lessons learned from physical pain: more than just coping

anatomy of a foot. via pinterest.

There was a lovely article published this week at MindBodyGreen, called “Finding Messages & Meaning in Chronic Pain.” As a professional yoga teacher, amateur anatomy junkie, and hobbyist athletic movement fiend, I’m constantly learning about the relationship between movement and pain. I grew up in an active environment and everyone I knew participated in rigorous sports. Mantras like “No pain, no gain” and “Pain is temporary, glory is forever” and “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional” were pasted to the insides of our gym lockers and reminded us that we were going to experience pain (a personal fave: “If it hurts, change your mind.”). Some of it would be nearly unbearable, and some of it, sadly, would sideline us for a season or two.

At the tender age of fifteen and as a sensitive, creative, wildly imaginative girl, I had the capacity to feel things at a very deep level. I also had a frightening, self-destructive capacity to completely ignore these feelings at all costs for the good of the team. This second tendency overcame me in high school and led to a two-year struggle that started with foot over-pronation, resulted in painful shin splints, and ended in stress fractures that cut my cross-country and basketball seasons short. Custom-made orthotics, physical therapy, ultrasound and electrode therapy, and innumerable amounts of ibuprofen and icepacks. My deepest fear was that I’d be hurt forever, and I started to forget what it felt like to have legs that functioned without each step producing a shooting pain.

I wasn’t sophisticated enough to understand “good” pain versus “bad” pain (in other words, physical intensity versus physical destruction). Today  all kinds of studies support the thesis that pain does not have to be a necessary evil of sport and exercise. In fact, there’s something to be said for avoiding pain (a fave mantra of yoga teachers: “If it hurts, don’t do it”).

To my total amazement, my shins healed, eventually, and today I rarely think about the pain I experienced. Those afflicted with chronic pain from arthritis, Fibromyalgia, MS and other degenerative diseases might not be so fortunate. And mantras like NO PAIN NO GAIN are not helpful in this case.

My point is this: know thyself. Some pain (like physical exertion and intensity) is okay. Most pain, though, is your body’s way of trying to tell you something important. Listen. Explore. Become your own expert and advocate. Learn from your experiences and adapt your practice. Ask a million questions. Also…get yourself a foam roller (more on this soon, I promise! I want to properly introduce you to my new best friend). And if pain management means seeking out doctors and medical treatment, especially in the case of disease, seek them out.

Keep practicing in good health, and in good spirits…xx

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2 responses to “lessons learned from physical pain: more than just coping

  1. How timely this is, Ma’am! The physical terrorist who came by this week said exacly that: “If it hurts, don’t do it.” (No terrorist at all, it turns out.) But, the “steps with shooting pain” seem impervious to ibuprophen, so Patience seems to be my best medicine. Ask a close friend of yours and mine how easy that is! (Not!) Thanks for this, Sara.

  2. I’m glad you’re on the road to recovery, Dick! Slow and steady…that might be your mantra for now. Until then, blog from bed! 🙂

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