I'm working on understanding why pain is actually a good thing

As I’ve talked about before, I’m in the middle of a pain process. The chronic tingling in my nerves has hung around for longer than makes sense to me. So day in and day out, I am experimenting and trying out different things to see what works and what can help me in my recovery.

Having any kind of pain is no fun. It makes things difficult and uncomfortable. And well... it’s painful, there’s no simpler way to put it. That’s why I want to get rid of it. I’ve tried some therapies (within my budget) and I’ve looked up different kinds of strategies.

In my exploration to understand my pain better, I attended an online seminar where they talked about the role of pain, what it really is, and how to understand it better. The speaker at the seminar, Jarlo Ilano said something that really made my perk up and listen. He said,

We always think of pain as a bad thing. But actually, pain is good! Without pain you wouldn’t be able to function at all.”

This really caught my attention.

Pain is good?

How does that even make sense?

My life is harder to navigate now that I have chronic pain!

He went on,

“Think of pain as an alarm system. We need that alarm system to work for the times when something is wrong and have to respond and address the issue. But like some alarm systems, that can get overreactive! And that’s when people have bad pain.”

The Alarm Idea

This reminded me of a time when I had a smoke alarm in my apartment that would not stop beeping. Every time I started cooking, the smoke from the pan would trigger the alarm to start blaring. "Of course my food isn’t on fire!" I tried to fix it, but it wouldn’t calibrate properly. In the end I just took out the batteries and that was that.

But what would have happened if there was an actual fire, or any real danger? Then I wouldn’t have had that alarm to warn me that I needed to take action.

That’s what pain is for.

Like the fire alarm, pain is an alarm system also. When something hurts or when something is wrong, it sends a signal that we need to pay attention. This is incredibly useful for our survival.

But it is possible for it to be mis-calibrated sometimes. Our pain alarm can perceive danger when it’s not there. Sometimes it can become overly sensitive.

I think that's what's happening in my case. Somehow my pain system has gone off. I don’t know exactly what happened, but my pain system senses danger when I’m just stretching, or when I get a bit stressed.

My pain sensor is probably on the right side (extra sensitive)

Now that I have some idea about what’s going on, I’m exploring ideas to slowly address it.

Recalibrating My Pain Alarm System

As a follow up, I listened to this podcast episode with Greg Lehman on how movement can help with pain. Greg Lehman runs an online course called "Reconciling Biomechanics with Pain Science." It's a treasure trove of information, that I hopefully can get into someday.

There was so much going on while I was listening to the podcast, and it was hard to take it all in. (I’ll probably revisit it at some point in the future.)

There was one idea that deeply stuck with me after listening to it. It's that when it comes to pain management, there are two schools of thought : “Protect and correct” and “Expose and adapt.”

Greg Lehman's got some interesting ideas

“Protect and correct” says, if something is in pain, then we have to restrict your movement in that area, and avoid anything that could tigger the pain from happening again. This is the “protect” part. From there, the next step is “correct.” Here’s where you have to do things like strengthen your knee, fix your posture, or more drastic things like get an operation to correct something wrong with your body.

One the other hand, “expose and adapt” says that the body has the ability to fix itself, and deal with pain on its own. Barring drastic bodily illnesses (like cancer), the body is actually incredibly good at healing itself. It just needs a little bit of guidance. We can do this by slowly and safely “exposing” our body to movements that may have caused pain. But doing it in such a way that we feel safe while doing so. This tells our pain alarm that there’s no need to freak out so much. And slowly, the body “adapts” and start to feel better.

Since I’ve had this for a year, it’s safe to say that if there are any injuries, my body has had enough time to fully recover from it. I can only say this because I’ve seen doctors, had tests, and know that it’s nothing seriously life threatening. That means if there’s any problems in my body, it’s likely now in my pain alarm system and how it is responding to different kind of stimuli.

The takeaway for me is that I can try to slowly “expose and adapt.” What I’m going to try and do is carefully expose my body to movement, and see how it affects my body. My theory is that if I slowly expose myself to good movement, my body will be able to make itself feel better.

My health journey keeps moving.

Thanks for reading,