If you participate in sport, you likely are no stranger to pain. Pain has a different meaning to a distance runner compared to a car accident victim, or even the runner in first, versus the one struggling at the back. An understanding of how pain affects our behaviour relates not only to injury rehab, but also to movement and sports performance.
Pain is the brain’s protective response to something it sees to be a threat. However, the way we react to, or in anticipation of, threatening or stressful stimuli can actually increase our pain experience. We tend to think of pain as our body saying “stop!” But this fear-avoidance behaviour is strongly linked to the development of chronic pain.
Pain Management Strategies
- Breathe: When in pain or distress, people tend to tense their neck and shoulder muscles, which causes them to take shallow and quick breaths that fill the upper chest. Upper chest breathing supplies less oxygen to the body versus deep belly breathing and less oxygen makes our nerves more sensitive. Additionally, this breathing pattern creates extra tension in neck and shoulder muscles, as they are not meant to be used excessively for breathing.
- Move: Movement is important for tissue healing and strength. Activity increases circulation and produces hormones that make you feel better. This does not mean you must push through the pain but, rather, find an activity you can do that does not greatly increase your pain. This may be a short walk, breast stroke in the pool, or gentle stretching lying on your back. Initially in the recovery process, you want to find exercise you can tolerate to let the brain know that some movement is safe.
- Self-talk: Consider the words you use to describe your body. Do you refer to your body as broken, or do you have a bad shoulder/hip/back? Negative self-talk and self-reference reinforces the idea that pain is outside of our control and that we are not responsible for our own recovery, because our body is inherently flawed. You cannot think your way out of pain solely by changing your attitude, but you can create a better environment for healing, as emotions and thoughts directly impact our pain experience.
- Seek Help & Education: The internet can be a scary place to navigate a diagnosis on your own. Find a health care professional that you trust and who can explain your diagnosis, help identify factors that may be contributing to your pain, manage your pain with treatment techniques and provide you with guidelines and strategies to gradually increase your activity level and optimize your functional capacity.