Whether you head to the gym regularly, wear heels daily, or just sit hunched over a desk at work, pain can become your obnoxious sidekick. And, if you don't take care of those minor-but-annoying aches now, they can lead to bigger setbacks down the road.
One way to fight pain is to use exercise as medicine. Start by thinking of your body as a whole unit that works together, rather than as segmented sections. Translation: Try to strengthen the muscles that surround and support the joint or area that’s actually causing you pain. So, if your knees hurt, look to your hips and glutes; toughening them up will help align and stabilize your trouble spot. This is all part of the “bad-neighbor” theory that running coach and Equinox personal trainer Wes Pedersen explained to us — a.k.a. "the hip bone's connected to the thigh bone," et cetera.
Five common hot spots for pain include the ankles, knees, hips, low back, and shoulders. We asked Pilates expert and licensed physical therapist Alycea Ungaro to share simple strengthening exercises to keep these areas of the body — and their neighbors — happy and pain-free. Then, we asked senior master of research and program design at Trigger Point Performance Therapy Kyle Stull, MS, for a smart foam-rolling plan. Because, it's time we all finally learned what to do with those weird, long tubes at the gym. Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release, which helps reduce muscle stiffness and increase your range of motion. So, it's a great team player in the game-plan against pain.
It’s important to keep in mind that your doctor should always be your first line of defense when dealing with pain, whether it’s chronic, sporadic, minor, or intense. The following exercises and foam-roller stretches are designed to be part of a general preventative process, not a method of self-treatment; always consult with your doctor first to understand why you’re hurting and then determine the best approach for your specific needs.