86: Pain

A Thousand Things to Talk About
86: Pain


Work through the pain, walk it off, or nurse yourself back to health?

Show notes and links:
Chronic back pain: does bed rest help? (National Institutes of Health)
Pain: When to Push Through and When to Stop (Klasinski Clinic)
No pain, no gain? Getting the most out of exercise (The Guardian)

Full episode text

First – pain is a very individual thing. Both physically and mentally, that which hurts is intensely personal. The way we treat our pain is also intensely personal, and differs for everyone. Commonalities can also teach us a lot, and there’s a lot of debate over what you should do when you hurt.

Conventional wisdom has seemingly always been “if it hurts, don’t do it.” Yet pain comes from a number of sources, and they’re not always bad. Pain is a feeling – the brain’s reaction to a particular kind of input. That reaction to multiple kinds of input varies widely.

One study review found that, in general, rest doesn’t seem to make anything better for chronic, prolonged back pain. In fact, small amounts of physical activity benefit by helping relieve that pain.

The guide I found on a sports medicine website seems to make quite a bit of logical sense to me. They list “good” pain as the type that does not have a specific point, happens when you try something new, doesn’t interrupt your sleep, or goes away when you slow down or stop.

Bad pain, or pain that means something may actually be wrong, on the other hand, is pain that isn’t associated with anything new, lingers for weeks or months, doesn’t go away when you stop, interrupts your sleep, leaves you moody, frustrated, or anxious, or compromises your immune system.

In short, however you choose to treat it, pain – physical and emotional – in and of itself is simply your body’s way of telling you to pay attention. What you choose to do with that information is your decision.