It’s Time to Rethink Your Approach to Pain

Sufferers of persistent or chronic pain are often not aware of what may help them move towards making a recovery. There are common themes in many success stories for sufferers of persistent pain that current sufferers may benefit from applying to their own approach. Firstly, getting a contemporary understanding of pain (i.e. pain is a protector and not a measure of damage). Secondly, moving more and returning to activities that you enjoy (e.g. walking the dog, gardening, playing golf). Lastly, learning to self-manage your condition, so you can help yourself now and in the future. Maybe it’s time YOU rethink your approach to pain.

Hurt does not equal harm…

The majority of persistent pain conditions (e.g. persistent low back pain) cannot be explained by physical changes within the body (e.g. disc bulges in the spine). The reason for this is that it is common to see the same changes in those of the same age with little or no pain. Therefore, these changes could be considered ‘normal age-related changes’ and do not match well with the level of pain that a person may report.

Should I get an X-Ray or MRI?

Medical imaging (i.e. X-Rays or MRIs) should be discouraged for those with persistent pain and they can often be harmful. The information gathered from medical imaging can often leave sufferers of persistent pain feeling damaged, which may lead to avoidance of activity and seeking of unhelpful treatments.

Here are 3 steps that may be helpful if you are suffering from persistent pain

Step 1 – Making sense of your pain

Making sense of pain is an important part of the journey. An important conceptual change is from ‘pain as an indicator of damage’ to ‘pain as a protector’

What areas of my current lifestyle could be relevant?

There may be many physical, mental, and lifestyle factors that you could address to better manage your condition. For example, physical inactivity, poor pacing of activity, sleep habits, excessive alcohol, smoking, and or other health conditions. Mental barriers, such as negative beliefs about pain, fear of pain, fear of movement, or emotional barriers such as stress, anxiety, depression and anger are all factors that may impact upon your condition. Addressing any of the above factors that are relevant to you may be a helpful step in your recovery.

Step 2 – Get active

It is widely accepted that exercise and physical activity can reduce pain and improve function and quality of life for those with persistent pain – not to mention the overall health benefits of being more active.

How does exercise help?

There may be a common understanding that exercise reduces pain through improvements in physical function (e.g. strength and flexibility), and it is true that these are undoubtedly some of the benefits of exercise. However, research has shown that reduced pain is more closely related to reduced fear of movement, reduced anxiety, and improved confidence.

Am I safe to move?

When commencing exercise, it is often helpful to establish your own personal goals, not only related to exercise and physical activity, but also goals related to returning to the activities you enjoy. Remember – in and overwhelming majority of cases, it is safe for you to start getting active again.

What about pain during exercise?

It is also safe for you to move when you have pain or to do activities that increase your pain. Keeping it at a level that eases afterwards and ensures you can do the same thing again the next day will ensure you keep making progress. Even so, flare ups are common, especially for those who are just starting to get moving again. Stay calm and slowly ease back into your routine as you are able. Working with an Accredited Exercise Physiologist can help provide that extra reassurance, ensure your exercise program aligns with your own personal goals and help you stay motivated.

Step 3 – Self-managing

When it comes to pain, self-managing is what you should be working towards. The goal of interactions with an Accredited Exercise Physiologist should be to empower you to manage your own pain and do what you want to do. In saying that, you are the most important person when it comes to your recovery.

Where too from here?

When it comes to making a recovery from persistent pain there is no ‘one size fits all’ Treatment needs to be tailored to you and your goals. Accredited Exercise Physiologists are suitably qualified and well positioned in the healthcare system to guide and support you on your road to recovery.

Click here to find an Accredited Exercise Physiologist near you.

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Written by Accredited Exercise Physiologist Zachary O’Rourke