Before I start this little rant, I want to make a clear distinction between ‘good pain’ that is, pain you experience when you push yourself to new limits (i.e. muscle soreness or ‘the burn’), and ‘bad pain’, the type of pain that is your body telling you that something is seriously not right and you need to stop or avoid what you are doing.
Generally the way people experience pain is on a spectrum, the two different ends of the spectrum would be people who display ‘fear avoidance behavior’, these people are so concerned about re-aggravating an issue or experiencing pain that they avoid all movements or actions that they think could put them at risk often moving in an apprehensive or protective way and at the other end there are those who just ignore pain sensation and push on anyway.
Your average athlete or CrossFit participant typically falls closer to the less sensitive, ‘I’ll just push on’ end of the spectrum: people who can tell the difference but are willing to just suck it up and get on with it even when it is dangerous. These people push through the pain often blindly hoping that at some point the hot stabbing pain, that shoots through their shoulder when they do push ups, will just miraculously disappear.
For those that fall on that end of the spectrum my message is simple: Pain is NOT a part of training hard, you should not feel pain as a result of training, lifting weight or exercising. You are not ‘hardcore’, ‘tough’ or ‘more committed’ because you push on with training even though you can’t sit for more that 5 mins at your desk without your right glute aching or pain shooting down your leg. If you were committed and ‘hardcore’ you would definitely want to be fitter, stronger and faster in 6 months than you are now, not be slow and injured still struggling through with your back pain. It’s time to take pain seriously. Some of you do (pat on the back), but some of you definitely don’t. You know who you are.
Think of pain as the body’s warning light. Imagine if you took the same approach to the engine warning light in the car? If that red light flashed up on your dash and you just thought oh, its probably nothing, I know my car pretty well so I’m sure it will just go away. Of course you wouldn’t do this, so why do it with you body? What do you think would happen with this approach? Maybe you get away with it for a short while, but soon you end up with a much bigger problem that you started with, right. Well if you wouldn’t do this with your car why would you take this approach with your body? Your body is SO much more valuable than your car yet so many people are far more diligent at taking care of their vehicle than their own body. Don’t ignore the warning signs that your body is sending you.
One of the things I love the most about working with athletes and CrossFitters is their passion and drive to improve, to push themselves that little bit harder to get better, to get fitter, stronger or more powerful. However, this virtue doesn’t always flow into their preventative care. As the popularity of CrossFit grows and more and more affiliates gyms open up, and more young coaches, athletes and new participants emerge, it is only becoming increasingly important that an emphasis be placed on the awareness and prevention of injury, including common signs or movement patterns that are likely to lead to problems.
A key element to addressing this is recognising what you don’t know, setting up a referral network or team of health professionals that you trust, who understand what you are doing, and most importantly, personally taking pain and niggles seriously.
The human body is designed to move and pain is the mechanism by which your body can alert you to the fact something is not moving or working ideally. Instead of ignoring it, listen to it closely. Identify exactly when pain hits and what movements cause the onset. Then relay this information to your coach, exercise physiologist, physio, or chiro who can help expedite the process of correcting the cause of the problem and get you back to performing at your best.
So, take care of yourself, get yourself treated, assessed and follow the advice of a therapist you trust and who knows your sport. If they say rest for a week or avoid doing ‘x’ movement for a short time then do it. This may sound like I’m pointing out the obvious but it never ceases to amaze me how many people think they know better than the health professional from whom they seek professional advice. Going back to the car analogy; Lets say you do the right thing and you pay attention to the flashing red engine light, you take the car to your mechanic to check it out and he tells you “leave the car with me for the next 24hrs, you can’t continue to drive it in this condition, and we are going to have to replace your (insert engine part here)” What do you do? Do you just walk off, jump in your car and ignore them because you know your own car better than he/she does? No, of course not. So why do this with your body? You might seek a second opinion for the car, and by all means do this for your body too, but if you are repeatedly told to make some changes and you ignore it, well expect no change for the better.
The point is, take care of yourself by respecting pain and remembering that is is more ‘hardcore’ to:
- Listen to your body and your therapist (EP/Physio/Chiro/Osteo). Pain changes the way that we move, you will create bad movement patterns that can take a very long time to correct if you continue to work through pain, and these compensatory movements will only overload other structures and predispose you to other issues.
- Rest or avoid movements (as advised) that aggravate your issue or cause pain. Give your body a chance to recover properly. Knowing when to rest is one of the most important skills an athlete can have. If something hurts when you do it, either you are doing it wrong or something is wrong with your body (or both). Doing more of the same thing and expecting a different result is just plain stupid.
Train hard, train smart and stay healthy. Don’t try to be a hero and end up in the surgeons office.