You raise your arm above shoulder height and it feels like someone’s sticking a knife in you.
What the what?!? It didn’t hurt the last time you did that. Or maybe it did, just not as much.
Maybe you have pain somewhere else that’s triggered by a different movement.
Maybe you have chronic pain that hits at random times in random situations.
Wherever your pain is and whenever it’s triggered, you may feel like you only have 2 choices:
It’s completely natural to be afraid of triggering more pain… It’s totally OK to not want to trigger more pain. I also understand the instinct to push through it, and may be (read: definitely am) guilty of doing that more than a few times in my own life. But those 2 reactions are opposite ends of a great big spectrum of things you can do. Go Big (push through) or Go Home (protect) may be our beloved responses to so many things in life, but there’s a middle ground.
I can hear some of you now: “but my doctor told me to rest my shoulder.” Yeah, they probably did. But resting it and not using it at all are two completely different things. If your doctor wanted the painful area immobilized, they’d give you a brace or a cast, or some other way of ensuring the area can’t move.
You can move without exerting yourself. In fact, when you’re in pain, research shows that the one thing you can do that will improve and hasten recovery more than any other is to move within tolerated limits. How do you do that? You become curious.
I’m going to say that again for the folks in the back: The best thing you can do when you have pain, is to move.
It doesn’t matter what activity you do, as long as you keep moving. It’s more effective if you actually like doing it. Do you like to walk? Then walk. Even if it’s slower than normal. And it will probably be slower than normal.
Being curious is easier said than done, because you have to override your go big or go home mindset. That said, once you get the hang of it, it’s not difficult. Being curious about your pain can look very different from one person to another, depending on the nature and severity of the pain. But here are some of the most common ways curious can look:
First, I didn’t say you can’t stretch, you probably can. I just said to resist the temptation. I don’t say this to deprive you of much needed pain relief, I say it to prevent you from creating more pain.
Here’s the deal:
Over the last 5 years, I have had 2 episodes of low back pain/spasm. The first time, I tried stretching things out (even though I knew all the above info at that time) and ended up unable to work for close to a week. The second time, I had been delving into and learning about pain science for a couple years and used what I had learned to become curious about what I COULD do without pain. That made me feel really good, because out of all the movements I tried, there were only a few that triggered my pain.
I also used my curiosity to find my activity limits. At no time did I stop moving. I simply moved slower. I used my curiosity to move into my pain several times in a row and often found that it “worked itself out” by the 4th or 5th repetition. The times it didn’t totally eliminate the pain, it greatly decreased it. I never missed so much as a minute of work, although I worked much more mindfully, which is good thing for everyone to do anyway, even when they’re not in pain.
Since my own successful experience using curiosity, I’ve been using this curiosity exercise with family, friends, and clients who have muscle pain and/or spasm. You know what? Each person told me that they were able to stay more active, recover more quickly, and had less fear about triggering their pain.
So, if you want a higher quality of life when you’re hurting, don’t fear your pain… be curious about it.