There is no getting around it: Chronic pain, be it due to an illness, a persistent injury or an acute incident, sucks.
If you are an active or competitive person and have ever been seriously injured or struggled with significant pain, you know that it can be devastating. If you're a coach or trainer, you know that keeping a client motivated and even compliant in this scenario is incredibly difficult, to say the least.
Why can a seemingly superficial problem like an injury trigger such a strong grief response?
People, especially those attracted to competitive or challenging physical activity, generally have a why, what is our ultimate ultimate goal, and the how, how we want to achieve it that motivates us in our training.
When we figure out how this aligns with our goals and makes us feel productive, We often begin to identify with how it will relate the ultimate end goal to our ways of achieving it.
If someone's goal is to get stronger, and their way to achieve that goal is to stick to a powerlifting program, it is not uncommon for that person to identify as someone who deadlifts, benches, and squats instead of identifying as a person who generally wants to be stronger.
Pain and injury are uniquely powerful in their ability to keep us away from the opportunities that are fundamental parts of our identity.
When I identify as a powerlifter and suffer a back injury that keeps me from deadlifting and squatting for an extended period of time, it feels like a large part of me is gone. That feeling sucks.
When or when the problem becomes chronic, a different set of challenges arise. Often times, we can save our motivation by relying on the idea that our pain or injury is temporary.
When this is no longer the case, we lose hope and can act in harmful ways, e.g. B. by stopping physical activity altogether.
There is a typical grieving process that occurs with injuries that I consider normal and sometimes inevitable. Still, there are specific steps we, as athletes and coaches, can take to circumvent some of the deleterious effects of this process.
1. Develop a symbiotic, proactive relationship with pain
Develop a symbiotic yet proactive relationship with your pain or injury. Irrational behavior about the harm and pain often stems from an attitude that the pain is or is not an adversary.
When we are seriously injured or in chronic pain, our perception of that pain needs to change so that we can maintain our spiritual well-being and act in a way that supports our ultimate goals.
The first step is to consider the possibility of this restriction not being lifted for a while. Some may call this idea radical acceptance; no matter where you have been or where you want to be, Accept where your body is now.
At the same time, take daily actions to make sure you are doing something to relieve the pain. Work with a qualified practitioner on the proactive piece.
Bottom line: accept your current circumstances, but take steps daily to change them.
2. Think objectively about why and how
Think more objectively about your why, and then find other options. One of the exercises I do with my clients is to explore the roots of their primary goals (AKA, their why).
If we lose our preferred method, we have to find different ways to get to the why. Sometimes the why is not as clear as it seems.
For example, if someone says their end goal is a pullup, their real goal might be:
- Develop more upper body strength
- Become more effective on a particular activity
- To achieve something physically new
Conclusion: get to the bottom of your why. Then start thinking about alternative options.
3. Develop and improve your movement toolbox
Develop and improve your movement toolbox. One of the most powerful insights I see from customers is this When it comes to exercise, there are always other options.
These options are dynamic and can change from day to day. They almost always change as our body adapts to new circumstances and balances them out.
Over time, however, we find that a certain tool (AKA a certain how) is not available to usThere is always another tool that we can use.
In extreme circumstances such as a systemic flare-up or the like, the tool may not be physical, but it still helps us get closer to one of our real end goals. This principle enables us to remain productive and to move despite our acute or chronic limitations.
Bottom line: always have a plan B (and C) ready.
The bottom line of the bottom line
While injury and pain can steal the limelight and seemingly take us away from our goals, we can still make progress by changing our perceptions, realizing what we need, and getting a little creative with our solutions.
Identify, adapt and move.