"Pain is weakness leaving the body"
What a load of garbage that phrase is.
Or even better- "NO Pain NO Gain". This phrase puts my mind in the state that the kids call "TRIGGERED"
Everyone experiences pain at some point in time, but how do we make sense of it all?
Some people experience pain more intensely than others, even if they has the same exact injury.
Let's start with what pain really is, and how is manifests in the body.
Pain is constructed in the brain.
Our nerves are an electrical highway that passes information to be processed in the brain. They can gather information from any sense imaginable - temperature, force, touch, stress (more on that later), body position, emotions, etc. The Brain (like a computer processor) works to understand messages and the importance of each one in a matter of microseconds, determining the priority level of each piece of information.
The brain is the fastest acting computer on the planet, organizing an orchestra of tasks, just to operate normally. It has to regulate our breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, body awareness, along with every thing else you can think of, all subconsciously to prioritize our survival.
Pain will show itself once information is sent to the brain is prioritized enough to have a response that forces the brain to send information back out to an area that needs to be addressed.
For example, If you rolled your ankle and there was some swelling that occurred, the nerves are sending information up to the brain that draws its attention. After processing this information, the brain sends out a response to address this situation. The memo sent to the ankle region is received and a pain response is enacted.
The pain response is deactivated once the brain feels the area has been addressed to its satisfaction and can run the information back on autopilot.
You can think of your pain as an emergency response system, where alarm bells are going off 🚨🚨🚨, and you need to eliminate the threat to feel safe again.
The severity of the pain experience in the brain is matched based on past experiences and expectations. This is why everyone has a different experience and why some may not feel a pain during certain movements or injuries vs others, with the same injury, having unbearable pain experiences.
Along with all of the other senses coming in (temperature, touch, digestion, heart rate, etc), the brain takes in the information and then judges it against a past experience (injury in past or seen someone with it) and an expectation (what others have said about it/what you expect it to be) and creates the desired output. Pain or no pain.
(Are you saying it's all in your head?? Yes, but not the way you think)
Another caveat to all this pain stuff is STRESS.
Pain itself is a stress, and stress can make you set the alarm off too soon, even if the threat is no longer present. It becomes "the boy who cried wolf" situation where any little innocuous thing will set you off.
Stress it as an emergency response system in itself, revving up the engines to get us out of danger ASAP.. When a threat is present, our stress response gears up to get us out of danger, and then suppress afterwards.
As an example, if a lion walked into the room, your stress response would kick on and allocate energy and resources to produce a "fight or flight" response and get you out as fast as possible.
The stress response is the same for any stress that goes on. Emotional, physical, environmental, etc. If there is a constant uptick in the stress response, the lion essentially never leaves the room, leaving you on high alert..
This is how a pain can intensify under stressful situations or come about, as stress creates a loop effect, increasing sensitivity to the alarm system, therefore heightening the pain response. Pain is a stress, and increased stress feeds into increased sensitivity, and the loop continues.
Now I know your head might be in a pretzel and I may have just made you more nervous about this whole thing than you already are.
Let me just say, this is an example of what goes on. Everybody is different and we all have stresses in our lives. It's when we hit a certain threshold (individually specific) that things can eventually start to show. Just because you may have an injury, or some pain, does not mean you will be going into a downward spiral of chaos.
The main thing to understand is that pain is really an output of the brain, based upon the various inputs coming in. The inputs are judged against expectations and past experiences to determine if it is deemed a threat or not. With a threat detected, pain will many times be the output. With increased stresses, pain is a more likely output, warranted or not.
There are ways to deal with increased stresses and pain responses to alleviate symptoms easier, but that will be addressed in a later post.
I will give some quick advice if you are having increased stress or pain to help out so you aren't left on a complete cliffhanger.
Meditation or slow breathing exercises can be a game changer. You don't have to be a Tibetan Monk when it comes to these, but just spending 5 minutes at the end of the day to declutter your mind and focusing on slow, easy breaths will make for a healthier mind and can help guide you to sleep (another very important tool in recovery that will be discussed at another time). I like Insight Timer or headspace App to get some free guided meditations. Just remember, doing it one day will not be enough. You need to be consistent for at least a week to see some results.
Another help in reducing stress and pain would be low endurance, steady-state cardio for a minimum of 30min. This does not have to be running. It can be literally any low level movement such as biking, swimming, walking, etc. The goal is to breathe in and out thru the nose the entire time. You should not be forcibly sucking air in and out, otherwise you are working too hard and increasing your stress response. Just breathe at a steady, slightly elevated level.
Having an increased aerobic capacity has been linked to buffering the stress response and will in turn assist with injury healing time.
If you want more information on pain science, I suggest following the works of David Butler and Lormier Moseley of the NOI group with there book Explain Pain and works of Adrian Laeuw with his book Why Do I Hurt?
Aside from their books they have numerous research articles and publications and have been the leading experts in pain science to date. .
Dr. Peter Dionisopoulos is the owner and founder of Dynamic Performance & Rehab. He has worked with many high-level athletes and military personnel, but his true passion is to help active adults maintain their lifestyle by providing information and potential solutions to their aches and pains so they can continue with the activities they love.