So I’ve been talking about injuries and pain a bit recently. The thing with pain is it’s actually an incredibly complex subject. There are many factors that influence it, not just the mechanics of any injury but also beliefs and mind-set.
I was once told that if a patient is told that something hurts it will hurt. So, if I tell you your elbow has a problem and is potentially painful it might not hurt now but if I perhaps say “hmm that’s Interesting, I would expect that issue to give you pain in your elbow” I can almost guarantee soon after you will start to notice pain in your elbow……………..have you got a pain in your elbow yet?
The thing is there may not be anything wrong with your elbow but as soon as you focus on a perceived problem, the brain tells you there is a problem and that a problem means pain-simple version is you just told yourself you were in pain so you are now in pain.
What is pain?
Pain is your brains response to a perceived threat. If you break your leg, you experience pain to encourage you to rest it until it heals. Unfortunately these signals can sometimes get scrambled and this is what causes chronic pain.
We kind of need to press the reboot button (or switch it off and back on again like a pc) but it’s not really that simple with the brain.
Just because the brain is experiencing a threat that is not really there does not mean that the pain is actually imagined, it is to the person experiencing it very real. However we can help to “reboot” by dealing with the psychological and emotional factors surrounding pain.
Firstly I think knowledge is power, as is the language we ourselves and rather importantly the professionals treating us use. (I’m not going down that rant….) This refers back to the catastrophizing blog last week; in that if you believe that your joints and/or muscles are weak, damaged and vulnerable then you will protect them, and worry about them. Again back to the idea that if we believe we are in pain then we are indeed in pain. If we can just have a rational, logical chat with ourselves about what is happening it can help to switch off the alarm bells.
If you get a sharp twinge in your back, perhaps getting up off a chair I imagine the commentary goes like this.
“Oh s!*t that hurts, I’ve damaged something, I’ve slipped a disc, if I move any more I could be paralysed…..”
Now of course there are incredibly, rare and extreme circumstances that this may be the case, however you really aren’t that special. What should actually be the commentary is.
“Ouch, that was a twinge in the nervous system, well I’m still standing and functioning so I should just carry on moving gently and progressively and the pain disappear in a minute”
This can of course be a problem when there has previously been a problem area. I see this lot with back pain. If someone has been told they have “a slipped disc” or a “degenerating spine” they are envisaging their spine as weak, fragile and degrading like a rock face. Every creak or twinge tells their brain that a little more damage has been done. No wonder they struggle to get out of pain and on with their lives!
However if they were educated properly about the strength of the spine (it’s way more stable than we give it credit for), what a “slipped disc” actually is and the fact that all of our spines are degenerating along with the rest of our bodies and it is the equivalent of telling people with wrinkly faces they have “degenerative face disease”-completely normal part of the ageing process that yes is quicker in some than others but you cannot fix “degenerative face disease” by keeping it still and the same goes for your spine.
So, let me know if there are any pain issues you are dealing with that you would like a little reflection on and I will see what I can do.