Pain to Wellness- Is it You or Your Environment?
Unless we have a traumatic event like tripping & falling, pain is often a warning signal that the brain produces when the body is exposed to biomechanical or chemical (inflammation) disharmony.
In our current society of the internet, social media, and quick fix stories, we consider pain this annoying thing that we can make go away by googling “The best exercises to get rid of your low back pain”.
The unpopular reality here is you will not get rid of pain for the long term if you just look at it as something you need to run away from or hide.
You have to confront it, understand it, and treat it like a puzzle. This requires awareness in various aspects of your day whether you are being physically active or not.
Use pain as insight and a clue to your problem. And don’t immediately blame your body either.
In addition to getting evaluate by a medical professional you have to ask yourself “Is this more of a problem with my body or with my environment?” This is discussed further in our Core Principle 3: Protect. Correct. Develop
See if you can pick up on patterns like “Every time I sit in hard chairs” or “Every morning I hurt, but I’m okay after a couple hours.” Maybe your mattress is old and junky not you!
Many will say "I've had this for years. I can't find a pattern. It's always so random". As we've worked through complicated cases this is true, sometimes finding a pattern can be very challenging. The best way to fight back rather than just shrugging our shoulders is to keep a journal of your basic day to day routines and note how you feel in the morning, mid day, and at night. Believe it or not certain patterns will start to emerge. At first just be a data collector, don't obsess over analyzing day to day, but rather analyze the good days vs the bad days at the end of each week.
This information can make medical appointments, especially rehab a lot more productive as a clinician can help you problem solve through pattern recognition.
Aside from physical activity, let’s say you’re just trying to get through a normal work day without hurting, try changing your work station set up if this seems to be a pattern.
For example, instead of sitting the whole time, makeshift a standing work station by putting your computer on a sturdy box so you can take a break from sitting, and stand while still being productive. As proposed by recent studies, try taking a 2-3 minute walk every hour to break up sustained sitting and deliver some oxygen rich blood to your body.
You could also invest in an adjustable standing work station.
What most people don’t realize is that there is no such thing as an ideal posture when it comes to being in a sustained position for a long period of time. Our bodies crave movement because our tissues want a consistent flow of oxygen, its the fundamental element for healing, health, and wellness.
If you have to be at desk for long periods of time the secret is postural variability. In other words, you want to have various postural options to be productive in.
Check out our recommended ergonomic products for postural variability options.
Here are some examples of postural variability:
1. A chair that reclines back and supports your entire spine
2. Scoot forward with an unsupported spine
3. Standing up
4. Having a seat panel (what you sit on) and back rest which you can adjust to various reclined angles.
5. Kneeling at your desk
In this way we are not confined to one posture & position for hours. This allows for various tissues in our body to share the load, rather than forcing one region of the body to take on the constant stress of sustained sitting (common cause of a repetitive stress injury).
The Physically Active:
If you are someone who is very active, in addition to postural variability at your work station, another key element to your environment is your physical activity.
Here are some things to consider about your physical activity:
- How is your technique?
- Did you warm up properly?
- There might be an imbalance between physical training & rest - recovery strategies
- Have you been respecting mobility?
- Have you been respecting stability & motor control?
- Are the left and right sides of your body coordinated and working well together? If not this can lead to "energy leaks" or orthopedic stress.
This can all lead to repetitive stress to certain areas of the bodies, which leads to tissue microtrauma and ultimately a pain that we’re not really sure where it came from. Another way to think about repetitive stress is a cumulative effect of several minor insults to your tissues.
Finding a medical professional to help sort through these potential triggers and making some subtle changes to your environment can really provide valuable insight to your repetitive stress problem while providing long lasting results and prevention of future incidents.
Let's make something clear, if you have already created inflammation, swelling, and moderate / significant tissue irritation, there is very little we can do from a “movement correction” standpoint, even if everything is done perfectly. In this case nothing beats the old fashion RICE treatment: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation along with removal of negative triggers from your environment and a wise choice of Active Recovery. This is another example of core principle 3: "Protect Before You Correct."
The truth is our bodies are unbelievable healers; when given the appropriate environment, time, and patience, healing can actually occur. When trying to help rehabilitate really fit & motivated people, usually the big turning point is when we help them realize that they need to get out of their own body's way of healing. They have been simply doing too much and interfering with the healing process.
So please don’t fall for the online gimmicks like “don’t let pain sideline you”. Sometimes you have to get pulled off the field and get sidelined because you are HURT. Yes, it's annoying but having an un-managed injury linger longer than necessary is a lot more annoying.
It’s ok to recognize that sometimes we get hurt and we are in a vulnerable state. The important point is to use it as a lesson (if the injury wasn't the result of bad luck like a trauma). You can use an injury as a means of learning about a weak link in your body, inappropriate training strategy, imbalance between training & recovery, and/or improper ergonomic set up.
Don’t be afraid to learn how to delicately dance between rest, recovery, and activity with a wiser lens and with more mindfulness about both your body & your environment.