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Know Your Pain

In my opinion it is “extremely” important to know your pains and to know what type of pains you have. As we get older we seem to become more and more familiar with pains. But by now you already know that there is pain and then there is PAIN. For me, pre-surgically, I got to know chronic, intense pain. My pain tolerance for acute pain is high but I had never known chronic pain. And that chronic pain can affect someone emotionally and mentally as well as physically. We will talk about how chronic intense pain can be diminished by diet and exercise but obviously you should consult a physician. We need to understand our chronic pains and we especially need to be aware of acute pain. Acute pain shows us that something has just changed in our body.

I can honestly tell you that I am never free of low-level pain. A lot of it is due to my activity but the alternative is much worse. If I wouldn’t be active, my muscles would tighten up and shorten and would be more likely to be injured than when I am enduring low level pain. Unless we acclimate our muscles to regular activity, we can cause a high level of acute pain by just getting off the couch or out of bed. If we don’t take the time to walk with the proper posture and move with proper balance, we can cause high-level chronic pain. So I have elected to deal with the low level pains that really don’t have any effect on my daily activities. Being involved in the martial arts, I have found that I need to continually be aware of my body and the types of pain. There are certain types of pain that tell me to stop what I’m doing and rest or to apply heat and ice. And there are others that I can ignore.

For my own purposes I consider the following types of pain. For me, “muscle pain” is a generalize pain, like a bruise. The muscle has been injured but it will heal with time. I always have some sort of low-level pain that hangs around for a while. I know it is healing itself and I just need to give it time. An external bruise is such a pain. Then there are sharp pains that are somewhat superficial. These are things like stubbing a toe or cutting a finger. I know these things will also heal with time and care. Then there are the deeper sharp pains. Before my surgery and before my inability to walk upright, I knew that when I moved a certain way and had a sharp, stabbing pain in my lower back, that my back muscles would seize up and that I would be out of commission for a few days.

Those deep, sharp pains are what I’m concerned about. My main concern is that if one of these pains is due to a muscle or tendon tear, I will probably have to stop my training and I will then regress due to immobility – at least immobility of the affected body part. I can only restart my training weeks or months after the injury. I know that for me, an injury takes a much longer time to heal than when I was young.

Know your baseline chronic low-level pains and be aware of the sharp, intense pains. If you are aware of these pain levels, you will know when you should see a doctor and when you should use heat and cold.

There is one particular thing to beware of: hubris. At the time of this writing I am one day past doing something stupid. Yesterday morning I did something many of us do that injures us at this age: I moved. It was just a simple move where I didn’t pay attention to proper posture. I let my guard down, thinking I was in good shape. I felt a sharp pain in my lower back that, prior to my surgery, would have presaged three days in bed on my back. Luckily this looks like it will be over after two days. The sharp pain was probably caused by a muscle pull. When this happens in my lower back the muscle instantly contracts, causing more pain and more contraction. In the evening one hip was higher than the other and I couldn’t straighten it because of the pain. I used a foam roller to try to straighten it out and was rewarded with quite a few pops but a lot of pain. Today I have been able to walk with my body in alignment and I engaged in moderate activities. I expect all pain to be gone tomorrow. You should also be aware of which pains are serious and which, like stubbing your toe, will go away quickly. The type of pain and its intensity will help direct your workout. Never push your workout into the unbearable pain level.

After coming back to revisit what I wrote above some time ago I need to mention something other than “pain” that we should be aware of. And that is slight discomfort, even slight discomfort. I will be repeating here something that I wrote in the blog. On the day before Thanksgiving, 2016, I couldn’t get to sleep. I just couldn’t get my left arm in the proper position. It was just uncomfortable, not painful. I’m sure everyone has felt that way before. I had just been doing some boxing drills that evening and I wondered if I had pulled a muscle somehow. If I had done that, I wanted to take it easy so I wouldn’t be out of commission for an extended period. I poked around in my shoulder and couldn’t find a source of the discomfort. That’s when I began to be concerned: referred “pain” in my left shoulder! There was no elephant sitting on my chest, no radiating pain down my arm, and no shortness of breath. It was just wrong. Long story short: I drove to the ER, was taken to the hospital, and had one stent inserted in my coronary artery. All of this with me feeling fine. My only tiredness was in the hospital since I was in the ER all night and hadn’t slept. I was released the next day and was told I should continue with my activities. I missed one day of training! I am mentioning this first-hand experience to emphasize that we need to know ourselves and our pains. I could just as easily have shrugged off the discomfort and would have eventually gotten some sleep. After hearing many stories of other heart attack survivors I found out that the symptoms are all over the board – especially for women (women don’t always present with “typical” symptoms). Some of the symptoms are indigestion and headache. So how do you know? It’s best to start doing some research right now about the symptoms of various diseases: Know Yourself, Know Your Pain, and Know Your Enemy! (Paragraph added 2/14/2017)

It is best, especially if you are older, to really get in touch with yourself and, after establishing a baseline start your exercise slowly. We will get into some “extreme” activities Later. We will want to gradually build up muscle, balance, and poise in order to avoid any setbacks. 

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