Pain is a complex and normal experience in response to what the brain judges to be threatening. Our brain takes our current emotional state and past memories into account when analysing incoming sensory information. The unpleasant feeling of pain is the product of the brain’s analysis. Its purpose is to avoid serious injury and to prevent us from exceeding our limits by detecting “risky behavior.” Pain often forces us to adopt protective behaviors. These can occur voluntarily or involuntarily.
The intensity of pain and its unpleasantness are not necessarily a good indicator of how bad the injury is. Past experiences, emotional context and the nature of the event surrounding the painful experience all influence the intensity of pain. For example, a rugby player could fracture his wrist from a hard hit during a final game and only realize it after the game. That same player could have felt intense and immediate pain from something as small as a paper cut that same day.
A precious warning
Perhaps you’ve experienced pain in your lower back after sitting for a long time. Maybe you’ve felt neck pain while reading, or knee pain from trying out a new sport. These pains are very real, however they aren’t necessarily a good indication of tissue damage. They are a warning sign, alerting us to the potential for injury to the area. The feeling of pain or discomfort tells us that we are approaching our body’s limit and that we must change something now. When pain continues into the next day it may be an indication that we have already surpassed our body’s ability to handle that load.
When to consult?
Pain changes our body’s motor response. We subconsciously change the way we move when experiencing pain, to protect ourselves and avoid overloading the painful area. Repeating a faulty movement pattern consequently places the body at even greater risk of developing further tissue damage.
When pain persists, waiting is not always the best solution. The right dose of activities and education about the condition are the keys to promoting optimal healing. It is therefore wise to consult a physiotherapist sooner rather than later to adequately manage the initial injury. Recognizing faulty movement patterns immediately and changing how we perceive our pain can speed up the recovery process and reduce our chances of developing a chronic problem. Our body and brain have a good memory!