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Combat Chronic Pain With Exercise: Tips for People With Connective Tissue Disorders

written by: Veronica Sky • edited by: Angela Atkinson • updated: 7/19/2011

There are many types of exercises for those with connective tissue disorders aimed at increasing muscle mass, increasing flexibility and circulation and developing concentration techniques to combat pain.

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    Connect the Dots: A Guide to Connective Tissue Disorders

    Thousands of Americans suffer from a variety of connective tissue disorders, from lupus to rheumatoid arthritis. There are a multitude of disorders which fit into this category.

    Connective tissues are designed to hold the cells of the body together and are composed primarily of collagen and elastin. When the body forms abnormal variations of one or both of these tissues, connective tissue disorders arise.

    Generally, these disorders are classified as autoimmune diseases, meaning the body’s immune system begins to recognize parts of its own body as the enemy and thus attacks them.

    The main treatment for connective tissue disorders involves being given steroids meant to suppress the immune system and decrease inflammation. While this treatment may be necessary for advanced stages of these disorders, there are many types of exercises that are beneficial for those with any type of connective tissue disorder.

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    Low-Impact Exercises Can Produce Big Effects

    Although there are many variations of connective tissue disorders, there are four main categories of exercise that are ideal for lessening the symptoms associated with these diseases. In addition, there are specific exercises that should be avoided regardless of which variation of the disorder one has.That being said, it is imperative that anyone with a connective tissue disorder talks to his/her doctor about what exercises are best for him/her before beginning a routine.

    Research has shown that exercise can reduce joint inflammation and increase joint mobility. When it comes to designing an exercise routine for this specific type of disorder, the key is to keep it light and simple. Nothing to heavy or it can cause more damage than good. It is essential that the individual knows his/her limitations prior to exercising. The four categories of exercise are muscle training, flexibility training, aerobic training and movement training.

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    Build Those Muscles

    Muscle training includes performing weight-bearing resistance training including both isometric and isotonic exercises. Isometric exercises are done by contracting the muscles without movement, such as the plank bridge, while an isotonic exercise is performed using movement, such as lifting weights.

    Depending on one’s capabilities, these exercises can be done with or without weights. Muscle training, also known as strength training, is very important because it strengthens the muscles, maintains bone density and increases muscle mass, all of which increase the amount of activity that can be done pain free.

    Rather than using the traditional free weights, it is recommended that flexible-resistance bands are used because they put less stress on the joints in the hands. Common examples of muscle training exercises include leg extensions, calf raises, push-ups, pull-ups, bicep curls and crunches.

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    Fun With Flexibility

    Out of all the different kinds of exercises, flexibility training is the most important type of exercise for those with connective tissue disorders. Luckily, these exercises also happen to be the easiest and can be done anywhere.

    It is recommended that stretching exercises are done following a warm shower because this is when the muscles are most relaxed and blood is circulating well. In addition, moist heat can also be used prior to stretching.

    Each stretch should be held for about 10-30 seconds. These exercises are essential because they increase flexibility and increase the range of motion for joints and increase energy level as a result of increased circulation. Examples of exercises that increase flexibility include Pilates, neck stretches, calf stretches, hamstring stretches and quadriceps stretches.

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    Get Your Heart Pumping

    While aerobic training is an essential type of exercise for those with connective tissue disorder, there are certain types of aerobic exercises that should be avoided. Specifically, these include jogging on paved roads and other high-impact aerobics and running.

    Instead, try walking, swimming, light biking or using an elliptical machine. Swimming is a great option because it adds the dimension of resistance training and muscle building to the workout.

    Any one of these exercises should be done at least three times per week for 30 to 50 minutes at a low pace while still getting the heart pumping. Benefits include healthier blood and muscles and a healthier heart. As with stretching, the increased circulation increases energy levels.

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    Just Breathe

    The last category of exercise is movement training. This type of exercise combines physical movement and techniques to calm the mind. These exercises are great for those with connective tissue disorders because the concentration required to perform them has been found to relax people and reduce pain. The techniques involved in these exercises can be used when pain due to the disorder cannot be controlled by medication alone. Examples of movement training include yoga, tai chi and qigong.

    Exercise can be an excellent way to reduce the pain associated with connective tissue disorders and improve one’s quality of life. The key is to consistently perform low-impact exercises and to avoid exercises such as running and heavy weight lifting which put strain on the joints.

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    References

    www.livestrong.com: How Exercise Affects Differentiated Connective Tissue Disorder

    www.webmd.com: Rheumatoid Arthirites and Exercise

    www.everydayhealth.com: The Benefits of Exercise in Lupus Management

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