Pain and injuries* are an unavoidable part of life—they are part of being human. No matter how many precautions you take, no matter how perfect your form in the gym, no matter how perfectly ergonomic your workstation—none of us are exempt from experiencing some degree of pain at some point in our lives. This is not meant to sound like everyone is doomed, but rather, my hope is that it’s actually somewhat of an encouragement. I hope it takes the pressure off and removes the burden that some of us feel when experiencing pain that we have done something wrong or that we are alone. I am ironically writing this as I’m dealing with an injury of my own, and I need to be reminded of these things as much as the next person. To provide some further encouragement, I have compiled my top 5 steps to take when you are experiencing pain or an injury.
- Remain calm
This one may seem simple, but there’s a reason I listed it as step one. So many people tend to freak out or assume the worst when they experience pain. They jump to the worst possible conclusion (“this feels serious–I probably am going to need an expensive surgery to fix this”) or fixate on their pain and think about it constantly throughout the day. They get depressed dwelling on activities they will have to avoid or the progress they might lose in the gym. Believe it or not, this type of negative thinking and catastrophizing can actually intensify or prolong your pain experience. It ramps up your nervous system, leading to an increase in stress hormones such as cortisol, and it can even create more pain pathways and sensitivity in the area of pain/injury. All of this can be detrimental to the healing process. While it is completely justified to feel concerned about your injury, do your best to remember that pain is a normal part of the human experience and it is not permanent. There are lots of people who have been in your same shoes before, and there are professionals out there who are experts in this area and want to help you.
- Prioritize movement
If you are experiencing pain, contrary to popular belief, it is usually best to avoid complete rest (read more on that here). Most types of nerve/muscle/joint-related pain or injuries need some type of movement in order to heal. Movement brings nutrient-rich blood flow and oxygen to the area of injury to promote healing. And proper loading of these tissues helps to re-strengthen and re-educate them.
The best thing you can do is listen to your body’s cues and find movements that feel good or that don’t hurt. Do more of those, and do them often. Then make note of movements that don’t feel good or that do cause pain, and temporarily avoid those. This does not mean you have to avoid those movements for the rest of your life, but it does mean that in order to create the best healing environment possible for your body, you should avoid them for the time being.
Know that when you are injured, your body’s capacity temporarily decreases. This means you will probably feel a little weaker or less mobile in that area for a while. This is normal and ok! Leave your ego behind and don’t be afraid to modify or substitute movements or drop the weight down from what you normally do. It is usually better to modify your training or daily activities than to push through the pain and delay healing.
- Seek a professional’s advice before consulting Google or YouTube
I cannot emphasize this one enough. Most people come away from a Googling session about their pain feeling panicked and assuming the worst. Google can be great for general information or to point you toward resources, and YouTube can provide you with some basic level stretches or exercises, but they will never match the value of receiving a specific assessment, diagnosis, and treatment plan from a professional who understands your exact needs. You will be much more efficient with your time and money by seeking a professional’s help rather than plunging into the dark abyss of the internet or buying a plethora of at-home gadgets hoping for a quick-fix.
- Be mindful of your diet’s role in inflammation/pain
Most people are unaware of the connection between what they put in their bodies and its direct role in inflammation. Minimizing chronic and systemic inflammation in the body is crucial for managing pain. Consuming too many high-inflammatory foods (such as sugar) or not enough nutrient-dense foods can actually contribute to and intensify your pain experience. Certain food allergies or sensitivities may also disguise themselves as muscle or joint pain**. To aid in your body’s healing process, focus on drinking plenty of water, getting adequate protein, increasing fruits and veggies, and avoiding sugar, alcohol and highly processed foods. In some cases, it also might be worth considering adding joint- and muscle-supporting supplements into your diet such as collagen, magnesium, and fish oils (just to name a few).
- Be patient and give yourself grace
I like instant gratification just as much as the next person. I, too, am impatient and don’t want to have to avoid certain activities, take time off, or alter my life in any way due to an injury. But the truth is that all musculoskeletal injuries take time to heal. Even if you’re doing absolutely everything else right (seeking professional care, being mindful of your diet, prioritizing movement), time still needs to pass. In fact, true tissue healing (depending on the area and the structures involved) can take anywhere from 4-12 weeks. Hardly ever is there an overnight fix. It’s also important to note that healing is usually not linear. Expect ups and downs, good days and bad days, in your healing process. This, too, is normal. It’s important to be patient and not get discouraged along the way and to give yourself grace. Trust me, I’m saying this as much for you as I am for myself right now.
In conclusion, I understand that pain is frustrating, confusing, and sometimes scary. But by following these five steps I promise you will be able to navigate your injury with ease and be well on your way toward healing. Like I mentioned before, there are plenty of resources out there and professionals who genuinely want to help you (myself included). If you have any questions or are seeking help/advice regarding pain or an injury, feel free to reach out to me here or book an appointment here. We’re in this together, friends. 🙂
*The pain being referred to in this blog is generalized neuro-musculoskeletal pain and does not include serious injuries such as fractures, ruptures, dislocations or anything dealing with internal systems such as cardiovascular or GI issues. Such issues are outside my scope of practice and usually require emergency attention or care from a more specialized professional.
**I am not a registered dietitian, functional medicine doctor, or allergist. For more specific information or personalized help on this topic, please seek the advice of one of these professionals. 🙂