Two years previously her pain was severe enough to cause time off work and to seriously impact her life. Over several weeks, her pain and disability improved. My client eventually signed off, if not completely pain-free, then largely so. She left reassured, active and happy that she could manage her residual symptoms and that they too would gradually improve. She returned with a flare up of her previous problem. It wasn’t as bad this time but was again impacting on her life and leaving her in need of help.
Having spent the last few months dealing with one foot problem, a longer-than-usual run across some unforgiving terrain resulted in a sprained ankle. I am frustrated and annoyed and definitely not up to running anytime soon.
Lots of things. But in particular, we both currently have PAINFUL AND LIFESTYLE-LIMITING EXPERIENCES AND THOUGHTS RELATING TO THESE TO COPE WITH. Our injuries and pain will likely worry us, frustrate us and limit what we are able to do. They will also probably cause some level of anxiety about how our pain will affect our futures, as well as any immediate fear around how our presents will be affected. So much of the fallout from pain is to do with what goes on in our heads and how we do and don’t react to this.
And regardless of what ultimately causes your pain – age, gender, lifestyle, body-weight, fitness levels, genetics, the sports you do and don’t do, the time you spend sitting or don’t, your history of childbirth, broken bones and falls – the experience is often similar for us all.
Even as a Physiotherapist, my brain is still capable of generating the same pain-related fears. Pain is unpleasant and draining in the moment. Our tricky brains can fast-forward to an imagined future where it never goes away.
I was able to listen to my client’s issues and concerns. Anyone can lend an ear. Whatever it is, a problem shared is so often a problem reduced.
I could then explain to my client that she did well to heed her pain. PAIN IS A WARNING THAT SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT. Usually, and certainly in the short-term, it’s very sensible to heed this warning. It’s also important to remember that pain is completely normal, personal to you and very real.
I could reassure her – and remind her – that her pain and disability was temporary and that she would get better. With time, a plan and management, we all usually can and do improve. Helpfully in this case, her previous experience of a back problem offered a point of reference. Hearing calm and reassuring words from someone knowledgeable, or taking the time to calmly remind ourselves of what we know about our problem, can help soothe our panicking system and make our pain easier to deal with.
Once we have a clear and honest explanation of our problem, taking an active part in how we’re going to get better can give us a sense of control and sight of the way forward, and a way out.
And because no woman or man is an island, regular and positive support – from a friend, family, a health professional, anyone – can be just what we need in those more doubtful moments.
For my client, who is fit and active, this will mean returning to some more basic exercises. She will also need to reduce her sitting time and stay gently and frequently active. She’s opted to take pain medication at night to help her sleep, because everything seems worse when you’re tired! She now knows that recurrences of old injuries can and do happen. Patience is required on the road to recovery, but it is a road to recovery. I’ve encouraged her to go for shortened versions of the walks that she likes and that it is safe to do so. Her back will probably ache during and afterwards, but this is OK too. Some pain can be expected but it’s advisable to keep moving. In time, she will get back to walking the distances that she wants to walk.
To fix my ankle, I have had to curtailing my running for a little while. In the meantime, I can ride my bike, swim and do lots of other things. It’s kind of a welcome excuse to put my feet up slightly 🙂 and who else can identify with this! I will then gradually build back up to running again. Initially once I’m back running I will give the ankle-crunching terrain that is Erringden Moor a miss. But I will be back.