Pain is universal, affecting all of us in varying degrees and intensities. Our different experiences of pain means our understanding of pain can easily be misinterpreted, misunderstood and mis-managed, potentially disturbing large parts of our lives. In the injury and rehabilitation space, pain is the number one barrier that disrupts and prevents individuals who are recovering and aiming to return to their normal lives.
After injury, individuals are going to experience pain – there is no avoiding it. When passive responses to pain, such as resting and passive treatment modalities, continue - individuals engage less and less in their normal everyday activities. As a result, the lack of participation in work, domestic tasks, engagement in the local community and social activities – causes individuals experiencing pain to become weaker and lose the fitness they would otherwise gain through participating in these activities of daily living.
Research tell us that people start losing strength and fitness 24 hours after an injury and as such, reduced activity levels immediately lead to a significant decrease in tolerance and conditioning of the body to normal everyday activities. Simply put, the body can no longer tolerate the load it once did leading to fatigue, overload, inflammation, tightness and ultimately pain. The majority of us refer to this as a “flare-up” as our body has exceeded its tolerance and reacts accordingly. Once your tolerance becomes too low through this inactivity, it promotes further extensive fatigue, inflammation, tightness and ultimately, pain which is present most, if not, all of the time.
Deconditioning is ‘having lost fitness or muscle tone, especially through lack of activity.’ While most injuries in the body heal as good as they can within 3—6 months, why is it we continue to experience pain? Why may individuals continue to experience pain after an injury has healed according to their scans? One major factor is that their body has deconditioned.
Just like when you haven’t exercised for an extended period, during your first session back you’re sore because your body is not conditioned to tolerate the increased activity. Now imagine what occurs after an injury, significantly reduced activity levels and time out from normal everyday activities for an extended period! Your body becomes more deconditioned and is only able to tolerate a smaller amount of activity. The longer this trend continues, the harder recovery becomes as your body is only able to tolerate small amounts of load, sometimes resulting in pain 24 hours of the day.
When it comes to managing pain from injury, a common mistake is resting for too long. We all experience a certain unavoidable level of muscle wastage after an injury. The body does need time to heal and during this time our tolerance for normal activities such as sitting, standing and lifting reduces. We mentioned, most injuries heal as good as they can within
3 -6 months, but remember time will never replace what you lose in strength and fitness, and this requires work! Should we just keep avoiding activities because they are harder? No.
Research shows that those who cope best are those who can gradually become more active. We need to encourage people to become more active despite their pain – rest is not best!
OccHealth by Altius conducts Understanding Pain Workshops to help employees experiencing pain.