In this post we discuss why the most important question to ask when something hurts is, now what?
When we feel pain, muscle tightness, or limitations in our bodies, there’s an understandable desire to identify the cause.
We want to know what this thing is. What’s it called? Why has it happened?
Many times however there is no discernible cause. Something just starts to hurt one day.
You go to bed feeling fine and then wake up the next day with an unpleasant sensation coming from a particular part of your body.
The first thing to establish is what level of threat this is to your health. A medical professional can help with this but there are some red flags not to be missed.
In most cases it will be nothing serious and you’ll be encouraged to exercise in order to feel better.
Nothing is broken, nothing is particularly wrong, nothing needs fixing necessarily, you’ve just got some sensory feedback from an area that you didn’t have before.
Things get a little bit confusing if this new sensation sticks around however.
Have you ever been to the doctor and they’ve said come back in two weeks if it still hurts? We usually think we’re being fobbed off, but there’s a good reason for this approach. Given enough time many aches and pains will simply fade away. Especially if a doctor tells you there doesn’t seem to be anything to worry about.
Two weeks is in fact a short period of time for musculoskeletal aches and pains. Some tendon issues for example can take months to resolve, even with appropriate care.
But what happens if this sensation shows no sign of changing, or perhaps even gets worse?
When pain, discomfort and limitations don’t change after a period of time, there’s a temptation for medical practitioners to investigate further. The better your insurance coverage, the deeper the investigations tend to be.
This may involve imaging the area to see what might be going on.
Whilst scans can sometimes reveal interesting things, they can’t show pain.
If you’re over the age of 50 a scan is almost guaranteed to find something. 80% of people in their 50s will have spinal disc degeneration for example, whilst there’s an 89% chance of finding an abnormality at the knee.
Is this causing your pain though? It’s difficult to say.
Scans can’t date abnormalities, they just reveal them. It’s possible the thing you see on the scan pre- dated your pain and doesn’t necessarily need to be resolved for you to feel better.
Seeing a scan can also have a negative impact if the context is not explained correctly. I’ve met people who won’t bend their spines if they’ve seen a disc bulge for example. Or put weight through their knee if they’ve seen cartilage degeneration.
This can affect the confidence you have in your body and your willingness to exercise, both of which will have a negative impact on your general health.
Fast forward in your mind to the moment you read the radiologist’s report and hear whatever the diagnosis may be.
Unless anything of great significance is found, you’re going to be back where you started and encouraged to build your exercise back up within your current limitations.
You may be offered a procedure in some circumstances but understand this isn’t necessarily a panacea. The more invasive the procedure the longer your recovery will be. Your body doesn’t appreciate being messed with in this way.
Good surgeons will explain this to you.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are trying to find a solution for aches or pains, I’m not suggesting for a moment that you don’t get yourself checked out.
This is always wise.
What I am suggesting however is patience.
Providing you are safe to exercise and there’s no downside to waiting and seeing, in the long run this may provide the quickest route back to your old self.
If you pursue the exercise route it’s important to recognise that not all exercise interventions are created equal.
Applying exercise in a way that takes into consideration exactly where you’re at is critical. I meet many people who have tried exercise and found it either made no difference, or made things worse.
This is often down to the exercise and how it was applied, rather than their specific issue.
This has important implications because it can lead to unnecessary medical procedures further down the line.
The now what question is critical to achieving the best outcome because it asks the person advising you to map out the expected outcome of any intervention or investigation.
In many cases naming the problem, or finding a part of your body that’s showing normal signs of wear and tear has no bearing on whether you improve or not.
It will still be wise to target limitations in your muscular system with appropriate resistance training so you can get back to doing the things you enjoy in life.