More often than not we equate pain and disease with bones, muscles, genes and increasingly with the mind. What else is there?

Well now it’s time to learn something new!

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Thousands of people suffer prolonged if not lifetime pain in silence from a group of diseases not often talked about. Connective tissue diseases include groups of conditions involving the body’s connective tissue.

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 diseases 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.

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Such diseases include:

polymyositis and dermatomyositis (inflammation of the muscles and skin)

rheumatoid arthritis (the immune system attacks the thin membrane called the synovium lining the joints)

Sjogren’s syndrome (the immune system attacks the moisture-producing glands, such as those of the eyes and mouth)

lupus ( inflammation of the joints, skin, and internal organs)

vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels)

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (collection of inheritable diseases involving altered collagen production in the body often leading to hypermobility)

Treatments of these diseases vary depending on how severe the symptoms and how well the body copes. Steroids, physiotherapy, bracing and exercise are all helpful treatments.

It is the exercise I am going to focus on for now. After all, the people with these conditions deserve to gain from the benefits of exercise just as much as any of us! Anyway, the pain they get during one of my PT sessions might help them forget their general day to day pain …see? They win either way and THAT’S the kinda girl I am…..

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 them.

1 Strength training

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. It is important to use good technique so that not too much stress is placed on the joints. My favourites are the exercises we love to hate- push ups, planks, lunges, burpees. Compound exercises (using more than one isolated muscle group)- big and basically horrible but OH so good for you!

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2 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.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, yoga and PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation-the long stretches you hold at the END of a session).

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3 Cardio

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, anything considered high impact. Running on pavement, jogging, crossfit and high impact aerobics are all no no’s .

Instead, try walking, swimming, carefully monitored strength and aerobic work (with a friendly, ever so sly personal trainer). 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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4 Remember to breathe (you know it’s one of my faves!)

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 Pilates.

Exercise can be an excellent way to reduce the pain associated with connective tissue disorders and improve one’s quality of life.

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To all of you out there with connective tissue disorders-I commend you! To live with silent pain, invisible to the eye is certainly a true test to find your inner strength and perseverance. While I can’t relate to what you are living with, I CAN be there if you need me- to guide you through safe and appropriate exercises, remind you to breathe and pat you on the back for turning up! May your joints be happy and my playlists appropriate 🙂

E