How Can You Understand Your Pain?

How Can You Understand Your Pain?

                          Are you having trouble describing your pain?                      

Can you rate your pain on a scale of 1-10? We all dread that question when we go to see the doctor. What does it even mean? As a Physical Therapist, I do not enjoy asking that question (in fact I avoid it as much as possible) because most of the time people feel that they have to be EXACT and maybe their pain isn’t so exact as a number. It can be frustrating to pick a number that represents our pain because pain is more than just a number; it affects our lives, our ability to exercise, perform our jobs, and enjoy time with family and friends.             

I myself have dealt with pain involving back and sciatic pain.  What I found through my rehab process is that it was more beneficial to focus on what I could do and how I did it, as opposed to my levels of pain. The more I focused on my “pain” the negative thoughts that came with it would creep into my head. I worried about if there was any end in sight. It made all the difference when I switched my view from focusing on “pain” to focusing on what I could do. When the focus was placed on my pain the thoughts would creep into my head…. ‘Will I need surgery?’ ‘How much longer will this last?’  Even as a Physical Therapist I questioned whether I would get better.        Understand Your Pain   

What Is Causing Your Pain?              

What’s more important than rating our pain on a scale of 1-10 is to know what “causes” our pain. Whether it be sitting, standing too long, running, or exercising, this information can give us good intel into how to handle our pain. From there we are able to determine what can help alleviate our pain, which may include moving more often, performing a certain stretch, or resting from exercise.  All of this information is key to finding out the solution on how to fix the problem.           

Many people have a fear of explaining or discussing their pain because it’s so hard to describe that they may not think its believable. I find that using common descriptions can be helpful in this situation. I’ve often heard patients tell me “it feels like an ice pick” or ” it feels like there is a block that won’t let me move further”.  These analogies can give good insight into whether the pain is coming from a muscle, joint, or nerve.

Pain can often be complex, we all may have experienced it at some point in our lives, but each of us experiences it differently. It may be time that we shift our focus from the “number” of the pain and more towards our pain experience. From there we can assess what areas of our lives it affects and how we can go about changing it. Once you find a health care provider who listens and understands your pain, it can make all the difference in the world in helping you return to the activities you love.

Does Stretching Help Your Pain?

Does Stretching Help Your Pain?

Should You Stretch to Get Rid of Your Pain?   


Just keep “stretching”…….does that sound familiar? Often times it’s a phrase used when you have been seeing a medical professional for some kind of musculoskeletal pain and you haven’t seen the results that you’d like. You may have come across an article on the Internet or been given advice from a friend that tells you to “stretch” whatever body part is painful. There lies the problem though. Most of the time “stretching” just isn’t enough to solve your problem. Sure, it is a part of the solution (but most of the time its <10% of the solution!). Think about it for a second. When is the last time you had persistent pain and was able to “stretch out” the pain for it to go away (without it coming back).  That clinically doesn’t happen very often. I see it on the faces of frustrated individuals who are still in pain despite their persistent stretching. While stretching can help improve the flexibility of your muscles, it does not address underlying deficits in muscle strength, endurance, stability, and motor control (the ability of your muscles to move efficiently within a certain range).  Deficiencies in these areas are more likely the cause of your musculoskeletal pain and stretching does not help improve those deficiencies. For instance, those tight muscles you are “stretching” are often muscles that are tensing up because they are being “overworked” due to weakness in other surrounding muscles.                 Should You Stretch to Get Rid of Your Pain?    Let’s use an example of the “low back”. When you have muscles that constantly tighten up in your low back and you experience a “stiff” feeling, then that is likely due to weakness in the stability muscles of your back. Those stability muscles are not performing their job very well causing the muscles around them to work overtime. What happens when you yourself work overtime? You become tired, maybe a little irritable, and not pleasant (think about what your muscles go through!). Same goes for the neck. This day and age, with computers, the amount of people with neck pain has definitely spiked in numbers! One of the most common occurrences with neck pain is a feeling of tightness in the neck down into the shoulder area. Stretching won’t help this condition, at least not unless you address the weak muscles that aren’t doing their job of supporting the spine and other joints.

Does Stretching Work?

Now, by no means am I saying that stretching is bad for you or that you shouldn’t stretch. I am just discussing how stretching alone is often not the solution to your musculoskeletal pain. Many people who have come to see me say they have been through a “stretching” program and it hasn’t worked.  People often think of exercises as being a series of stretches, and while stretching is considered a form of exercise, it is certainly not the only form. There can be much confusion out there on what form of exercise can help decrease pain and get the body to move pain-free again. This is usually done with a combination of tactics including hands-on techniques to help relieve pain followed by strength and stability work on the muscles. Research supports comprehensive programs when it comes to addressing our pain. While stretching can be a component of these programs, it by no means should be the only form of exercise used to address your pain. It is important to be able to target the specific muscles, nerves, or tendons that may be causing your pain. This can be done with a proper assessment of the area where your discomfort is to determine the source. Then by figuring out what the source of the pain is you will be able to understand what type of exercise will be most appropriate for that specific problem. So if you have been in pain lately (maybe even for quite a while) I would ask, “has just ‘stretching’ been able to help solve your problem?”