Why the comfort we choose hurts us in the end.

Pain or the feeling of it at its simplest definition is the physical process which protects us from the things that harm us. For the survival of humans this was important as it stopped us from being eaten, burned or freezing to death.  While these types of dangers have reduced substantially due to the evolution of technology and common sense they have been supplanted by less physical, more emotionally driven threats. Why is this important? Due to how we perceive danger and the chemical response that happens in our body as a result, the physical effects can actually be longer lasting.


A threat is still a threat.


When we as humans feel as if we are placed in a dangerous situation our body enters what is called a flight or fight situation. When you hear stories of mum’s performing seemingly impossible feats to protect their kids (Such as physically lifting a car off a trapped baby) it is generally this reaction that has occurred. Our brain and body are flooded by chemicals which allow us to focus all of our attention on one task, heightening that ability while shutting down all others. While this serves a purpose for life threatening situations such as this, it is less useful if our brain has deemed daily occurrences to pose this same risk. For example, due to a previously perceived bad experience some people find public speaking or meeting new people dangerous and thus the brain triggers this same response (better known as anxiety) with more negative consequences.


When the emotional becomes physical.


Why this matters when it comes to injury recovery is that it is becoming more common for the injuries we experience to occur due to more innocuous circumstances. Take straining our shoulder while working overhead as an example. This may have been due a freak occurrence or overuse however our brain doesn’t have a more “serious” event to compare this to as our first world comforts mitigate these situations. Therefore overhead lifting becomes seen as a threat to our livelihood or daily function and as a result our brain tries to “protect” us by guarding the correct movement with muscle spasm, compromised motion and/or increased levels of pain. The longer it then takes for us to correct emotional effect of the threat the more engrained these protection mechanisms become. Commonly you will keep experiencing pain even when the physical injury has healed.


Solution - Break the threat down.


The key to eliminating your pain if you have had any physical injury that has occurred (or reoccured) comes down to understanding why the injury happened in the first place. Don’t automatically associate the pain that you experience with the activity that caused it. Speak with your health expert about the lifestyle, genetic and emotional factors related to the injury itself and start setting small goals to eliminate these. The pain you experience is never just due to the physical injury you sustain.

Bending over to pick a tissue off the ground or sneezing should not be scary activities however for some people with back pain these are fraught with danger every time they perform them because the action has been associated with the pain. If this sounds like you what I would do in my role is discuss what happened the last time you experienced this type of pain and create a new, controlled scenario where we change the factors that are modifiable such as your bending pattern and intentional mindset. By doing this you can feel that you do not experience the same level of pain while performing the action and your brain starts to reduce the protection it creates aka decreases the pain and stiffness you feel.


You are in control.


The brain is an incredible organ that we have complete control over however all too often when it comes to pain we feel we are powerless. It is the brain that controls how we experience pain therefore if we can control the factors that influence our pain then we can control the pain itself. If you want more advice about how to control the pain you are experiencing, whether short or long term, email me at info@stackhealth.org and we will start improving how you feel today!

Bryce Finck