Pain : (noun)
1. Physical discomfort caused by illness or injury
2. Careful effort, great care or trouble
I am on the top of Copper Mountain ski resort above the tree line at 12,000 ft.
It's 1 o C with a wind-chill factor of -6 o C.
I take my gloves off to capture a panoramic view with my phone. In moments, my hand begins to hurt from the cold. The pain is severe.
What would you do in that situation?
The solution seems obvious, right?!
I could stick my bare hand into my armpit to warm it. I could ask my friends for a "hand warmer packet". I could ask for a pill to dampen the pain like Advil, Motrin, tylenol or even an opiod painkiller. I could even put my glove back on.
These options focus on the pain either by addressing the cause (cold hand = pain -> warm hand up) or symptom (stop pain message about hand).
Yet, there is an option that allows me to address the symptom AND the cause. See, the pain was a symptom that my hand was too cold because of where I was.
What did I do?
I put my glove back on. We began to ski down to lower elevations so we could head to the lodge and warm up.
Yes, the solution took some time and attention. It even required that I MOVE while in PAIN.
Far too often I see folks mask the symptom, your body's message that it needs something different. Or worse, they allow the pain to make them stop moving. Worse yet, they stop moving, mask the pain with painkillers, and then pretend it was never there.
PAIN is a normal response and a signal that your body needs help. We do ourselves a disservice ignoring symptoms from our body, especially pain. When we ignore stress, lack of good nutrition, lack of good sleep and painful states we set ourselves up for "chronic pain states." These chronic pain states rewire the brain so the pain sensation looses its meaning and becomes learned.
To be clear:
Pain is NORMAL. Ignoring pain is ABNORMAL and sets you up for chronic pain states.
The most interesting thing about pain, not only is it normal, but it is necessary for learning about our body.
Let's circle back to my mountain experience....as my friends and I were skiing, we saw an opportunity to go to the top. We went through pains (careful effort) to get to the top and to safely come down together. That trip was memorable because of the pain. Had we been to scared of the pain we may have experienced, we never would have seen the view. For sure, it was a learning experience also as I can now plan better next time with a second layer of gloves...or...or...or....
We had an opportunity to do something unique or new that we didn't let our fear or ignorance of the pain experience to stop us. Instead we accepted it and allowed it to guide us together.
The pain was worth it for the memories, connection, and SOARing together with a few special friends.
The value of this pain experience was similar to my health journey. There have been many opportunities to take the "easy" and "less painful" path and even wait for a better time to start. Yet I continued on my path to health despite the effort and pain to have what I do today. Now that I have learned so much about myself and my body's signals, I know how to respond rather than ignore.
Let's be clear...it was painful like ripping a bandaid off, yet now I can breath. Now I struggle less and this allows me to be able to teach my children how to listen to their body's signals which includes the pain experience. My decisions are now less painful(require less effort).
Understanding your body is so valuable it is priceless...but not painless.
My hope with these blogs is to share my story and information so that it may make you pause...breath...and listen to your body, especially if you have pain.
It is not selfish to take care of yourself, it's necessary. And it may be painful at times. If you are a parent I hope to inspire you to do it for yourself even if it pains you and your children. The more you can understand the more you can teach the young children how to do it for themselves.
The pain...or symptom...is there for a reason. Listen to it. Learn from it. Get help to better understand what the message is; physical therapy is a great place to start. It is a sign of strength to get help when you need it, not weakness.
In the end, nobody can do it for you.
Your body is trying to communicate. Nobody can ignore his/her body signals and remain healthy....it's an impossibility.
We have set unrrealistic expectations of ourselves to be symptom and pain free by simply medicating it away. We have become scared of the pain experience when it is merely a message and a chance to learn.
Pain is a great teacher that you have been ignoring for far too long.
Remove. Replace. Restore.
Remove fear and ignorance of pain.
Replace with acknowledgement of the cause of pain and allow yourself to follow through with the solution. Seek assistance when you aren't able to understand your pain on your own, don't wait. Physical Therapy is a great place to start. Learn more about your body.
Restore faith in your body and your health.
Eat Well. Move Well. Sleep Well. Soar On....even with pain in your life.
Dr Carolyn Dolan DPT, Cert MDT, MSHN
Where physical therapy, nutrition and lifestyle meet, because how you live your life determines whether or not you soar. Inspiring action with information so you can reduce pain, optimize healing and improve function naturally during recovery from injury, surgery or painful condition. This is a website for the open-minded; obstinate need not apply.