How Resistance Bands Can Help Relieve Pain

Resistance bands probably aren’t new to you. But if the name doesn’t ring a bell, resistance bands are the stretchy, flat bands you often see as a part of rehab and therapy. They don’t weigh much, and they’re compact enough to fit in your pocket. But did you know rehab isn’t all resistance bands are good for?

“People have the misconception that you use resistance bands for physical therapy or if you're injured and are trying to get back to exercising,” says Jackie Church, an exercise physiologist, ACE certified trainer. “That's where they began, but they've grown to be so much more.”

Resistance bands are incredibly versatile, and they’re great for everyday exercise. And that means resistance bands can actually help you relieve pain!

How Exercise Relates to Pain Relief

When it comes to chronic pain, many experts are in agreement that exercise is a great non-pharmacological option for treating pain. While chronic pain can make the thought of moving seem intimidating (and may seem like it will increase your pain), exercise and movement can actually be beneficial for pain relief. But how can that be?

Beyond the known fact that rehabilitating an injury can help restore function and relieve pain in the long term, researchers all over the world have been trying to determine what makes exercise such an effective mode of temporary or maintenance pain relief. The honest truth is they’re not sure.

Some researchers believe that exercise may lead to pain relief by increasing how many pain-relieving peptides (like serotonin and endorphins) are in your system. Others suggest resistance (strength) training as a pain-relief option, because stronger muscles take the pressure off your joints—a common source of chronic pain for conditions like arthritis. One study found that resistance training and aerobic exercise are equally impactful for pain relief, so a combined approach could be an option.

The fact is that while they aren’t sure why, researchers agree that in the right situations, using exercise in various forms can help people find relief from chronic pain. One good place to start is with something simple, yet effective, like strength training using resistance bands.

Why Resistance Bands?

Resistance bands are simple pieces of exercise equipment, but they provide a lot of benefits. They can help you build strength, stretch tight muscles and help you increase your range of motion. And they’re a great foundation if you’re looking for a way to get started on a resistance training plan.

It’s also been shown that even small amounts of resistance training can reduce pain—in one study, healthy adult participants with frequent neck or shoulder symptoms saw clinically relevant reductions in pain and tenderness, with as little as two minutes of daily progressive resistance training for 10 weeks. While this study was completed with TheraBand Resistance Tubing, the exercises can easily be replicated with the TheraBand® CLX Resistance Band (a unique type of resistance band that has connected loops, to increase the versatility and ease of its use). Resistance bands have even been proven to provide the same benefits as traditional dumbbell exercises. In one study, sedentary middle-aged women trained twice a week for two weeks using either TheraBand resistance bands or weight machines. When the study was over, both groups had lost about the same amount of fat and gained about the same amount of lean muscle.

Michael Rogers, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Performance Studies at Wichita State University, has studied the effects of TheraBand resistance exercises in those 60 and older, finding that it helps improve upper-body strength, lower-body strength and functional strength.

“With the bands, we can recreate the activities of daily living with older adults,” Rogers says, “which helps them with everyday activities from lifting their grandkids to pushing a door open.”

Another added benefit? Bands like the TheraBand® CLX won’t cost an arm and a leg. Because one band can be used to exercise almost every muscle group, you only need one, instead of a whole gym. Plus, they fold up and fit almost anywhere. So you can work on your exercises anywhere, anytime.

Where to Start

Choose a resistance band that’s easy to use, like the CLX band. Because this band has connected loops built right in, you can safely and easily grab hold of a loop or step into one—reducing the risk of the band slipping out.

You can incorporate the CLX into almost any exercise, from ankle exercises and squats to lateral raises and standing oblique crunches. And since you can work your entire body using just a resistance band, you won't spend time switching equipment between exercises. That facilitates a fast workout.

For a few exercises to get you moving, check out these videos.

Just Keep Moving

It might seem daunting to get started using resistance bands, especially when you’re in pain. But avoiding movement can lead to stiff muscles and reduced range of motion. Then when you go to perform regular life activities, those muscles are in pain, which makes you want to move less. So adding careful, planned movement with resistance band exercises can help avoid this cycle.

At the end of the day, this type of pain relief is all about movement. So finding a way to move that’s engaging and works for your pain situation is important. Resistance bands are one option to get you there. They’re an easy addition to your pain management toolkit that you can use anywhere, anytime, on your own or as a part of a planned routine with your healthcare professional. And they’re a great reminder that sometimes, you just have to remember to move.

For more information about how pain works, movement and safe options for relief, download the Safer Pain Relief guide.