A client messaged me today. A training client turned therapy client who had begun training telling me a long history of his shoulder pain/injury. Initially I offered that I was also a therapist and we could do some specific work for the shoulder- but they dismissed that as they had already “tried more then 6 therapists and nothing had worked”. I left it at that and focused our training sessions to “shoulder friendly” and preventative upper body work alongside the total body workouts.
Weeks passed, and finally I got fed up with the complaining around the plateaued shoulder pain. I informed them we’d be doing therapy that day instead of a training session. Just to see.
And so, today I receive a message. This is a week after I treated him. Once. For shoulder tendonitis.
The message expressed shock at how his shoulder no longer hurt. Shock because they’d tried so many things already and none of them had worked. Shock that I knew what I was doing. “how do you do it?” they asked.
Pain is something we all experience at some point in our lives. Many people suffer from chronic pain (defined as pain lasting more then 3months consecutively), and in our society pain is still one of the most ignored signs our body gives us. We try everything to suppress it, even ingesting drugs that suppress our nervous system and brain into borderline comatose, negative states- for just a short period of relief. We try therapy after therapy, fix after fix, and when nothing works we ask our doctors for more pills. More short term relief. Or, we live it it. We accept the tole it takes on our lives, our personalities, and the people around us.
Then there’s the opposite- we condone those who do take pain killers and other heavy prescriptions as useless, and unmotivated to fix their own problems.. when what we’ve given them to ingest is often causing those exact symptoms of malaise.
The text message I received from this client is not an unusual message for me to receive. In my line of work, with my skillset, I am often seeing clients who have come to their last resort. Trying one last person to help them, having been passed through the healthcare system and finding nothing of use. This is not a statement I wish to be viewed as bragging. Many of those with my skillset and training have the same occurrence. Clients in disbelief because something, someone has finally given them some relief, something useful and educated them on how to solve the underlying problem.
Pain is manifested in any number of ways. Pain that lasts a long time sometimes stops feeling like pain. It becomes a part of who we are. It changes how we think, and it changes how we react. It manifests as negativity, systemic problems such as other chronic health conditions (think IBS, Chrohn’s, anxiety, depression, heart burn, high blood pressure, cancer, etc etc). Clients with chronic pain have told me that they don’t feel physical pain as much as they recognize other symptoms (grumpiness, indigestion, anxiety). As a society we’ve learned to mask pain, whether that pain is emotional or physical or both. As a society we’ve masked symptoms, and then judged people who display the side effects of those masks.
Our health care system has become reactive, not proactive. Optimistically, I see that beginning to change. With med schools now just BEGINNING to implement mandatory physical education within course work, seeing exercise as medicine. It’s starting. I’m in a business of prevention- which is an impossible sales pitch.
As a movement professional and clinical specialist- I fight daily against the human psyche. Human nature likes being lazy. Human nature loves the quick fix. The human brain also really doesn’t like having to work harder then it needs to. This wasn’t as big of an issue when our daily life was largely variable, manual work. Hunting and gathering, farming… but now.. we sit and drive and sit. Our bodies aren’t used. Most of us live in a stressed state, in the fight or flight response, chronically. Our breathing pattern has changed, we stop using proper mechanics and use a handful of the hundreds of muscles in our body for daily life. Then we wonder why we’re sick.
I hope you read this with an open mind. I hope that you don’t take this as an affront to your personal choices. I hope that reading this makes you find another resource that may help you improve your lifestyle choices in health. Health cannot be separated into parts, or specialties. Our bodies work as one unit- all systems and parts feeding into the next. The medical system is just beginning to see how much that is true. And the more health care professionals can learn to work together on that and educate patients on their own bodies, the healthier we will all become.
Pain comes and goes, all life is ebbs and flows. The trick, the paradox, is to learn how to ride those waves and not try and stop them. Pain is always a message from the body. Discomfort is always there to tell us, and to teach us. Don’t stifle it, do something about it. Learn from it. Seek out answers. As Ken Kesey says “The answer is never the answer. What’s really interested is the mystery. If you seek the mystery inseasd of the answer, you’ll always be seeking. Nobody ever finds the answer, they think they have and they stop thinking..”. What hurts is rarely the problem. What hurts is a manifestation of something else. Any practicing professional who gives you something to relieve the manifestation is forgetting the subtle complexity of the body. At the same time, we need to come up with other resources and educational services for those who have been sucked into the masking pattern. Recognise the side effects, and their detriments. Realize that someone’s negativity may be manifesting from their underlying symptoms or side effects. Clinicians: don’t write off patients based on their initial impression on you. I can’t tell you the number of times a client has turned into a completely different person after you begin to see under the surface and make differences in their symptoms, take away masking agents. It’s never as it first seems.
What’re your experiences with pain? With masking? With therapy? Have you found good resources or are you still searching? Have you given up?