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The why of pain. Weighing up the risk.

Got a niggle? Been struck down with an acute episode of pain? Or maybe you have had a recurrence of pain that keeps coming back?

You might be wondering "why do I have this?"

For some pains- its obvious! You fell over or maybe you twisted your leg funny. For other pains- its not so obvious.

In this post- you will learn:

  • Why your pain started or is persisting.

  • How to establish what puts you at risk of getting pain.

  • The difference between what is causing your pain and why you have it.

  • How to minimise high risk activities or habits that are creating your pain.

Let's get started.

From What to Why

I will be spending the next 5 minutes helping you to understand why you have your pain. This is a slightly different question to what is causing your pain.

Whats the difference? Quite a bit actually.

If you are wanting to know specifically what may be causing your pain rather than why you have it in the first place- then you may want to read these first (especially if you haven't been given a specific diagnosis or reason so far).

Happy to continue? Then let's move on.

Stating the obvious

It isn't hard to understand why you have pain in some instances. With something like breaking your leg- it is pretty easy to put 2 and 2 together.

You twisted your leg awkwardly and now your bone in your leg has broken. No rocket science here.

Then there are some less obvious (but still easy to understand) reasons. For example:

You have been bent over in the garden all day and wake up the next day with back pain.

You have been painting the ceiling and had your head extended all day. You start to get neck pain.

You have done something new in the gym and felt a twinge at the time. You wake up the next day and start to get niggles.

For the switched on amongst us- we can often "make the link" and we know why we have the pain we do.

But what do all these different pains that started have in common?

What if I was to tell you that there are universal laws that put you at risk of getting issues. Laws that underpin every example of what started a problem.

That would be good to know surely?

The answer to that is yes. Once you know the "code", you become empowered. You start to understand exactly why you have pain (no matter how unclear it seems) and can also minimise your risks in the future.

It can be split into 2 areas of "risk".

  1. Physical risks

  2. Psychological risks

1. Physical risks

When you break your leg or twist your ankle- this is a type of physical load. A very sudden load that takes your body past its physical limits and then it becomes injured.

But what about when injury isn't obvious?

What about when there were no sudden twists or forces?

How can physical factors explain why you have pain then?

Physical risks can be broken down into 3 subcategories.

1. Sudden loads

2. Repetitive/sustained loads

3. Heavy loads

1. Sudden load- "too much too soon"

This is when you do something new that the body isn't currently used to. You put a demand on the body over a short period of time that exceeds its tolerance.

Let's say that you decide to start running. Instead of working your way up gradually- you become overly ambitious and went for a 2 mile run straight off the bat. The last time you ran 2 miles was a few years ago when you were running regularly. So you wake up the next day and your hip begins to hurt. This is because there was too much of a jump!

If you have started to get pain and you are wondering why, cast your mind back to the time just before your pain started and think "Did I do too much too soon?".

Many people expect they can do more than what the body can actually tolerate. It is very common and might explain why you started to get pain.

2. Repetitive/sustained load-"too often, too long"

This is when you do something the same over and over again. You put a single demand on the body that accumulates over time.

Let's say that you have a job that requires the same movement over and over again. A bricklayer is a perfect example. You are constantly bending in the same direction over and over again with very little variation in what you do. You always pick up the bricks with the same hand and rotate in the same direction. Or you could be a dentist that is bent over inspecting peoples mouths for hours on end. The spine is constantly bent forward without rest over a prolonged period of time.

If you have started to get pain and you are wondering why, cast your mind back to the time when your pain started and think "Have I been doing lots of one thing?".

Once you think about this- it may be likely that you realise you have lacked some variation in your movement habits and might explain why your pain started.

3. Heavy load- "way too much"

This is when you have tried to shift something that weighs more than you can handle. This is a more obvious one when you feel pain straight after lifting something heavy but can be a trickier one to realise if the pain starts a little later than the heavy event.

Moving house is a common culprit for this sort of thing as there is often quite a few heavy objects that are lifted and are usually quite awkward lifts (for example- manoeuvring a fridge out of the house and into a van). The pain often starts fairly quickly but it can take a day or two for pain to really peak and you can forget that you were lifting fridges a few days previous!

if you have started to get pain and wondering why, cast your mind back to the time when your pain started and think "Have I been lifting heavy things recently that may have been too much?"

Ok. So now we have covered the 3 main types of physical loads that put you at risk of getting pain and may explain why you have it.

So now let's move on to the often neglected risk factor that is just as important as physical- psychological!

2. Psychological risks

It makes sense that when we do something physical, sometimes this can create an episode of pain. We often think of pain as a very physical thing. We feel it in the body, so there must be something that has happened to the body to explain this pain.

It comes as more of a surprise to people that understanding the health of the mind is important to ensure health of the body.

An unhealthy or unhappy mind creates an unhealthy and unhappy body.

The amount of stress we experience in our lives and our general state of mental health are very strong contributors to many pains that we experience- no matter how physical they feel.

This is very well documented in the science and research nowadays.

There is an abundance of research that shows us that those who experience depression or anxiety are at a much greater risk of experiencing other problems like lower back pains.

The physiological mechanisms behind this are quite complex and still not fully understood but we know for certain that there is a very big link between mental health and pain.

Finding the balance

I am presuming that if you are reading this then you are probably human. And if you are human then I can safely assume that you have experienced stress.

Stress (and being stressed) is a normal part of life for anything that lives. Being stressed allows us to get through life and gives us the energy to overcome obstacles and to survive.

The stress hormone cortisol is absolutely necessary to get us out of bed in the morning and to tackle the day.

Without the stress state built into our nervous systems- we would not survive.

The problems occur when we are in a chronic state of stress. This may be due to:

work dissatisfaction

relationship troubles

financial worries

family issues

post traumatic stress

etc etc

Living in a chronic state of stress has its impact on the mind and also on the body. When you are in a stressed state- you are not in a recovery state and when you do not have time for recovery then you will start to get issues.

Finding the balance for stress and recovery is vital for a heathy mind and a healthy body.

Debits and Credits

Managing your stress and mental health is not too dissimilar to managing your finances.

Being in a stressed state can be thought of as a withdrawal from the bank or a debit transaction on your account.

It is well known that in order to make a debit transaction- you need enough credit. The more credit you have- the more you can withdraw from your account.

If you go overdrawn and go into the minuses- then this comes at a cost. When your debit transactions exceed your credit transactions then you are going into risky territory.

The longer you spend overdrawn and not replenishing your account with credit- the higher the risk of repercussions.

The same is for the body and the mind. If you are in a state of stress that slowly depletes your energy and physiological resources and there is very little replenishment or recovery- then you are running the risk of becoming mentally unhealthy and physically unwell.

Ask yourself these questions:

"Do I have things in my life that may be keeping me in a stressed state for a prolonged period of time?"

"Have I experienced extreme psychological trauma that may be keeping me in a stressed state?"

"Do I have make space in my life for recovery and rest?"

"Do I have planned times to ensure I feel refreshed?"

The most challenging part to all this is taking the time to be introspective and to look inwards for a moment and to evaluate the impact that stress and your lifestyle may be having on your psychological and therefore physical health.

On a physiological level- are you overdrawn or in credit?

In conclusion

What you do physically AND experience psychologically are relevant to understand why you have pain.

Understanding what is "risky" behaviour is empowering and allows you to be proactive to ensure you get yourself better and prevent it from happening again.

Most pains seem to start "out of nowhere" but this knowledge should now help you to understand your own risk profile.

If you have made it this far- well done! This is very condensed information and there are separate posts on many of the topics discussed on this page if you wish to read further,

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