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Exercise & Chronic Pain: Michael's Story for Exercise Right Week 2021

If exercise was a pill, it would be the most widely prescribed medicine the country has seen.

Exercise represents a cornerstone in the prevention of chronic pain and plays a significant role in first line treatment of several chronic conditions. Chronic pain is a complex condition, affecting 1 in 5 Australians over the age of 45, contributing to disability, anxiety and depression. For many years, the typical approach to chronic pain management has been rest and inactivity. However, research suggests that exercise may provide specific benefits to aid in the management of chronic pain, along with improving general physical & mental functioning and quality of life. Given this resounding evidence, it is time to increase our understanding of how exercise can be used as a solution for chronic pain and ultimately, change someone’s life.             

Michael is a successful entrepreneur, footy enthusiast, and medically retired police officer. However, for 15 years Michael’s life was put on hold due to his chronic lower back pain. Following several scans and multiple surgeries, his lower back pain became debilitating, sending him into a downward spiral. For years, he held back from activity in fear of damaging his body further, leading to gradual weight gain, anxiety and depression. Michael felt trapped; losing control and at the mercy of a pain system he could not understand. Wanting to take back control, he decided to take the plunge and visit an accredited exercise physiologist (AEP).

An AEP is a university qualified, allied health professional equipped with the knowledge and skills to deliver safe and effective exercise interventions for people with chronic disease, musculoskeletal injuries and disability. Following a self-confronting and emotional initial assessment, it was identified that Michael had significant trunk mobility limitations and reduced upper body strength, along with living a sedentary lifestyle. Michael’s motivation levels were at an all-time low; alienated from friends and family, unable to work and living in constant pain. After discussing his goals to live pain free and reduce his fear of movement, barriers to rehabilitation were identified and an individualized exercise intervention was devised. 

As part of a team with his AEP, Michael began to work towards his goals. The initial exercise program began with basic whole-body exercises, focusing on building his capacity and tolerance with exercise and his pain. Through consistency, determination and the constant support of his AEP, Michael gradually started to regain control of his pain – and his life. When his momentum started to shift and change started to occur, Michael began to see progression and activities that once seemed impossible were now achievable. Within an 8-week time frame, he had the confidence to get up and down from the ground. Not only that, but as part of his longer-term goal, Michael was able to deadlift over 60kg – a huge milestone! Not only was his strength improving, but Michael noticed that he was starting to re-engage in social outings and was able to work for extended periods pain free. 

Michael has been visiting an accredited exercise physiologist for over 3 months now, consistently attending 3 exercise sessions a week. Michael is no longer worried about his lower back pain, but rather focusing his energy on what he can achieve, not what he can’t. Exercise changes lives – a small statement but one that holds true for Michael, empowering him to reset his outlook on life and the possibilities.

Written by Jake Dallas, B.ExSc | Coral Coast Physiotherapy


[1] What is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP)?

[2] Tame the Beast | Real Stories of Recovery

[3] Physical activity and exercise for chronic pain in adults: an overview of Cochrane Reviews

[4] Chronic pain in Australia

[5] Week 1 Newsletter | K-State Movement Challenge! 2017

[6] Exercise as medicine – evidence for prescribing exercise as therapy in 26 different chronic diseases

[7] Chronic disease – Australia’s biggest health challenge