By Jake Francis
Pain is a funny thing. It has a lot of impacting factors - the biopsychosocial factors, as I have previously spoken of on Instagram and in a previous blog. This means that your pain is likely to be due to a plethora of things, from mental health to sedentary lifestyle. It's that inactive lifestyle that I am focusing this blog on today.
When we get an acute injury, our first response is to rest, do nothing, let the injury heal itself. This doesn't really work, and will likely prolong injury and pain. It's the same when you get less acute injuries like back ache - I can guarantee a lot of you will go "oh my back is aching, I'll just go sit down and rest for a bit". Depending on how that back pain came about, it won't help.
So, let's start with that back pain, or any kind of chronic pain for that matter. When coping with chronic pain, I've noticed 2 things when clients come in to see me:
They tend not to be the most active people anyway
They have developed a fear of movement
This means we want to achieve the complete opposite to get rid of the pain - slowly increase activity in their lifestyle, and increase their confidence to move in as many different ways as possible. Logical, right? Yes, because those 2 things listed above, are not a natural or healthy lifestyle for a human being. How do we know this? Well, there's decades of research that back this up. But, perhaps the most obvious way to explain how we know this is our own anatomy. That's right, how our bodies' are structured and designed. If we strip a human body down to the bones, the first thing to point out is we have multiple bones (206 to be precise). These bones are connected in the form of joints (plural again), and then we have muscles that contract to create movement at these joints. Why would our fundamental, basic anatomy be designed in this way if we weren't supposed to move?
I here you say, but what about our spine? All the advice for lifting is to use our legs, keep our back straight, maintain "good" posture. My response: We have individual vertebrae. If your spine wasn't supposed to move in and out of multiple different positions, our spine would be a simple fused rod. Yes, the advice for lifting heavy items is to maintain a straight back. This is because it is a strong and stable position for lifting a large load. However, we shouldn't be worried or be thinking about this when picking up a dropped pen. Our spines are resilient - they have very strong ligaments and a large bulk of musculature surrounding it and supporting it. The reason you still have pain, perhaps even worse pain, whilst trying to maintain good posture all day every day, is because you're overworking muscles to keep them their. That's when you start getting muscle spasms, stiffness, and a decreased ability to move. So, my recommendation is to move in and out of different positions during the day, get your body used to these movements that it can and should do. Then you will find that your pain begins to decrease and you feel more free and more confident to move without pain.
In terms of acute soft tissue injuries, the natural response is to not move. I understand this completely, it is a sharp pain that you don't want to make worse. However, as soon as we sustain an acute injury, let's say an ankle sprain for example, we lose some range of movement. This is important to get back as soon as possible, otherwise it becomes much more difficult to perform simple tasks, like walking and running. So, I tend to tell people to start actively moving their ankle in pain-free arcs. This active movement is actually begins to activate receptors called mechanoreceptors, because your mechanically contracting muscle to move. These receptors travel on faster nerve units much faster than those of pain receptors. This means, it's transmission will block the reception of pain. So active movement will not only help you to regain range of movement, but also begin to reduce pain.
So, the answer is movement. You might have to reduce your activities due to injury. However, this does not equal rest, and you should always find a way to move. If you are struggling with this, that might be the time to ask for help, which we can provide.