Guest Series: PranaPT on Exercise and Autoimmune Illnesses

If you haven’t yet heard, Wednesdays are our Guest Blogger Series day! It’s a day where Matt and I get a bit of a mid-week break while getting to share with you some of our favorite online bloggers.  And for their hard work, they get the benefit of your readership – we encourage you to please show all of them your support by visiting their blog and social media links at the end of this post!

This week we have Ann Wendel from Prana Physical Therapy in our Northern Virginia backyard! We are very pleased to know Ann and she has really helped us out recently by being on our vacation team, not to mention lending us her husband last week! Go check out her blog here and congratulated her for being add as a consultant at Whole9Life!


Disclaimer: This article is not intended to serve as medical advice. This article is for information purposes only. You should consult with your medical provider before beginning any exercise program. Ann regrets that she cannot answer specific questions regarding your health condition without first consulting with you one on one.

As someone who has struggled with the effects of an autoimmune illness for the past seven years, I know all too well the barriers that stand in your way as you start your journey down the road to health. Much of the information in the Paleo community is focused on the food, as that is the area most people need to get dialed in first; but, once you have learned the basics of what to eat, you may wonder what else you can do to be healthier. You may want to exercise but find that lack of energy, pain/injuries, or deconditioning prevent you from exercising with any consistency. I would like to give you some ideas for getting started.

One thing that all autoimmune illnesses (AI) have in common is inflammation. This inflammation affects different parts of the body and different people in unique ways. Many people with AI find that they struggle with joint and muscle pain, as well as overwhelming fatigue. An exercise program for someone with AI should support healing and health, and prevent further inflammation. A gradual and consistent program leads to the best results.

Before beginning any exercise program, you should consult with your doctor or a Licensed Physical Therapist. You need to make sure that you are healthy enough to begin an exercise program. Good options for exercise in the beginning stages of healing AI include walking on level surfaces (not hiking), swimming and/or water exercise classes (The Arthritis Foundation offers group aquatic classes at many area Recreation Centers), stationary biking, and gentle Yoga. These activities allow you to move each joint through the available range of motion without causing pain. Gentle movement is important because it nourishes the joint surfaces, prevents stiffness, and encourages deep breathing which can be helpful for pain control. In the early stages, you don’t want to exercise to the point of fatigue. You should feel good after your session and still have energy left to do normal daily activities the rest of the day. You want to make sure you are not sore or overly fatigued the next day as well; if you are, then you need to do a little less the next session until your body begins to adapt to the exercise. It’s always best to do less than you think you can when you first start exercising.

As you begin to feel better (due to eating well, sleeping well, managing stress, and gentle exercise) some of your physical symptoms may diminish. As you cut gluten, grains and legumes from your diet, you may be surprised by feeling increased energy and less muscle pain for the first time in years. You want to continue your gentle program during this time, as progressing too quickly may set you back. Try to increase the length of your session or the number of sessions per week. Gradually add new activities (light hiking, biking outdoors, bodyweight exercises, light weight lifting, and mobility exercises.) Pay attention to your body – stop doing anything that causes pain, or increases your fatigue. Make sure that your program is helping you to move and feel better.

As time goes on, you may be able to challenge yourself a bit more; but, always go slowly with any new exercise, and be aware of how you feel on a day to day basis. There have been many times that I have a certain workout planned; but, if I feel exceptionally tired or sore that day, I need to be flexible enough to change the plan. I have learned the hard way that pushing through a “bad” day leads to paying for it with increased fatigue and soreness for days afterward. Even months and years into your healing process, you may experience setbacks because of the changing and unpredictable way that AI affect our bodies. Comparing how you feel on a given day to how you felt yesterday, last week or last month is generally not helpful.

If you feel that it is difficult to even get started with exercise (in general or on a given day) a good trick is to tell yourself that you will commit to ten minutes. If after ten minutes you still feel horrible, then you have permission to stop and try again the next day. Most of the time, I find that once I am in my workout clothes and I get started, I finish the entire workout. It has been very rare for me to stop ten minutes in, because once I get started I usually feel better and want to keep going. This trick has been helpful to many of my patients over the years, as they say it is usually just the idea of changing clothes and getting started that they find difficult. It also gives you the permission to stop without feeling guilty if you really do still feel poorly after ten minutes.

If you are new to exercise and not sure where to begin, or if you are dealing with a specific injury, a consultation with a physical therapist can get you started on the right foot. Physical therapists are highly trained healthcare professionals who are experts in treating musculoskeletal injuries. In Virginia (as well as 46 other states and D.C.) patients can access physical therapy services without first seeing their physician.

Your physical therapist can then work with your physician as part of your team. Physical therapists can perform hands on treatment to help your muscles and joints, as well as provide instruction in appropriate exercises. In my practice, I utilize many different types of manual treatment, as well as Pilates Mat and Reformer, Yoga Therapy, and weight lifting. I am happy to work with you as you begin to reclaim your health through proper nutrition, sleep, stress management, and exercise. With the right program, you can successfully meet your wellness goals.

Ann holds a B.S. in P.E. Studies with a concentration in Athletic Training from the University of Delaware, and a Masters in Physical Therapy (MPT) from the University of Maryland, Baltimore. She is a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) licensed in Virginia, a Licensed Physical Therapist (PT), and a Certified Myofascial Trigger Point Therapist (CMTPT). In October 2011 she returned to private practice as Prana Physical Therapy, an independent contractor with Core Wellness and Physical Therapy. In May 2012, Ann joined the Consulting Team of Whole 9 Life, and she offers Wellness and Nutrition consultations via face-to-face, phone, email and Skype appointments.

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