Living With Chronic Pain

Dance Through Chronic Pain

Dance through the pain? That’s ridiculous. when I can barely move, how can I possibly dance?

There’s nothing more important for those of us living with chronic pain than to stay physically active. But the pain itself, combined with the fear pain will come because of the movement (kinesiophobia) makes this difficult and sometimes feels impossible to accomplish. People with arthritis, fibromyalgia and other chronic pain often feel that certain types of movement are off limits, but you may be capable of far more than you think. And once up and moving, you may see your pain diminish.

Movement is an important part of pain relief for a number of reasons. It helps keep muscles toned and joints lubricated. It encourages the release of endorphins, the body’s pain killers. Without movement our lives feel limited. The less we do, the less we are able to do until it feels like all our options are diminished. Once people feel their sphere of possibilities closing in around them, depression becomes common. Motivation decreases when you become depressed, and you can end up resigned to a life of bed rest. With this resignation, physical pain actually worsens. Not only does your body suffer the consequences of atrophy (the loss of muscle), but the depressed mind tends to experience pain more intensely. Physical and emotional pain signals are processed by the same brain areas and neurotransmitters; this could be the reason pain and depression are interconnected.

Dance can unleash pent up energy. It can elevate our attitudes to a higher place, get our blood flowing to where it’s needed, move oxygen through the body, and surf healing powers throughout. Who can resist tapping their toes to a lively beat?

Chronic pain leads patients to fear that any type of movement will cause pain or injury. So you’re probably thinking I’m crazy to even consider this as a treatment option. But dance can be any type of movement. It may not be salsa or jumping around but it can be redefined every individual’s needs.

I used to love to dance. And in the day, I was quite good at it. Dozens of surgeries later I can’t move the same way I did. And when I try, I suffer. Getting on the dance floor with my daughter over New Years was an embarrassment, just another reminder of what I’d lost. I especially loved the energy of salsa and Latin music but with all my fusions the hips don’t “sway” that way anymore.

That’s when I read about therapy using dance and movement in creative arts programs to improve chronic pain. Each move can be modified to honor specific concerns. First, the moves are modified for specific muscles. Jumping, twisting, and other high- impact triggers are left out. Second, there is no rule that says you have to stand while dancing. For people with lower extremity injuries, you can groove while sitting down with just your arms. For upper extremity injuries, footwork can be choreographed to limit or modify arm movements. Third, people with full body pain can move whatever feels comfortable. They too can enjoy the music, watch, participate as much as possible and laugh with good people who understand their struggles and lives. As I wrote in the posts on friends and laughing, just by doing that, endorphins are released and you’ll feel better.

Therein lies the beauty. Dancing is simply exercise in disguise! Dance classes integrate exercises for the entire body, as able, in 45 minute segments. In that 45 minutes, you sweat, get your heart pumping, start smiling, laughing, and following movements guided by a trainer specialized in working with patients in pain. Plus you get the added benefit of making new friends and getting outside the house. As one patient related,

“Dancing gives me energy. It is fun to dance with friends who understand what it is like living with pain. It helps me to feel normal and allows me to focus on the dance steps instead of focusing on the pain!”

But it doesn’t have to be in a classroom. Dancing at home gets the body moving too. Just do what feels good. The more you move, the better you’ll feel and the more you’ll want to move. Here are a few songs to try that have easier beats:

1.  I like it like that (Mambo/ Cha Cha Cha) By: Ballroom Orchestra & Singers

2.  Bailando (Spanish Version) By: Enrique Iglesias

3. Techno Cumbia By: Selena

Multiple studies show dance-based intervention programs can be an effective intervention for people suffering from chronic pain, leading to a significant reduction in pain levels . Dance has the added benefit of improving quality of life, physical function, as well as reducing anxiety, depression, and the impacts of chronic pain. Be brave! Conquer your fears. Move within your comfort zone and check negative thoughts at the door. Whether it’s in a gym, class or at home. Get moving to the beat and you’ll feel better.

“Dance, when you’re broken open.

Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.

Dance, in the middle of the fighting.

Dance, in your blood.

Dance, when you’re perfectly free.” 



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