Have you ever gone to the gym, go home, and a part of your body slowly starts to hurt, and it gets worse as the day goes on?
“Looks like I injured something.”
If this has ever happened to you, chances are, you’ve gotten quite upset over it and became quite worried about how you’re going to feel the next time you went to the gym.
What’s really interesting about pain is that the amount of “damage” is not the only factor in how much pain you experience.
There’s actually a large amount of evidence the supports the idea that your emotions & perceptions can increase or decrease how much pain you feel (check out the book Explain Pain by Butler & Moseley if you want to read about these studies.)
Someone who believes that they are physically injured badly, despite having no damage whatsoever, can feel intense pain.
- This concept explains why someone can have a normal-looking x-ray or MRI of their spine, yet have excruciating back pain.
- This also explains why someone’s x-ray or MRI can show extensive arthritis in their joints, yet experience little to no pain.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a static situation.
Your experiences can cause pain to worsen over time.
If you “hurt” your back, let’s say, picking up 100lbs off the ground, you may feel the same pain trying to pick up 50lbs a week later.
If this correlates with you believing that there is something wrong, then chances are, if you try to pick up something that’s 30lbs, you’ll be in pain. And then 20lbs hurts, and eventually, bending over to tie your shoes hurts.
It’s a vicious cycle.
Good news is, you can also reverse this pattern and feel less pain.
If you converse with yourself and remind your brain that pain can sometimes be deceiving, your reaction to it won’t be as negative, and you can actually lessen the pain over time.
Let’s say you hurt your back picking up 100lbs. Your first reaction is “okay, something bad may or may not have happened, but the body can heal, so I’m just going to be careful and let my body do its thing.”
From there, let’s say you’re feeling a lot better in a week, and want to exercise again. Picking up 100lbs may not be something your body is ready for, but picking up 20lbs may be completely fine. Think about it: it’s only 20% the weight that you’re normally capable of picking up.
You pick up 20lbs, and you might feel a little sore or achy, but you remind yourself that 20lbs is nothing and realistically couldn’t damage your body. The next day, you feel fine, and each time you go to the gym, you lift slightly heavier and heavier weights, until you’re back to 100%.
Those two scenarios can happen to the same person – to the same exact spine – but the difference in emotion, attitude, and perception are what cause pain to become worse, or better, over time.
So if there is ever a time where you feel like you’ve injured something, don’t worry yourself to death.
Take it easy, let the pain get better, take your time returning to what you had been doing in the gym pre-injury, and remind yourself that the pain is not always indicative of how “damaged” you are.
And if you need help getting back on track with your workouts, we’d love to help.
To learn more about our program and to see if we’re a good fit for you, click this link and we’ll hop on the phone at whatever time is most convenient for you 🙂