Know pain, know gain
Last year I was working as a physiotherapist in a township called KwaMashu outside Durban. It was usually very busy, with seeing one patient every half hour. We had to work quickly, efficiently and effectively.
One day I saw a new stroke patient who was bound to his wheelchair. No movement on the one side of his body, which is debilitating. Try making a cup of tea like that – nightmare. You can imagine how challenging everyday tasks can be, even the simple ones like getting up out of bed.
In order to assess him I needed to move him from his wheelchair to a bed. He wasn’t particularly tall or heavy, but required my help. I explained how we were going to do it – on the count of three, we’d stand up, do a shuffle together (picture us slow dancing) towards the bed and sit down. Voilà. Did it work like that? Nope. On three, I lifted, he pulled, I felt a twang, up we went, down he went onto the bed and down I went into my head. Worrying thoughts initially came up -My lower back, something pulled. A little Ow. It’ll be fine, carry on. So, I carried on.
Fast forward 2 hours and my back was sore. I was also frustrated – why meeee. I need to be able to work with patients, and I need to protect my back. I was annoyed. At myself, a bit at my patient. My thoughts were running. I was supposed to run today! Will I be able to come to work tomorrow, I need to work.
Before I got carried away, I stopped myself, and thought; let’s investigate. Let me get compassionately curious about this pain. I spent the next few minutes moving and feeling. Which movements made my pain worse, where did I feel it and how bad was it? I discovered that some movements were completely pain free, brilliant. When I lean forward, no pain. When I straighten up, pain. But actually not so bad. I also reminded myself about what I know about pain and my pain right now. It hurts, but it also protects me. It’s helping me to heal. And apparently it doesn’t mind me bending forward. *Small smirk*
That afternoon I ditched the run and went for a 30 minute cycle instead. It was pain free, but better than that, it was pain relieving. I got off my bike feeling strong and happy, brought on by exercise endorphins. I was still a little bit nervous of how it would feel the next day. Not so bad. A little niggle, but nothing stopping me from doing my daily things.
What I’ve learnt from that: know pain, know gain.
I encourage you to explore your pain a little bit. Mindfully, kindly investigate. A physiotherapist can help with that. But most importantly, listen to your pain, and know that it’s there to protect you. You can actively help your body to heal. If you’re up to it, find an exercise that does not aggravate your pain, something that you enjoy, and do it. Sweat for 20 minutes. You’re bound to feel good afterwards.