Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Proactive Strategies when Pain Happens

Many people experience pain.  Whether it’s from bad postural habits, prolonged sitting, overuse, disuse, poor movement, or a previous injury, pain symptoms can halt your progress in a fitness program.  As a fitness professional, it is out of my realm to diagnosis injury.  Let’s leave that up to a medical professional like a physical therapist or an orthopedic doctor.  But it is within my scope of practice to assist people manage specific pain sites.  In a perfect world, no one would get hurt and experience pain but when you push your body physically and athletically, things happen.  When pain arises, I believe taking a proactive approach to managing the situation.    

What do you do when red flags are brought to your attention?  Red flags can be slight discomfort, inflammation, a burning sensation, affected walking or running gait, sharp pain, or dull and achy pain.  Pay attention to these red flags because completely ignoring them will put you down a path to a serious injury that takes you out and stops your efforts of progressing forward.

Strategy #1: Once this “red flag” is introduced, first stop the activity that caused the trauma.  If running initiated the issue, stop running.  If throwing a baseball was the initial movement, don’t throw a baseball.  This is an important first step.  Many people “work through pain”.  They change their mechanics based on their discomfort so they can continue their activity.  This is called compensation and will affect other areas of the body.   Be disciplined when pain first arises.  Quickly managing the issue in the beginning stages can get you back to full potential with minimal time off.  

Strategy #2: Be a detective.  Start by answering a few questions. 
When did the pain first surface?  (Knowing the first occurrence is important to managing pain.  If you say, “well it’s been about 3 months”, you have waited too long and now the pain has probably turned into an injury that affects your day-to-day activity.  Always pay attention to your body and how it feels.)
Did I have a previous injury that could be related?  (Previous injury can predict a new injury.  If you have had shoulder problems in the past, elbow pain can occur later in your life.)
What has my training program been like the past few weeks?  (Are you randomly training without attention to proper progressions and overload?  If you are not building in a smart manner, pain can quickly show up due to overuse.)

Strategy #3: If it hurts, don’t do it.  Plain and simple right?  But many people skip this concept.  If you continue to work through pain, worse things will happen.  Take shin splints for example.  If you continue to run through this issue, eventually a stress fracture will happen.  Then you are in a walking boot, debilitated and out of action.  Be smart and disciplined to stop if needed.  Read this article by Mike Boyle about this strategy: http://www.strengthcoach.com/public/1602.cfm.  

Strategy #4: Be proactive.  Again, don’t do the activity that is causing the pain.  But complete rest is not necessarily the answer either.  Our body is meant to move - blood flow is a good thing. Finding movements that can still strengthen the body without any pain is a remedy that can decrease your pain site and improve function and durability at the same time.  You will maintain fitness this way.  Example: If your knees hurt, you need to foam roll your quadriceps, IT band, hamstrings, calves and glutes.  You also need to strengthen your hips and the muscles of the glutes.  You can decrease inflammation by icing the affected areas.  Taking anti-inflammatory medications and complete rest might work in the short term but you didn’t handle the root of the problem, you just took away the symptom.  The pain will resurface.

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