Even if your chronic pain was managed before, the stress and confinement has likely worsened it.

OK. We’re nearly 4 months into our respective lockdowns, reopenings, and re-lockdowns.

Everyone on earth is experiencing an unprecedented crisis of sickness, death, and despair. You may have lost someone to COVID-19, or yourself been sick. You’re stuck inside, you’re on edge, you’re going through a universal trauma.

That’s a recipe for pain. Even if your chronic pain was managed before, the stress and confinement of these times has likely worsened it.

That may sound dire, but I promise there’s hope for you yet: exercise. Exercise can play a fundamental role in managing chronic pain. But how are you supposed to do it when not only do you feel like crap, but you’re stuck inside?

That’s where this list comes in. Here are some gentle exercises you can do at home, right now. Each exercise is low impact and adaptable for different ability levels.

Start with just a few reps, and increase a bit each day or week as you get stronger.

Relieves: lower back pain

Strengthens: glutes and hamstrings (your butt and back of thighs)

Follow these steps:

  1. Lie on your back, knees bent, with your feet on the floor, hip-width apart.
  2. Squeeze your butt muscles as you lift your hips off the floor.
  3. Depending on your ability, hold for 2 to 10 seconds, and slowly lower back down.
  4. Repeat.

Relieves: hip pain

Strengthens: hip adductors (your inner thighs)

Follow these steps:

  1. Lie on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor, hip-width apart (just like in bridges above).
  2. Place a soccer ball/similar-sized ball, yoga block, or rolled-up towel between your thighs.
  3. Squeeze your thighs around the prop, holding for 5 to 10 seconds.
  4. Release and rest for 5 seconds.
  5. Repeat.

Relieves: hip pain

Strengthens: abdominals

Follow these steps:

  1. Lie on your side on the floor, with your knees bent and on top of each other.
  2. Squeeze your abdominal muscles and slowly raise your top knee up.
  3. Slowly lower that knee back down.
  4. Repeat.

Relieves: shoulder tightness and pain

Strengthens: posture

Follow these steps:

  1. Stand or sit with your spine straight.
  2. Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale, relax your arms (let ’em flop!).
  3. Roll your shoulders backward so your shoulder blades move toward each other.
  4. Go slowly, breathing deeply. Try 5 to 10 reps.

Relieves: sciatica, leg and lower back pain

Strengthens: lower body circulation, relaxation

This is a yoga pose called Viparita Karani that promotes relaxation and tension release in the lower body.

Follow these steps:

  1. Lie on your back and scoot your butt up to the wall.
  2. Keeping your back on the floor, straighten your legs up against the wall.
  3. Take a deep, long breath, and slowly exhale.
  4. Keep breathing as your calves and quadriceps relax.
  5. Start with 1 minute, working your way up to 5.

Relieves: lower back pain

Strengthens: glutes, hamstrings, abdominals

This is a modified version of a squat. It’s a safer, gentler way of repeating the benefits of squats. As you grow more comfortable with this one, you may find yourself graduating to regular squats (but there’s no pressure to do so!).

Follow these steps:

  1. Stand in front of a chair or couch.
  2. Slowly bend your knees and lower your body until you’re just above the chair. Don’t sit all the way down.
  3. Slowly return to standing and repeat.

Relieves: general restlessness, stiffness

Strengthens: glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves

I live in a small, narrow apartment with no yard. And yet I love to take a stroll around my tiny place. I usually set a step goal, say 500 steps (Fitbits help with this). Then I walk around my apartment as if it were huge.

I walk all the way around the coffee table, all the way around the kitchen table, into the bedroom, down the short hallway, into the bathroom, back out of the bathroom, down the short hallway, around the kitchen table, etc.

It’s kinda fun, and the inherent goofiness of walking around my humble abode puts me in a better mood. It makes me feel like the work-at-home adult version of a kid at recess. It’s also fun because my corgi, Vincent, stares at me, mystified every single time.

I highly recommend mapping a route around your home, whatever its size. You could wear a cape and feel it swish behind you. You could pretend you’re racing against an invisible opponent. Whatever works!

  • Pace yourself. Start slow. This isn’t a race; this is you building an at-home exercise routine for chronic pain. Less is more when you’re starting a brand-new exercise routine.
  • Get comfortable. Use pillows or rolled towels to support your neck, hips, knees, or anywhere you need support or cushioning.
  • Listen to your body. Respect your limits. If your body is screaming at you to stop or slow down, heed the call!
  • Stop if it hurts. Even gentle exercises can cause pain sensations due to working new muscle groups. But you shouldn’t be in agony, and your pain shouldn’t be worse. If it hurts, stop.
  • Talk to your doctor. If you have additional questions or concerns, check in with your doctor or physical therapist.

Ash Fisher is a writer and comedian living with hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. When she’s not having a wobbly-baby-deer-day, she’s hiking with her corgi, Vincent. She lives in Oakland. Learn more about her on her website.