“If my injury is healed, then why do I still have pain?”
Sep 08, 2020
This is a follow up to a question I am often asked - “If my injury is healed, then why do I still have pain?”
The honest answer is that it probably depends on a ton of factors, so if I give an answer I'd just be guessing.
But that doesn't help anyone...so here are some of my thoughts.
Often times following an injury, medical professionals focus on the physical aspects…
“Your MRI shows you have a disc injury.”
”You have arthritis.”
or “you have an ankle sprain.”
Depending on the extent of the injury, it is highly likely that the injured tissue has healed in the months following. So why is that pain lingers well beyond this point for some people?
The truth is, injuries are far more complex than what happens to a specific tissue in the body...
“We have learned that trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body. This imprint has ongoing consequences for how the human organism manages to survive in the present.”
― Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score (https://www.amazon.com/Body-Keeps-Score-Healing-Trauma/dp/0143127748/ref=sr_1_3?crid=GPJE9C3LO4D7&keywords=the+body+keeps+the+score&qid=1583855201&sprefix=the+body+keeps+the%2Caps%2C321&sr=8-3)
The quote above is from one of my favorite books - The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel A. van der Kolk. This book is about how we as humans adapt to psychological trauma.
But the information parallels what happens in response to injury, things like premature MRIs or x-rays, and even in response to the words medical professionals use when we go to see them.
You see, the way our brain works is based on prediction. It uses all of our past experiences to predict what is going to happen in every moment.
An injury has the potential to change this process in a way that makes us more cautious in our everyday lives.
If you step off a curb and twist your ankle, you’re likely going to walk gingerly the next time you step off a curb because your brain will put on the breaks in an attempt to "protect" you from twisting your ankle again. It does this through muscle tension. Once you step off the curb a few times, these breaks come off. Your brain realizes it's safe and you go on with your life.
What about more significant injuries?
You're running, make a hard cut, and tear your ACL. Or you're involved in a car accident and hurt multiple body parts. The events surrounding the injury often times leave an imprint that extends far beyond the actual injury to a specific tissue in our bodies...
The tissue heals, but you still experience pain and undesired muscle tension.
For example, I experienced a brain and neck injury a few years ago after a box fell and hit me on the back of my head. Up until recently, every time I bent forward I would hold my breath. This was subconscious. But it would create a ton of muscle tension throughout my body that caused tingling into my arm, pain in my neck, and made me dizzy to the point where I would have to call out of work.
The same thing would happen when I would pick up a pen or some other small object off the ground. My body acted like I was deadlifting 500 pounds when I was really doing a typically mindless task.
My brain was constantly putting on the breaks to "protect" me from getting hurt again.
In these situations we need to give our brains confidence. Show it that everything is OK.
Yes. The physical injury matters. And sometimes MRI results are meaningful in terms of understanding the pain someone may be experience.
But we have to appreciate how physical injuries may change the way we move, breathe, and even think to begin to know where to start on a journey to recovery.
One thing is for certain, if what you are currently doing is not getting you closer to feeling better and achieving your goals, it is time to look elsewhere for help.
"He'll take the time to explain things to you. He's very passionate about helping you not only meet, but progress past all the goals you have."
If you are experiencing pain that is not improving despite going to physical therapy, or your chiropractor, or any other medical specialist...If you're experiencing pain that is keeping you from doing the things you love. If you're looking to put your pain behind you...
Please reach out to see how AMP can help you put an end to your pain and help you achieve your goals.