5 Strategies for Battling Chronic Pain
Today we are going to discuss the some of the ways to combat chronic pain or injury... Trying to start a new exercise routine, make a huge lifestyle change, or progress in strength each week can be incredibly frustrating if you are battling an injury. As a personal trainer, it’s heartbreaking to watch my clients enthusiasm over their progress quickly dissipate and regress when they face the challenge of an injury. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by your limitations, and even easier to allow them to consume you. The truth is, I know this story all too well. After facing both a debilitating ankle injury that brought my dreams of a professional dance career to a crashing halt, as well as the trauma, PTSD, and chronic degenerative nerve disease from a car wreck, it is safe to say that I’ve had no choice but to find strategies to cope with the pain. That is why I am sharing with you all some of the lessons I’ve learned from my own journey. These tips might not make the pain go away, but they could lessen the severity of the obstacle; making it more conquerable and easier to deal with.
5 Strategies for Combating Chronic Illness and Injury
1) Learn how to LISTEN to your body
The key to working around injuries in the gym is to listen to your body and train smarter. There are things that you CAN push through (ie soreness, general fatigue, muscle aches… etc) and other things that you simply can’t (acute pain, inflamed tendons, sprains, strains, pulls, tears, broken bones, etc) Ultimately, It’s up to you to decide when to push and when to stop. Is that one workout, training session, or even competition worth pushing through, if the result is a serious injury or potential flare? Most doctors are annoying, in the sense that they usually don’t give you explicit instructions for what you can and can not do ( if you are dealing with chronic overuse or a non-operative injury, that is). They leave it up to YOU to decide how far to push and when to back off. Thus, tuning in and listening to your body is CRUCIAL for overcoming an injury. So BE SMART, do your PT exercises, stretch and perform mobility drills, stop when something hurts, Ice it often, take those anti-inflammatories, and be patient with your body. If you behave, you’ll be better before you know it ;)
2) Reframing your mindset can be a game changer
“Reframing” is the mental strategy of changing the way you look at a stressful or painful situation by painting it in a positive light. This can be especially important if you are perhaps an athlete taking time off due to injury or battle chronic pain For example:
“ I don’t know If I should take this job…. I am worried I will end up unhappy” Is reframed to say “ I shouldn’t worry about the future. I can always leave and return back to my old one if I am truly unhappy.” OR
“ I will lose all progress because of my hip injury” is reframed to say “Now that my hip is injured, I can focus on the areas of my exercise routine that I tend to neglect, like core strengthening and mobility work. This rehab process will strengthen the week muscles that assist my squat form and help me progress once I recover. On the days where I have felt the most overwhelmed with my health, reframing saved the day. It enabled me to focus less on my physical limitations and directed my energy onto all the things I COULD DO. For instance, whenever my health flares up and I have to take extended time off exercise, I am always amazed at how productive I am in other aspects of my life, like at work with my training clients or with my online graduate coursework (that is, when I am not doped up on painkillers ;). Additionally, reframing helps me to focus on the needs of others. I live in the heart of St. Louis and everywhere I look, there is an opportunity to serve, to love, and to uplift. From the vast homeless population to the underfunded inner-city schools, there is an abundant need for helping hands and serving hearts. You don't have to be the next Mother Teresa... it might be as simple as opening the door for a handicapped gentleman, lending an ear to that stressed friend needing to vent, or cooking a meal for a coworker grieving the loss of a family member. Use the pain you are experiencing, both physically and mentally, to empathize and love on those who are struggling around you.
3) There is always something to be thankful for
At some of my lowest points, creating a gratitude list successfully lifted my spirits and restored my hope. Sometimes it can be hard if pain inhibits daily functioning. However, I have learned that even at your lowest low, there is still SOMETHING to be grateful for. Here are some of the things on my list:
The love and encouragements of my parents My mom and little brother's sense of humor My own sense of humor that makes an eleven-year-old boy suddenly sound mature Getting to live in the Central West End where everything I need is within walking distance! My ability to walk again after being handicapped in 2016 My education and ability to pursue it at the graduate level My job, caring bosses, and encouraging co-trainer :) My hardworking clients Sprinkled donuts, gluten-free bread, pizza, and burgers… in that order My stash of kitty t-shirts A rock solid support system that provides me the encouragement I need to keep fighting
This segways into my last two tips: the importance of a support system and the ability to appreciate the good in each day. Stay tuned for Part II of my article that will be sent out tomorrow.
Appreciate the good in each day. Stay tuned for Part II of my article that will be sent out tomorrow.