Pain and Discomfort

I promise this won’t turn into a fully fledged injury blog, but the second week of my own injury has given me lots to think about. When I first hurt myself, I thought the initial phase would be the most challenging. That physically not being capable of moving around would be a pain in the ass, given all of the things I had to do.

And I was somewhat correct – not being able to move does stink. But in the most acute phase of injury, most of us accept that we shouldn’t be moving around, take it easy, and get other people to do stuff for us. And that is what I did.

The second week of my injury has been the more mentally challenging one so far. At the start of the week, my doc was optimistic, I was responding well to therapy and was making progress. He was 80% confident that we were dealing with a sprain, not a tear, and that we should get more aggressive with the therapy. I am on board – I like the sound of aggressive therapy, makes it sound like we’re getting somewhere.

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I push deeper into my range of motion, I work on climbing stairs, I start walking unassisted. It all goes pretty well.

And then today, he re-tests, and the tests that matter are still painful, and I’m on my way for an MRI.

Harrumph.

Here’s why this week is challenging – I really want to get better. I want to be able to train the way I’m used to, I want to get back on skates (in an appropriate time frame), I want not to worry each time I step my left foot on the ground.

More than anything, though, I want to have a clearer idea of what is discomfort (coming from my other tight muscles, or my overly cautious brain), and what is pain my injury.

As a trainer, I help people differentiate between pain and discomfort all the time. Climbing stairs is tough after leg day? That’s probably discomfort. Hurts to put any weight on your heel? That’s probably pain. A certain amount of discomfort is to be expected when you’re training, rehabbing, or doing anything new. Pain is not. There’s no black and white though, sometimes the two are hard to tell apart. It’s even tougher when your brain expects the pain to come.

When you really hurt yourself, your body does everything in its power to protect that injured part. It develops compensatory movement patterns, it stiffens other muscles, and your brain starts helicopter parenting. Worry hovers around your every move, things that you never used to think about become terrifying (walking down stairs for me).

When the doc was more confident, so was I. There’s a silly part of me that doesn’t want the MRI because knowing what is actually going on inside my tissue will confirm that I am, indeed, injured. I wasn’t expecting the difficulty of this part – the not knowing, the constant reevaluation of pain and discomfort. This is a hard part.

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I promise that next week we’ll talk about something cheerier.

Are you struggling with pain? With not knowing what is pain? How are you getting through? Sharing makes us all stronger.

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