The Importance of Paying Attention to Pain
We’ve all suffered pain and most of us try and avoid it - sometimes to our own detriment. Pain should never be ignored; rather, it should guide us to listen to our bodies. Pain in this sense has a purpose; to keep us from further injuring ourselves. Take for example, lower back pain. By the time you’ve reached your thirties or forties, you’ve most likely experienced some episode of pain, stiffness, and limitation in movement of your lower back. Often this results in missing time from work, missing fun activities, and losing adequate sleep, to say the least.
Knowing this, future episodes of lower back pain should guide your current decision making. If you’ve been raking the yard all morning and your back starts to hurt, do you pay attention to it and stop for the day or push on into the afternoon until the task is complete (regretting it the next morning)? How about road trips? You can drive until the full tank of gas is gone and ignore the dull ache that has slowly started creeping up your spine or you can stop every two hours to stretch and move around. With this change of position you improve your circulation through movement and it will make a big difference in your body.
Most of us work with computers these days and know how time consuming they can be. Before you even realize it, you’ve been sitting in the same position for hours. One way you can deal with this lack of motion is by varying your job tasks so you are reminded to get up and move around. Keeping supplies, the trash can, the printer, even the stapler out of your reach has its benefits by getting you up and moving. If you have to, set a timer to go off every 30 minutes and then stand for a minute, shift your hips back and forth, and then sit back down. If you’re working on a laptop, try moving it to a higher surface, like a counter top or cabinet, where you can stand and work for a while.
Make sure you’re not slouching and leaning into the screen either, which can wreak havoc on your neck or upper back as well as contribute to your lower back pain. The rule of thumb is, your line of reading should be approximately two inches below the top of the screen. Adjust the height of your chair, if you can, or elevate your monitor in some way books are a good way to give your monitor a lift. The point is, don’t ignore your pain or be afraid of it; instead, let it guide you in your decision making process. For those of you who spend your entire day at the computer, you may be interested in office yoga or online apps with pop-up reminder exercises you can do at your desk. Remember to pay attention to your other body cues too, such as:
• Numbness, burning or tingling;
• Soreness, aching or tenderness;
• Pain, throbbing or swelling;
• Tightness or stiffness;
• Weakness, fatigue, or cold.
Of course, this blog has been about physical stressors on relatively healthy individuals. The stress most of us are more familiar with, anxiety, also plays a significant role in contributing to pain. I should also mention there's a lot we don't know, both in clinical practice and research, about lower back pain. The recommendations made here are observations from my own experience with massage clients and the science literature I've reviewed. However, there is growing evidence that massage therapy has the potential to help you manage both anxiety and pain while increasing your awareness of body cues, thus reducing your risk of injury and illness.