Making Moves when Movement Hurts

Shanelle Gabriel avatar

by Shanelle Gabriel |

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To this day, I don’t know how to braid hair. I missed this rite of passage in middle school, because while the girls in my class were doing each other’s hair in the bathroom, I was playing handball with the boys. Fast-forward to high school, where unlike many people I know, I remember actually liking gym class. I was excited to change into my awkward gym shorts and Telecommunications H.S. Yellow Jackets T-shirt every day.
When I got to college, I was uber-hyped that I could take a gym elective. I looked at the course sheet like it was a menu at Cheesecake Factory, and I didn’t get the freshman 15 pounds I was warned about. An active lifestyle has always been a part of my life.
Last week, I ran the NYC Half Marathon to raise awareness and money for lupus. I recognize that I’m privileged. I can be physically active in more ways than many of my fellow lupies. However, having this illness doesn’t mean an active lifestyle isn’t possible. The crazy thing is, it’s absolutely necessary.
I know you’re saying, “Shanelle, you must be out yo’ mind if you think I need to move around when my joints hurt.” Hear me out. I know it seems contradictory to what you’re feeling, but movement can actually help with joint pain. According to the Mayo Clinic, “It increases strength and flexibility, reduces joint pain, and helps combat fatigue.” So, to combat joint pain you have to keep the body moving.
Have you ever binge-watched a Netflix show, sitting in one spot, not moving except to hit the remote when it asks “Are you still watching?” Finally, after 12 hours, you try to get up and it’s struggle city. Everything is stiff and you feel like the old man from the kids movie “Up.”
Our muscles need movement to continue to function properly or they will atrophy and ache even more when you finally do move. Tight or weak muscles don’t move well and exercise helps. As humans, we need to be able to squat to pick things up, walk to get important things (food is at the top of my list), raise arms over our heads to get jars off shelves, and dodge crazy cab drivers while we’re crossing the street. Think of exercise as practice for all these day-to-day scenarios. Exercise also increases bone strength (a need for my prednisone-takers) and actually can give you more energy — something us lupies could always use.
Now, you don’t have to follow my loca self and go sign up for a half marathon. Exercise doesn’t have to be extreme, but it should be progressive. Start small with basic stretches, shoulder rolls, standing lunges, baby squats with a small bend in the knees, a brief walk, modified planks while on your knees, jumping jacks (or if jumping hurts, you can step each foot out one at a time), or short, light versions of different exercises.
Be mindful of what pain versus new movement is, meaning don’t push yourself to a level outside of your threshold of pain to aggravate your lupus. But also know that if you haven’t been exercising, those first few times are gonna feel like the getting-off-the-couch scenario.
Not sure what to do? Consider taking an aqua aerobics, indoor cycling, yoga, or Pilates class that focuses on low-impact moves, stretching, body weight strength, and mobility. For my people that love music, search for a local Zumba Gold class that is specifically designed for people who feel pain when jumping or who aren’t so limber. I know it’s an investment, but I always suggest getting a few sessions with a personal trainer just to get guidance as you get started. Be sure to let them know about your medical history.
Don’t feel as if you have to be the fittest, skinniest person in the room. We all start somewhere, and this is about your quality of life, not a competition. Lastly, always check with your doctor before adding any fitness program to your life. They may have specific recommendations for you. I named my column “Keeping It Moving” for a reason. If you’re alive, it’s your duty to continue making moves emotionally AND physically.


Note: Lupus News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Lupus News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to lupus.