By Lawrence from Rolls and Rehab, injury rehabilitation therapist and mobility specialist
Pain is not always a reliable indicator of tissue damage. It is unique to the individual and there are multiple factors that can play a role in the manifestation of pain in the body. At the end of this read you should be able to further understand why getting assessed by a medical professional is far more robust than guessing. A stretch that worked to reduce your back pain may be detrimental to Bob who has back pain from getting hit by a bus yesterday. Context matters, a lot.
Something I was taught at university was the Biopsychosocial model. The realms that we must be aware of when attempting to understand how the manifestation of pain takes place in the individual in front of us. The biological standpoint dictates that we must assess and possibly rule out the possibility of damage to structures of the body (pathophysiology).
The psychological point of view is that we must take into consideration someone’s mental state, as it is well documented that depression, anxiety, stress, and belief systems/thought processes can influence an individual’s pain experience. The social aspect will involve someone’s background, their peers, family - in essence, their environment. With the possibility of these components playing a role in pain, you can see how they can intertwine and further influence each other.
Your perception and reaction can go a long way. If someone you trust is telling you that an area on your body is very fragile, they're not surprised that you’re in pain or surprised that you’re not, and that you shouldn’t do x, y and z - that can easily change your perception of something that wasn’t as much of a bother, to now it being a lot more threatening. This comes down to how your brain perceives something, it is trying to predict things going forward, based on the information it receives/has received. If we truly believe we shouldn’t do something then doing said thing will be perceived as threatening and that can lead to a pain response as the brain is trying to protect us.
Last December I fractured a metacarpal bone in my hand. After the adrenaline wore off and things settled down, I knew in my mind I’d be fine. It helps that I specialise in musculoskeletal injuries after all. Despite this, I still had my doubts. After the x-ray, they called me to schedule a CT scan, as the fracture was very close to the joint line and they wanted to fully understand the extent of the damage.
The call after theCT scan was when alarm bells had the potential to ring, and ring they did.“We’re not sure if we can realign the bone back into anatomical position”. “We won’t likely be able to use screws as the bone fragments are so small they may split”.
As you can imagine, this is not good news. My brain and body were ready to enter panic mode, especially as I was time constricted, if I didn’t get surgery done quickly then that could lead to altered wrist biomechanics, complications with prolonged pain etc. It was that moment that I knew, with how highly adaptable the human body and brain is, that I would be fine.
Fortunately, I had a brilliant hand surgeon, a plate and 5 screws, and a damned robust rehab process. My mindset was propelled by my knowledge of the human body, how adaptable we are - anti-fragile. I wasn’t unrealistic and as this is my job, I was excited to carry out the rehab process. You learn a lot from doing, as they say. I’m now several months post-surgery, already hitting the bag and rolling in BJJ.
Remember this: pain can be complex and like our injuries, it is unique to us. Working with a medical professional is infinitely more robust than guessing. Lastly, we are highly bloody adaptable creatures.