It’s common for humans to avoid things that make us feel bad, and pain is no different. When moving makes you feel pain, you might want to stop moving. The more you avoid movement, the more you’re afraid of it — and soon enough, you don’t want to move at all. This lack of activity can actually make your pain worse, reduce your muscle strength, and make it harder for you to do certain motions. Once you’re stuck in this cycle (fear of movement, avoiding movement, and worse pain), it can be hard to get out of it.
To prevent this cycle of pain and fear, you can try an approach called pacing. Pacing is the balance between movement and rest. When you pace yourself, you won’t overdo it when you’re feeling good and underdo it when you’re not feeling great. Here are some ways you can pace yourself in physical tasks you want to do:
- Break tasks into smaller parts, with rests in between.
Do your tasks with frequent rest breaks. In the long run, you will be able to get more things done if you don’t do too much at one time.
- Work at a slower, less intense pace.
Slower ways of movement, like walking instead of running, can keep you from overdoing it when you’re feeling good. Going slower doesn’t mean that you’re not working hard; rather, you’re taking better care of yourself.
- Switch tasks often.
Instead of doing the same task for long periods of time, switch it up. Get up from your desk after some time to give your neck, back, and arms a rest. Instead, try doing something that requires you to stand.
- Use different parts of your body throughout the day.
If you’ve been using one part of your body for a physical task, move to actions that use a different body part every once in a while. This will keep you from putting too much stress on one area.
Now that you’ve learned about pacing, take some time to reflect. Have you ever over- or underdone it with exercise? If so, how did that make you feel? How do you catch yourself doing too much or too little, and what will you do if it happens again? What are one or two ways you could try pacing this week?
While pacing might mean you adjust the way you move about, you can still feel good as you achieve things each day. You can apply these tactics to your chores, hobbies, and physical therapy exercises.