Content by: Deanna Niceski - Accredited Exercise Physiologist
Movement is medicine and pain is no exception to it. It’s the one thing that builds our physical resilience, creates a robust and strong architecture, builds self-efficacy, benefits our tissues and helps us take control over pain. However, when we are in pain for so long and we know the benefits of movement and exercise, we want to get up and about but are trapped in our pain cycle, it’s hard to know where to start and how to climb over the Everest mountain in front of us.
It’s overwhelming to see a huge peak blocking our progress and ability to overcome pain and its challenging to take the road less travelled and explore different strategies to help. Here are a few tactics you can endeavour to rid yourself of pain.
10 WAYS TO OVERCOME YOUR MOUNTAIN OF PAIN:
1. Make sense of your pain
With anything the number one aim is to find your baseline. To understand where you are right now, your relationship with pain, your beliefs around pain, aggravators/alleviators, your ability to perform movements and knowing what you can do without causing a flare up. Remember sometimes ‘we pay for it’ the days following activity so be cautious of how you respond up to 72 hours after. Figure out what your pain is, what you can do and build from there.
2. Plan your progression
This section is coupled with patience as it could be a 2-week plan to a 50-year plan (I’m exaggerating but we always want to train for life not just the short-term).
Planning ahead and knowing your journey helps increase your baseline.
“To improve compare little things, to be miserable compare big things”- James Clear
When we expose our problematic movements that cause discomfort to graded progression, our system slowly learns and adapts to tolerate the same feedback in a more effective way. Partner with an Exercise Physiologist to help you plan ahead.
3. Practice Self-Talk
Remind yourself that “hurt doesn’t always equal harm”. Be optimistic and positive when you talk to yourself. “Self-talk helps you solve problems, think differently and cope with hardships and challenges.” Feed yourself empowering thoughts.
4. Get back in motion
When you remain stagnant your body and brain plays tricks on you. We think we need to rest because we are in pain, but maybe what you really need is gentle movements to create flow and reduce tension. Getting back into moving and motion is an important phase of treatment.
5. Focus on function
Now this is a journey to recovery. We want you to progress from pain and injury and return to a functional state as quickly as possible. This means getting you back into doing things you are currently avoiding because of your pain, back into doing the things you love to do. In saying this, we don’t want to lose movement integrity and quality so feed your brain with varied movements and get creative with how you perform an exercise (within your current ability).
6. Shift gravity with different positions
Altering your gravitational influence with different positions will help with adjusting your levels of movement security, allowing your body to adapt and slowly push that pain threshold up. Touching your toes is the same body orientation as laying on your back with your legs against a wall, just different gravity stimulus. One might cause pain, the other may not, so play around with different positions that are relatively the same exercise.
7. Change your environment
Challenge your body through different elements. Bending may hurt standing in your living room, but when your submerged in 32-degree water, it allows you to perform the same movement with less pain. Variations in weight/load, temperature, balance and surroundings can influence adaptation in a safe way. Check out your local sauna, ice bath/cave or hydrotherapy pool.
8. Flare ups happen
Accept it. This is a given as your alarm system is hypersensitive, but there are measures you can take to manage it, just find what works for you. Be kind to yourself and your body, it’s protecting you.
9. Add distractions
Shift and move your attention away from your pain. Practice deep breathing, write in your movement journal, listen to music, use visualisation, draw pictures, watch a movie, get a massage or use a stress ball. Figure out what gets you into a rhythm and diverts your awareness away. It could be a great pain reliever for you.
10. Make it fun
This is my own opinion here. Going through my own journey of chronic pain I became stuck with the mindset of rehab and seriousness. I forgot to live a little, to have fun and not be so stern. Laughter, being silly and making your program fun really helps (well for me anyway). “Most of life’s greatest lessons are learned through pain.”
It all seems so simple right? But we both know the difficulties associated with chronic pain. Be kind to yourself, listen to your body and slowly push your threshold to adapt and desensitise your nervous system. Stick with the tactics and day by day you will climb that mountain higher, it’s only a matter of time before you reach the top.
“Principle 1.7, Pain + Reflection = Progress” – Ray Dalio