To Fix It or Ignore It?
Everyone has experienced pain to some level, whether that being an acute injury or from chronic overuse. In many cases, we are conditioned to “wait and see how it goes”. This can be traced back to even when we are children. We may fall off the couch or trip on a stick chasing friends in the back yard. The immediate reaction is to run to our parents. They check us over to ensure it is not a life threatening injury and then reassure us it will hurt for a while but heal. The question is how long of “a while” is too long? We grow up experiencing pain and then waiting to see if it goes away on its own. Many times the pain never goes away, and we just learn to deal with the pain. After all, pain is a normal part of life.
The good news is that our bodies are resilient and can withstand quite a bit of pain. Our bodies have their own pain management systems where it can produce natural chemicals to inhibit pain signals from the brain. Also, the brain is very efficient at focusing only on necessary information. This means many times we don’t have pain when we are focused on daily tasks. Then there is just the human will to push past the pain because it is not severe enough to stop us from enjoying what life has to offer.
The bad news is the brain is trying to tell us something. When you break down pain into its simplest form, it is the brains response to a specific stimulus that is triggered from our nerves. There are different kinds of stimulus that we will discuss at a later date. Although we may not realize it, the brain is constantly taking in stimuli and only brings the most important ones to our attention. This response is the unconscious brain trying to communicate with our consciousness. When we experience pain, we may or may not know what is causing this sensation. A perfect example is learning that a stove is hot. An external stimulus sends a signal to the brain, which quickly identifies this as a bad situation so it is addressed immediately. This communication will result in a change in life style so we no longer touch hot stoves. When there is a clear cause to a painful stimulus it is easy for someone to change their habits. When the cause is unclear, such as chronic low back pain, the change in daily habits becomes more difficult to address.
This is where seeking the help of a physical therapist can identify what our unconscious brain is trying to tell us. Just like you would go to a mechanic to diagnose that strange noise coming from the car. You can go to a physical therapist to identify the pain you have in your back when you are washing the dishes. The longer we wait to get treated for pain the worse the issue can become. Early on, these signals can have simple answers or solutions that require little effort to correct. After a while, what might have been a small injury becomes worse through overuse and ignoring the signals from the brain. If we wait too long conservative treatment, such as physical therapy, may not work and the injury could require surgery.
Pain is not bad. It is simply a signal from the brain trying to tell you something is wrong. We can either choose to ignore it and hope it goes away or learn what our brain is trying to tell us. The more educated we become about about pain, the better we can change our habits to continue living a life full of joy.