referred to as blue blood in the video (blood isn’t really ever blue, just dark red when low on oxygen, bright red when high in oxygen) has to travel back to the lungs to pick up a load of oxygen and then goes round the circuit again. Oxygen is a major part in proper cell functioning, and when you exercise you start to breathe more as well making sure that the blood that is traveling to the lungs can pick up more oxygen. Oxygen saturation can give you an idea of how well your body is moving things around, and is sort of a good test to see if you are breathing enough (we will go over breathing in another post). My blood when they check it, is generally 98% and higher thanks to all the breathing I do, you can check yours with an oximeter that are generally easy to get. They also tend to check your pulse too, which you can see your resting pulse rate versus your exercise heart rate. It should increase, as well as oxygenation after working out.
Another reason to move about is that the push/pull action of the muscles, actually helps to move the circulatory system along. The veins have a little flap like valve system, similar to the heart valves, which allows the blood to flow up instead of down.
Contracting and using the skeletal muscles helps to squeeze the veins and help move the blood in an upward direction more efficiently. If you are sedentary, it is just the heart that has to work harder to move blood up. This again helps prevent pooling, can help with chronic edema, and makes sure that the pumping system is working at maximum capacity. Pooling is what happens when you are in rest mode, blood will tend to be drawn to the core, to the digestive system, reproductive system and so on. The blood will tend to pool in the center of the body, so it can help with digestion and other functions, reducing flow to extremities. Moving around makes sure that the body knows that it isn’t time for rest mode, but work mode, and to keep blood pumping to the extremities.
Blood flow to an area is a large part of making sure the parts of the body responsible for healing can get to where they need to be. If you have pinched off or narrowed flow of blood like I do in some places, exercise can sometimes relieve some of the pinching of the vessels, or allow blood from other areas to flow more easily to where it needs to be. Making sure lots of fresh blood can travel to an injured area means the body will be able to heal that area faster. Moving around and getting the heart rate up gives the circulatory system that extra little bit of help that could be the difference between large painful swelling, and normalcy. The concept of having increased blood flow to an injured area is an old one, and it is part of how Graston works. Oxygen is one of the main ingredients to proper cell functioning, if you are working out more your blood is more oxygenated.
Everything you eat gets broken down by your digestive system (talked about in detail here) which then is dumped into the blood stream and delivered all over the body. But cells also generate waste, cells like all living things have to poop, just like us. The circulatory system takes all of that waste, and any additional detritus from the regular repairs your body undergoes, to the liver for it to be cleaned from the body (which then ends up in your feces) or kidneys where it is expelled as urine. So blood is food and communication delivery as well as cleanup crew.
NoUrineTherapyTip: Just don’t do it. There are some people that tout drinking pee for a healthy body, and that it will cure anything. This is not true, and even though people in ancient China, or whatever, drank it doesn’t mean it is a valid treatment today. There is a reason it didn’t carry over into modern day, it doesn’t work. Urine Therapy has shown no medical benefits, and you are basically putting everything your body just worked hard to filter out, back. That is like sweeping the floor and then throwing the dust back down on the ground. Do not be fooled by pee drinker propaganda!
Exercise helps the lymphatic system, and it needs all the help it can get.
What is the lymphatic system? It is considered part of the circulatory system, and it is a major part of the delivery of the body’s immune system. It carries a clear fluid, hence its name since lympha means water, as well as other cells and chemical signals. Unlike the circulatory system, it is not a closed system. That means since blood never leaves its vessels, it is closed, and all material passed back and forth does so through the vessel walls. The lymphatic system is not closed, and can have sort of a back and forth with the circulatory system. While it does not carry red blood cells, it does carry the white blood cells, hormone signals, as well as the other things blood carries like waste and other detritus. The immune system and the endocrine system depend heavily upon the lymphatic system, but unlike the blood circulatory system, the lymphatic system does not have a muscle dedicated to pumping the fluids around like the heart does with the blood. That means that the only way it is going to move is from you moving.
So to make sure your lymphatic system is moving and getting around as best possible. A lot of people that suffer from vein disorders, and other diseases that cause edema, like CRPS, from backed up lymphatic fluid as well as blood and these all can be helped with things like compression socks, and physical movement. This is why they tell you to pump your legs if you are in the hospital, moving the legs in a pumping motion (bringing your knee up as high as possible and then extending the leg) or making pumping motions with your feet (point your toes then pull them as far back as possible). All of those exercises are to help combat edema, and to make sure that everything keeps moving while you are in a horizontal position.
Exercise is good for the mind & body.
Exercise allows one to have the empty mind, but what is an empty mind? It is the mind that is not thinking about what you will do next, the grocery list, what you have to do later that day, or what ever it is that is tying your mind in knots. Focusing on a specific motion, like you have to if you are exercising usually, allows your mind to be so occupied with the task that it stops focusing on all those other thoughts. That means your mind, if it is like mine, doesn’t have a chance to become the negative comity. Depression is a big risk to people with chronic pain, or any chronic disease, and exercise has been shown to be a vital part in maintaining a happy, and healthy, mind. Along with a good diet, and sleep, it is needed for the body to function as it should. Now that doesn’t mean you need to do crazy amounts of exercise each day, just simply walking and working out a little harder every other day is sufficient, over working out is just as bad as not working out at all. Moderation in all things, remember. But this is one place where you will have an almost immediate effect from what you do, after a work out you always feel good. And you sleep better too!
Since neurological pathways are re-enforced with use, they more likely to repair or reroute around damaged areas if you are making sure that signals are always being sent. The area of the brain associated with the affected limb in CRPS can shrink in some sufferers, which means lost capacity for moment since the limb can atrophy to a point that removal is required. The more you move, no matter how painful it is, the more you are ensuring that the CRPS will advance more slowly if it advances, and could significantly reduce likelihood of amputation and atrophy. We really don’t understand why the nervous system, or body, behaves as it does when someone has CRPS, but we do know that the more you work out your nerves, the better connected they seem to be. You can also help override some of the pain signals by basically flooding the pathways with “louder” instructions that can help break the infinite pain signal loop that can be a part of the symptoms of CRPS.
What sort of exercise is good for limited mobility?
Exercises like light stretching, walking, water aerobics, Yoga, Qigong, and Tai Chi, are all great ways to get everything flowing. You should examine all the options you have in your town and go with whatever works best for you. First, it matters that you first consult your doctors on any limitations you might have, you don’t wan’t to make things worse. It is also important that you find an instructor that you feel good working with, you should feel comfortable working with them and in the class if you are in one. You should also enjoy the activity you pick, if you don’t care for it and it becomes a chore you will be less likely to stick with it. If you enjoy it your exercise you will be amped to go, and more likely to do it. Every person is different, I did Yoga for many years and enjoyed it, but not nearly as much as Tai Chi, and that is what I stuck with. It may not be right for you, maybe you are a water aerobics person, maybe you just do walking, or Qigong. I don’t just do one exercise either, so I also use walking and swimming for my exercises. Changing it up is a good way to keep things interesting by giving me new things to do instead of the same thing over and over.
Just make sure you know that whatever exercise you choose you stick to it, and it is approved by your doctor if you have any issues that could limit your work out ability. Shop around, try things, get out of your comfort zone and you will be well rewarded. You may find a new exercise that you fall in love with, and changes your life. Remember if you are ever in doubt about anything at all, ask a professional!
There are some theories that vitamin C after surgeries could help prevent symptoms, and that sufferers of CRPS should increase their intake of calcium and vitamin C. It also can not hurt to increase vitamin D and magnesium as well. To read more on why vitamins are important, go here.