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  • Writer's pictureMary Brooking

Understanding pain better can help us recover

Understanding pain and learning about injuries can help change our perspective and enable us to commit to recovery strategies.

Pain is felt in our bodies but can be a very poor indicator of tissue damage.

Pain is affected by and influences all areas of our lives: emotions, sensations, beliefs about pain, previous pain experiences, extent of our social integration. All are involved with how pain is perceived, particularly long term pain.

Pain is an alarm, a message designed to stimulate action. It occurs as a protection device when the brain concludes there is more evidence of danger to the body than evidence of safety to the body.

When pain persists and becomes long term it can be driven much more by other “danger" triggers than about damage from tissue. We can become more sensitive, or “better” at producing pain and stressors, activities, movements or environments that we could previously tolerate can become triggers for pain. Pain has then become a habit or a pain cycle has been created.

Rebuilding tolerance, or reducing sensitivity can be an important recovery strategy. If associations have developed between movements and pain, fear or worry then slowly returning to those movements in different ways and forming new and more positive associations can reduce pain sensitisation. You might still have danger signals from your tissues but over time you slowly change your response to those signals. Sometimes pain occurs when there are increases to stress sources (such as training load, lack of sleep, mental stress, fatigue) in our lives, which we are unable to adapt to as rapidly as they change. The body is designed to respond to the stresses we place on it and get stronger and more resilient. Considering if you are doing too much too soon for what you are currently ready for can help identify these stressors and create specific strategies to reduce them.

Exercise, massage, hobbies, physical activity or going out with your friends can be general strategies that essentially make you healthier and can help with de-sensitizing to pain, effectively turning down the pain alarm system.

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