In this post we discuss why no practitioner, no matter how skilled, can fix pain and injury. Fortunately your body has all the answers.
The word ‘fix’ is misleading when discussing pain and injury. We’re not cars or washing machines.
The most any practitioner can do is improve the conditions for healing.
If you’ve ever broken a bone you’ll understand this very well.
After the fracture has been assessed to decide if any surgical intervention is required, what happens next?
You’re told to avoid placing load through the area and put in a plaster if appropriate.
Apart from ensuring your nutrition is adequate there’s very little to be done. Your body takes care of everything. Your job is not to mess with the process.
If your body can fix a broken bone in around 8 weeks, surely it’s capable of resolving back pain for example?
It can if the conditions are right.
Chronic pain and injury
If your pain or discomfort has lasted longer than 3 months and you’ve been assessed by a medical professional to rule out anything sinister, why does your body continue to hurt?
This is a complicated topic but fortunately the solutions are easier to grasp.
Think of pain as an alarm system. It’s your body’s way of alerting you that something is wrong.
The problem is it can’t tell you exactly what the issue is and over time the alarm system can become sensitive. Rather like a car alarm that keeps going off on a windy day.
Get the following things right however and you’ll improve the internal conditions that will allow your body to work its magic.
Get your exercise right
My bias is to use resistance training as the primary source of activity. Resistance training does a number of things that can help reduce pain.
Control the variables
Firstly it allows you to control the variables within each exercise. This reduces the risk of making things worse. What joints you move, how far you move them, and against how much resistance, can all be set. This is a huge advantage. Contrast this with an aerobics class or even something like yoga or Pilates.
Resistance training promotes the release of natural painkillers
When you use your muscles your body releases endorphins that reduce pain. Some of these bind to the same receptors that are targeted by drugs such as oxycodone and morphine. Bouts of resistance training have been shown to increase the circulating levels of these natural opioids up to 24 hours post exercise.
This video gives an explanation of how you can access the drug cabinet in the brain.
Resistance training can reduce chronic inflammation
Long term resistance training programmes have been shown to reduce chronic inflammation. This is primarily from an increase in muscle mass and a reduction of adipose (fat) tissue. Not only is this good for your health, it has the potential to reduce your sensitivity to pain.
A different narrative
Resistance training can also change the internal story you may have about your current situation. If you’ve just completed 8 controlled repetitions on a leg press machine with 2 x your body weight, it’s hard to justify the thought that your body is weak and incapable.
Getting stronger reduces pain sensitivity
Lastly there’s a connection between muscle weakness and pain sensitivity. Cancer patients for example, were able to withstand greater pressure at specific points of their body following a resistance training programme.
Stop doing things that make you worse
This might seem obvious but you’d be amazed how many people continue with exercise or activities that are obviously not helping.
If you walk 5 miles and get pain, try walking 3 and see what happens. The priority is to shut the alarm off or at least have it going off less.
If you’ve ever noticed your issue tends to get worse after a poor night’s sleep, then you won’t be surprised to learn that chronic sleep deprivation is associated with chronic pain.
Difficulties can arise when the pain itself is impacting your sleep which isn’t unusual. This can lead to one issue feeding the other.
The solution is to find an entry point that can positively affect both. Resistance training is a good place to start.
What we think about produces chemical realities in our tissues. Experiments have shown that people with chronic arm pain can experience increased swelling when viewing images of other people moving their arms.
Whilst this might seem a little disconcerting, imagine what’s possible if you can change how you think about your pain or injury.
This comes from gaining an understanding of pain and how it works. This book in particular has been helpful to many of my clients.
As chronic low grade inflammation can increase your sensitivity to pain, a diet that is rich in foods which have anti inflammatory properties can help.
It probably comes as no surprise that fast food diets have the opposite effect.
No practitioner can fix your pain and injury. All they can do is help you create the right conditions so your body can heal itself.
Get enough of the things I’ve mentioned above right and you’ll be on your way to feeling better.