The Pigs Are Flying, It's Time to Address Your Pain

Last week I ranted about how waiting until you’re injured to get your movement assessed means that you’ve waited too long. This week I want to follow up on that and chat about actually getting yourself fixed up once that (inevitable) injury occurs.

The closer I get to 30 (less than two months away…eek) the more things seem to just be breaking down and falling off. I run (when someone is chasing me), I CrossFit, I do mobility work, I lift on my own, and yes, I get injured sometimes. Lucky for me, I have I am not only a physical therapist, but I work in a great clinic alongside a number of fantastic therapists. To that end, when injury strikes, I’ve got a number of strategies at my disposal with which to fight back. Yes, it’d be great to not get injured at all. But let’s be realistic here. It’s going to happen at some point and the best thing one can do is immediately get to work on recovery and rehabilitation.

All too often I have patients on my table telling me that they’ve had such-and-such injury for three, four, five months or longer. I’m not even going to get started on the folks trying to chat me up about their back pain that’s been there for 10 years. While I’m happy that these individuals are finally seeking treatment, I can’t help but want to chastise them for waiting so long to get things sorted out. As is true with nearly everything in life, the longer you wait to fix something, the bigger the job it is once you actually get around to fixing it. What might have been just a little knee pain has now morphed into hip and back pain because of all the compensations you unknowingly (or perhaps knowingly) adopted. An injury that could have taken a week to resolve has now lingered for three months, causing tightening, overworking, and straining of who knows how many other muscles…but you’re sick of being in pain and want it fixed NOW. Well, I want to win the lottery and be able to retire yesterday, but it doesn’t work like that.

I tell all of my patients to expect recovery (provided they’re now actually doing what they’re supposed to be doing) to take at least half as long as the time they’ve been injured, and that’s a conservative estimate. If your knee has been bothering you for five months, it’s highly unlikely that I’m going to be able to magically heal it in a week. Science doesn’t lie, and physiology is real. When we get injured or have pain, our bodies start to move in different ways in order to avoid further pain and accomplish whatever task is at hand. As movement expert Gray Cook states, “Pain alters movement in unpredictable ways.” This means that even if the tissue damage that caused your original symptoms is all healed up by the time you see me, your likely have a host of other things going on that we now have to work to undo; be it scar tissue, tight muscles, weak muscles, etc. Fixing these things takes time. 

The flip side of this is early intervention. I was able to relieve my fiancée’s severe neck and arm pain (also known as a cervical radiculopathy) in just a few days, whereas left untreated, I’ve seen this same condition take months to resolve. Attacking the problem early means that you’re able to find and focus on the source from the get-go; it’s an immediate checkmate without first having to deal with all the annoying little pawns.

I realize it’s tempting to try and just wish away the pain, or ignore it and hope it goes away. The problem is, it can take months to go away. Even when it does finally stop annoying you, that problem you ignored and let affect five other parts of your body is likely to return at some point in the future, this time with friends. The solution? Get off your butt and do something about your pain NOW. While I, of course, advocate meeting with a physical therapist, watching some videos, reading some articles, and attempting to do some self-maintenance is still better than nothing. If you’re reading this right now you’re alive, which means you’ve likely got some ache or pain that you’re trying to pretend isn’t there. Stop waiting for it to go away. Stop giving it time to get worse. The wait is over; the pigs are flying. Go do something about your pain. Your body will thank you.