As I sit here in pain, I think to myself I need to get up and write this blog. That may not make sense to some people, but to a Physical Therapist, it makes perfect sense. Most people’s first reaction to pain, is to pop a pill, mostly because the TV reminds us on a constant basis. Will that really solve the problem? Probably not. What is really going on when my ‘pain indicator light’ shines bright? It annoys us for sure because it takes us out of the hurried flow of our fabulous lives! Most of us initially respond to a twinge of pain with a thought something like, “I really don’t have time for this, not today.” Maybe it is exactly what we need today! Before you stone me to death, hear me out. Pain by definition from the old english is “suffering inflicted as punishment for an offense.”
An offense? What did I do? I didn’t ask for this? Oh, but didn’t you? Think about how we sit at our computers and scroll, click, and type (I should be executed). Picture your favorite chair or special spot on the sofa, and how your body is arranged there. Reminisce on your daily commute into work, just the thought of it is painful. Tantalized by the glorious sound of a new text? Hang on, I gotta check my phone. Ok, it was only Facebook. These repetitive postures all day, every day, add up, just like me putting loose change in a jar to treat to myself when its full. Except, this collection of postures will not result in a prize. It WILL result in a surprise though if you keep masking it. I want to toss up and new definition of P-A-I-N.
This pain is an indication that something needs to change. It is a road sign at a fork in the road. “Your current habitual postures and lifestyle preferences are sending you this way!”
ALERT! ALERT! ALERT!
Are you sure this is the way you want to proceed?
Note to self: it is NOT an indication that your body is low on your ibuprofen or acetaminophen supplements!
We have been programmed to believe that when we have pain, it means something is wrong. This is not completely true, or at least what we are told to do at the first sign of pain isn’t true, its advertisement. We are told to mask it. Make it stop. Take the medicine, put a band aide on it, get an ice pack. While these things may or may not have their place, I want to change that first thought reaction that you have. It is a tall order, I know. Take the first indication of pain as the first step to change. We tend to ignore, cover, and suppress this pesky annoyance called pain, because we don’t like what it is telling us.
SOMETHING NEEDS TO CHANGE
This is much like the lesson I learned when my check engine light came on in my car during my drive back to Louisiana from Phoenix, which was 116 degrees that summer. My little Toyota Celica humming along the I-10 at well, the speed is not that important, or is it? Radio and AC blasting, because you could see the solar radiation swirling in the air off the road just ahead. I was finishing my last student therapy rotation and headed home for graduation from college. My car warned me that something was up. Bing! The light popped up in my dash board. This had not happened before. So I drove on, turned down the AC a bit, but not the radio. Next, the temperature gauge edged past midway and close to the red. I grew up in a household of mechanics and service writers, so I knew better. Annoyed that I had to stop, I called my Mom. She was a service writer and told me to let it cool a bit, and pop the hood. Yep there it was, a steaming radiator. Crap. This meant my engine was not cooling, it was being over worked and getting hot, and giving me these indications by the lights in my dash. After adding water, card board, gum, and anything else I could use to plug the slow leak, I pressed on. After several “stop and cool down” lessons in patience, I ended up in Marshall, Tx where the light finally hit the big red “H” mark. The car was done. The Celica was towed to New Orleans, where I learned a cracked my engine block was waiting for me. If that wasn’t bad enough, I was told by my Mom, who still paid my insurance, I had to put my own engine back together with the help of a family friend. That’s when I learned to NOT ignore or push it when the check engine light shows up in my world.
The check engine light of your body is pain. It is an indicator, not to be ignored, masked with over the counter medication, soothed with muscle rubs, or ignored until later.
??? Pain requires investigation ???
Ask yourself, “What have I been doing in the past day, week, or month to contribute to this particular warning signal?” Got a cramp in your upper arm on the outside, a pulling at your wrist, a feeling of fullness in your hands? These might all indicate too much mouse clicking. Got a headache, or stiffness in your neck when you turn side to side? This may indicate forward head posture, where your chin juts out, your eyes and nose tip up a bit, and your lower neck is bent forward. This is a classic prolonged sitting, driving, and care-taking posture. We repeat these things daily, even yearly, and rarely do we do anything on a regular basis to restore ourselves to a state of balanced posture. We then proceed to sleep on a pile of pillows with our head supported in the very same position for 7-8 hours a night. Over time, our body permanently assumes this shape.
Think of your Grandma. When she was in her 20’s she was likely a hottie, or grandpa wouldn’t have fallen for her, right? Why does Granny look like a big C hunched over and much shorter than she was when Gramps courted her?
Gravity, yes, and the repetitive prolonged postures over time. Remember the collection jar for the prize? Now it is a surprise: knee replacement, herniated disc in the neck, carpel tunnel syndrome, or back pain with sciatica (or you getting on your own body’s nerves). Yes, most of these “conditions” are built up by doing the same things over and over while never restoring postural balance.
I tell my patients, take some time every day to do the opposite of what you do all day. If you sit all day at a desk, stand up every hour or so and take a stretch backwards. Hands in your low back and bend back. If you are a truck driver, you have tight hamstrings, I promise. Take some time to stretch the backs of your legs every day, every stop. Restore the muscles to their ‘resting’ or balanced length. Headaches? One cause is from clenching the jaw in stress, tipping the nose up and flexing the lower neck forward like a crane. Classic examples are texting, desk or computer work, watching tv, driving, and wearing granny glasses to read. Begin by tucking your chin (make a fat neck) then retract your head like “Say what?” while pulling your whole head in alignment with your back bone, thereby stacking your head over your shoulders (think military attention pose). Repeat as needed, and often throughout the day.
Our fascia adapts to the demands placed on it. Fascia is a fluid system and will arrange itself in the shape of the container, think jello shapes. Keep adapting your body container with new and restorative activities, postures and positions. Try yoga, swimming, or inversion. Do the opposite of what you have been doing. Change the path you are on because the warning sign showed up as an indication that you are going in an unproductive, and perhaps destructive direction. Now is the time for modification, now is the time for a new direction, before pain becomes a continual life partner and not an intermittent visiting relative.
Myofascial Release (MFR) can help restore your posture, diminish the stressful holding patterns that light up your dashboard, and remove the resultant aches and pains. Let’s work together to change our attitude about pain. In an effort towards wellness, when the indicator light pops up think, ask don’t mask.
PAIN: ASK, Don’t MASK
Ask your body what it needs to feel restored when the Posture Assistant’s Illuminating Nudge (aka: pain), gives you a bump!