Walking to help manage chronic pain

Discovering walking was a revelation for Louise and her wife, Karen Trewern, when Louise was looking for ways to help manage her chronic pain. Walking has had such a great impact on their lives that the couple were inspired to set up their own Ramblers Wellbeing Walks group in Newton Abbot, Devon.

Two smiling women, wearing waterproof clothing, sitting in a woodland

Louise’s Story

I started walking for health reasons. I have arthritis and fibromyalgia and for many years I was on strong painkillers. I eventually had to give up work and was becoming less and less engaged with daily life.  I went into hospital to come off opioids & the consultant said in order to cope with the withdrawal I should pace the ward which would kick off the endorphins the body’s natural painkillers!

Back at home, I started going out walking with my wife Karen. Just flat, easy walks in parks, with a walking frame at first. It was fun! We walked in parks and gardens, and when we got to the end, I had such a sense of achievement. I remember the first time I walked two miles – for me it was huge! I still live with pain, but now I manage it through walking.

Walking has been a real confidence booster. The distance doesn’t matter as much as getting outside and connecting with nature. The benefits are huge, it just alters your whole mindset. Even if it’s raining, once you get outside, you feel so much better.

I wanted to help others to have that experience too, which is why Karen and I decided to set up a walking group offering a short, accessible walk, for people who live with pain and health conditions.

A woman standing with walking poles on a woodland pathImage right: Louise out walking

We got in touch with the Ramblers to find out about Ramblers Wellbeing Walks, having seen their posters in our local pharmacy. It was a great idea – Ramblers Wellbeing Walks provided a framework we could slot into. We then did walk leader training with support from Active Devon and Teignbridge council and we set up our group, Walking Works Wonders.

We chose Decoy County Park for our walk especially because it has so many benches, so people could stop and sit down if they needed to. One woman who joined us was very unsure at first, because she had health issues and used a walking frame.  But she only sat down once for a rest and was elated when she made it to the end. She had been thinking about getting rid of her walking boots, but the next week she turned up in them and got all the way around. She was like a different woman, all smiles!

We now run our walk once a week, with a regular group of walkers. We understand that people living with pain and with long term health conditions might not be confident.  It helps them to know the walk is led by someone who has experienced what they are going through. Our walk is for everyone, and we go as fast as the slowest walker! Some improve and go on to longer Ramblers walks, and some stay as our walks are right for them.

Karen's story

Karen says the impact walking has had on her wife has been “life-changing”. We caught up with her to talk about what walking has done for them both and to share her own top tips.

A woman wearing a waterproof coat with hood up, sitting on the floor of a woodlandImage right: Karen enjoying a wet forest walk

Getting into walking has been life-changing; just being outdoors, which I never did before. I’ve seen such a huge difference in Louise since we started walking, she’s been unrecognisable over the past four years. It’s incredible – her mental health, physical health and her zest for life. That was never there before.

Being outside and being active is wonderful; it’s so good to be in fresh air. If things are getting on top of you, being out in the fresh air makes you feel better and makes you think better. That feelgood factor after a walk lasts once you’ve got home too. You can still feel the tingle in your cheeks when you’ve been out in the cold. I love it all year round, it’s different every time you go out.

Going to a café for a nice hot drink is all part of a walk too. Our Ramblers Wellbeing Walks always have the social bit at the end – it’s just as important as the physical exercise and often one of the main reasons people come on our walks. Some people tell us that they look forward all week to a walk, and especially the coffee and the chat afterwards.

My walking tip would be to just try it. If all you manage first time around is to get to the end of your driveway that’s brilliant, you’re walking! Then tomorrow maybe you can try and go a bit further. The key is to start moving. 

Ramblers Wellbeing Walks

Get active with Ramblers Wellbeing Walks. Our short group walks make it easier to start walking and stay active. Find your local Ramblers Wellbeing Group.