We'd all love to be, and stay pain-free forever.
However, pain has a funny way of rearing its ugly head. And often shrouded by mystery.
As a Physiotherapist, I'm fortunate to help thousands of people a year resolve their pain. Each patient has their own unique story to tell, however, there are common themes that consistently link many of the same types of injuries together.
Interestingly, there are some broad ideas to consider if you want to avoid most non-traumatic musculoskeletal pain and injury.
So if you're in pain, or keen to stay pain-free, consider how many of these key ideas relate to you.
Practice Good Postures & Positions
We can't afford to be in bad shapes forever. The constant strain it places on our tissue can have completely unnecessary and preventable consequences. Our body functions best in certain shapes and prolonged exposure to poor ones may eventually ask your tissues to stiffen and tighten to compensate. Now there's clearly no guarantee that'll you'll hurt yourself, but it's rare to treat someone with non-traumatic pain and injury who sits well, positions their neck correctly, bends, leans and/or lifts well all the time.
Not only can bad shapes set you up to fail but it will hinder athletic performance. Stiffness and tightness is like a handbrake to peak performance - all without you potentially realizing until it's too late.
Keep Your Ankles Loose
Almost all modern footwear now comes equipped with unnecessarily raised heels. Over time this "improvement" may come at a cost. The thicker the heel the less ankle range you get access to so you gradually lose it.
Ankle stiffness has its grubby little paws in almost every foot, ankle and knee dysfunction there is. Why? The body has to compensate for it. It now has to work around an unnecessary restriction to complete the same tasks it's always done - walking, squatting, running and jumping.
Again, having stiff ankles doesn't guarantee pain and injury, but hindsight often provides a stark lesson. Maintaining normal ankle mobility is another powerful weapon in the fight to stay pain-free.
Keep Your Hips Loose
We rely so heavily on sitting for work, transport, and leisure that our hips can easily become stiff. As with the ankles, keeping your hips bent at 90 degrees for hours on end is a great way to lose your deeper hip mobility. Why wouldn't we if we don't use it? We are designed to have access to our full range of motion and any restriction can have ramifications for everything around it. Stiff and tight hips are linked to back pain, knee pain and anything else that relies on the full hip range to function happily. That sitting life comes at a cost.
Keep Your Nervous System Calm
Modern living has changed the way we experience stress. Fleeting stress has now been replaced by chronic stress. We have work stress, financial stress, time stress, peer pressure, body image stress among a host of other round-the-clock mental challenges. As a result, we now have a tendency to be in some form of "fight or flight" response as a matter of habit.
The key here is that we are designed to initiate this response when threatened. But once we successfully navigate this threat, our nervous system should regress from a heightened state and relax. Think sleeping dog as opposed to dog constantly barking at the front gate. This has vital consequences for an amazingly broad number of bodily functions and processes. Of most relevance here is the severity and sensitivity of our pain experience and ongoing mental health. The more heightened or 'threatened' your nervous system is, the lower your threshold to pain and the greater your pain experience can be. We horribly underrate this but it's hugely important, particularly with chronic pain conditions like Fibromyalgia.
Maintain A Strong Core
Core strength is not a sexy thing to have. It's not something you can see down at the beach over summer, but it's crucial to support normal function and performance. We can run faster, lift heavier and better prevent injury and stay pain-free just by strengthening our centerpiece.
The challenge here though is that our modern, sedentary lifestyle not only plots its destruction, it demands it. Sitting happily all day unfortunately rarely engages your core. It's often a completely passive existence. You may hit the gym hard for an hour a day, but what do the other 15 waking hours look like? Are you fighting squarely against all the hard work you've been putting in?
If your core is lacking, you may leave the door ajar for back pain and any number of lower limb complaints.
Curate Proper Perspective
It's often hard to see beyond our own pain and injury. The human body will make absolutely sure we know what's going wrong at the time but this real-time focus can often distract from the bigger picture. As a result, important information can remain entirely mysterious. It won't trouble you with the details of it's likely long, slow-onset until it needs to.
If you've developed back pain it makes perfect sense to give it some love. It probably feels tight somewhere and maybe an x-ray will show some Arthritis or a less than perfect disc. But how? And why?
If your hips are stiff and you slouch all day at work, in the car and then on the couch in front of the TV, how do you think that back has been functioning up until it became sore?
The moment you hurt yourself is often the last straw - not the first. It's just often hard to pick up on the important features unless you're specifically keeping an eye out for them.
Perspective is vitally important if you are to understand the likely causes of your pain and injury. Most are not bad luck, nor the result of simple and relatively innocuous things. It may certainly feel the opposite, but a step back will often bring more tangible things in to focus. Things you can change in an attempt to solve the issue entirely.
Use a Foam Roller and Lacrosse Ball
Once armed with the right perspective, the ability to self-mobilize is crucial to stay pain-free and prevent injury. Don't wait for the pain to come to you. Go hunting for hidden stiffness and tightness before it has a chance to build.
- The number of stiff and tender areas you didn't realize you have
- How quickly these areas can reduce
- How big an impact these areas can have on how you feel globally
In short, you deserve to be and stay pain-free.
If you have a particular pain or injury, it's likely some of these key ideas are already in play. You may just not know it.
The cruel irony here is modern living challenges each of these key ideas. None are necessarily a huge threat in the beginning but can be if left to fester over time.
This isn't an exhaustive list by any means - shout out to sleep quality, nutrition, hydration, and mental health as well, but improving in these seven simple areas will have a meaningful impact on your ability to prevent injury and stay pain-free.
How many are you confidently on top of?