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The Mental Burden of Pain Rehabilitation

First off, when it comes to pain, it's important to understand that it's not as black and white as we may think. For example, we may think that pain is a signal or sign of damage and therefore something is wrong. We get a cut on our finger or we smash our leg against a table and we feel pain because there's some tissue damage. And how significant the damage is correlates to how much pain we feel.

This does not tell the full story. Pain is a sensation that's meant to change behaviour, it is not just a symptom and it's not always a sign of damage. It's closer to a perception of a threat. And because we can perceive things differently than the next person, our perceptions of pain are often wildly different, even with the same diagnosis as the next person.

This is why it's important to understand your own pain and know the difference between some discomfort that's going to help you grow and debilitating pain that's causing harm. Easier said than done.

I'll give you a personal example. I dealt with a serious lower back injury, a disc herniation at L5/S1 of my spine that caused irritation of the sciatic nerve, creating, feelings of pain and numbness all down my right leg. So naturally, I was in a lot of discomfort and a lot of everyday activities were painful, even just standing and sitting.

Over the course of my rehab process the pain did get better as my condition improved, but I always had this nagging irritation and pain in my lower back.

And having gone through this long rehab process and living through painful moments doing basic activities, I was fearful of living through that again. The last thing I wanted was to regress or reinjure the area ever again.

Through this process, my body and mind had created a pattern of pain and the fear of movement that came with it. And I was told by multiple health professionals what not to do and what I should be avoiding, further emphasizing this negative feedback loop of fear and lack of movement.

Now thankfully I was stubborn enough to reject this notion, but going back to my previous point about pain and perception, if we feel that even the most basic movements (like picking things up off the ground) are threatening, and we have this sensitivity and fear in our minds of hurting ourselves or causing damage, this raises our body's alarm systems and now something that wouldn't otherwise be perceived as a threat, is.

If there's one point you can take away from this, it's this, when perceptions of this "threat" change, so do our feelings of pain, outside of any actual physical changes in the body. That's right, even though nothing is changing on the level of our tissues, (our muscles, bones, joints), our feelings of pain can change based on how we feel about our condition and our pain.

When a fire alarm goes off. You can put the fire out, but the alarm may still be going off although the fire is gone. That's how our bodies can experience pain, especially the chronic kind that can be present for months and even years.

Being aware that pain works this way and understanding it is an incredibly important part of rehabilitation and building ourselves back up again.

This doesn't mean that we want to train through all pain because it's "all in our heads". Pain is still an important factor to consider, but the point is not to be so entitled to our feelings of pain that it becomes a detriment to our process of healing.

To your good health,

Coach Stephen


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