CHOOSE PHYSICAL THERAPY FIRST:
BY UNDERSTANDING THE PROCESS OF PAIN
Pain is produced by the brain. While pain does start at the point of injury—it also kind of doesn’t, as well. The nerves of the injured body part send a warning signal up a rather complicated pathway to your brain. Once there, the brain decides if it needs to then send a pain signal in response back to the injured body part....
Whew. Okay, this is sometimes hard to grasp—this back-and-forth carrier system. So, let me give you a real-life example.
A couple of weeks ago, while playing a volleyball game I took a running dive for a wild ball that I had absolutely no business taking (but who wants to admit they aren’t in high school shape anymore, you know what I mean?)—and almost immediately upon the hard and jarring impact, I felt my neck snap—in consequence, the brain produced pain. However, when my team asked if I could still play, I said yes. It wasn’t anything serious. I knew that. I’d be sore the following day. Nothing too bad.
We took our positions back on the court and at the whistle, we hustled. I spiked twice during the next play using my right hand (which, coincidently was the side of my neck I’d hurt). I had no problems—my neck didn’t hinder my movements. In fact, from the moment of that whistle, I was hardly hurting at all. I also had one of the best serving games of my night. I was digging, still diving if you can believe it, and spiking.
The thing is, if pain were not produced in the brain, I wouldn’t have been able to play volleyball. The constant pull, burning ache would have forced me out for the night. But the brain is powerful, incredibly so, and it knew that my neck injury was nothing serious (indeed, if it had been serious, the brain would have created pain reflective of that level of trauma so I would have stopped playing), and since the brain decides when to and when not to produce pain, and what to pay attention to and what to disregard, it allowed the throbbing in my neck to be shut off (or at least set to simmer) temporarily during play. This, in part, prevented me from inflicting further potentials trauma or injury to my body—if I was too focused on the pain in my neck, I could have become distracted and easily twisted an ankle or bumped into another player, etc.
It wasn’t until the game was over that the throbbing began in earnest again, when my neck started to tighten—as I’d known it would. And again, as I’d anticipated, it was sore the following day. In fact, it was sore for almost a week. Thank goodness for PT though—I worked my exercises and I stretched, I used ice packs, and I even made my fiancé massage my neck and shoulders every evening. It took a week of working through the pain, and then working past the pain, to restore my body to its natural state of well-being, but now I'm completely back to normal. No pain, no stiffness, nothing. 😊
I tell this story for a couple of reasons. Number one, because understanding pain helps us to appreciate what is happening inside the body (and where)—and it really reinforces that it is both a sensory and emotional experience. Knowledge makes pain a little less scary, and it gives us a little bit of control back. Which leads naturally to my second reason: respect pain, listen to it, but don’t fear it. Don’t mask it with pain killers and injections. That’s a temporary condition and it’s missing the point. The brain produces pain to warn you, to protect you. Don’t ignore it. Fix it.
Choose physical therapy first. Choose to restore proper function and mobility. Choose the long-term fix.