As a physiotherapist, I have done an intense amount of research to understand pain and how it functions in our body. I was reminded today of a quote that I used to have posted on my wall during the time I competed playing rugby. It read:
“Pain is weakness leaving the body.”
After seeing chronic injury after chronic injury walking through my clinic door, typically the result of people not listening to their body’s signals of pain, something about that quote just doesn’t resonate with me anymore. Google tells me that quote originated as propaganda used by the US Marine Recruiting office. While figuratively true, it requires a little bit of reflective consideration. A quote like this deserves to be broken down in order to understand how pain deserves to be respected.
First off – what type of pain are we talking about? As humans, we can experience a wide variety of things we consider pain and in many ways pain is a necessary part of life. It is signal that can indicate growth and help us develop resilience. Yet, societally we shirk away from pain – it makes us uncomfortable and I often see a narrow mindset when it comes to our connection to pain. Secondly – what type of pain are you experiencing? Emotional? Mental or psychological? Spiritual? Physical? Without getting into the ever expanding body of research on how all of those types of pain can overlap, let’s talk purely about pain on the physical level.
Numerous bodily sensations get lumped into the category of physical pain – aching, tingling, soreness, sharp, shooting, stabbing, exhaustion… So what is normal? It is normal to experience muscle soreness after physical exertion. When this exertion is followed by a period of rest the soreness subsides as the body builds muscle strength. In that case, soreness could be considered weakness leaving the body but beyond that, pain is quite often your body telling you that most likely, something in our body is operating dysfunctionally. Pain is our body’s way of communicating with us and when we misinterpret the pain as purely weakness leaving the body, when there is real dysfunction it’s trying to point us to, the body will typically communicate louder until we can no longer do all the things we love to do. In short, injuries happen when pain signals are ignored, and repeatedly ignoring pain can result in distorted signals from the body and long term chronic pains.
Growing bodies of research on pain continue to give us an ever expanding base of knowledge from which we can understand pain. For now, what’s the take home message?
The body’s signals of pain deserve respected, not dismissed. So pay a little attention – are you pushing through pain that will just leave you disabled in the long run? While not always desirable in the short term, the alternative to pushing through is to slow down, listen and be considerate of what your body is trying to let you know. It will thank you for it in the long run when it performs optimally, the way it was designed and you are out doing all the things you love to do!