If you’re experiencing pain, your first instinct may be to stay immobile. You believe that if you don’t move, it won’t hurt. Yet physical therapy in the form of exercise can be key to recovering from many types of pain and injuries. Movement can increase blood flow to the injured area to promote healing. Exercise can also boost muscle strength and flexibility, which in turn can protect you from further or future injury.

Here are approaches and tools for incorporating physical therapy movement into your pain recovery plan.

Core Strengthening: An effective way of creating musculoskeletal support and alleviating shoulder, neck, and leg pain is to strengthen your core muscles, specifically the abdominal, transverse abdominal, internal oblique, and multifidus muscles. One set of core exercises involves lying on your back with your arms at a 45-degree angle and your hands face down. Bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the floor, bend one knee at a time, or raise your bent knee toward your chest. From the same position, you can also do leg lifts one at a time. Another set of core-strengthening exercises can be performed face down. Move to a position on your hands and knees, and then lift and extend backward one leg at a time. Next, as you extend one leg, also extend the opposite arms, bird dog style. Finally, hold your body in a plank-like position, resting your weight on your toes and your bent forearms.

Equipment at the Gym: When you’re having back pain, even the idea of going to the gym can be excruciating. But there are three types of equipment that can help keep you on track with your cardio goals without stressing your back. First, an elliptical machine’s handlebar and pedal alignment can strengthen back muscles, while its resistance can be adjusted to lessen back discomfort. Next, a recumbent bicycle with variable resistance helps strengthen your leg and core muscles to support your back. Finally, by mimicking the motion of standing up, a leg press can improve leg strength and thus decrease back strain.

Exercise Ball: If you have shoulder pain, an exercise ball – also known as a Swiss ball – can put you on the path to wellness. Sit on the ball with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Breathe in, and then exhale, letting your shoulders relax as you raise your arms until they’re parallel to the floor, palms down. Take another breath, and as you exhale, press down on the ball and elongate your spine. Let the stretch move through your shoulders and neck. On the next exhale, turn your palms upward as you move your chest out and lift your chin up.

There are many core-strengthening exercises that you can perform using a larger Swiss ball. Try lying on your back with your calves on the ball, and then bring your knees toward your hips. Or, put the ball between your legs and twist it so that your left leg is in front, then reverse, so that your left leg is in back. For an all-day workout, opt for an exercise ball “chair” to use at the office.

Aqua Therapy: For many who have shoulder, neck, and joint pain, physical therapy in the water brings welcome relief. Simply walking back and forth in a shallow pool can lessen the pressure on joints and help relieve sciatic nerve compression. Holding onto the side of the pool and doing a full body float (think of Superman flying) provides support while stretching muscles from head to toe. In the deep end, using your legs to jog, bicycle, or cross-country ski can help with hip pain and improve range of motion. Alternating 30-seconds of high-intensity movement followed by 10 seconds of rest for eight intervals delivers cardio that might be too painful to perform on land.

Of course, not every person – or every type of pain – responds to the same physical therapy approaches, tools, and techniques. It’s critical to be evaluated by and consult with a medical professional prior to beginning a physical therapy regimen. Unless otherwise directed, though, incorporating movement into your healing process will result in a quicker recovery.

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