Health & Wellness Articles

How to Learn from Pain

Listen Closely to Learn what Your Body is Saying

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Pain presents itself in myriad forms: the immediate, throbbing sensation of stubbing a toe; the nagging, stinging burn of a sore throat; the take-your-breath-away feeling when you move your "bad back" in the wrong way; the heaviness of lifting your arms overhead after a challenging workout; and the relentless, deep-in-your-bones pain that accompanies conditions like osteoarthritis or fibromyalgia. In any of these cases, pain can be sharp or dull, chronic or acute, burning or throbbing, mild or severe.
And as human beings, we are designed to avoid all kinds of pain. The intensity of pain often renders us unable to rationalize what we're feeling or focus on anything else. When it's there, it's hard to ignore. We want to stop it immediately.
But have you ever thought about listening to pain—instead of trying to avoid it? On a physiological level, pain exists for a reason: to alert us that something is amiss with the body. Pain is supposed to feel bad, and it's supposed to hurt because it is a siren, a signal to stop what we're doing, avoid something or make a change.  
In many cases, the cause of pain is beyond our control: a herniated disc from whiplash; an autoimmune disease such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis; a torn ACL from a pick-up basketball game. But in other cases, as with many types of back pain and repetitive motion injuries, if we trace our pain back to its source, we discover ways we could have alleviated our discomfort—and perhaps even quell it now or prevent long-term injury or permanent damage.
What Pain Taught Me
For the last couple of years, I (like millions of Americans) have been plagued by lower back pain. At times, the pain was so bad that I worked from home, in bed, propped up against a heating pad. I went to a chiropractor, got massages and used a foam roller daily. Finally, my massage therapist, who is also a yoga teacher, pinpointed the problem:  My psoas, a deep core muscle that runs from the lower back and sacral region around to the front of the hip and femur bone, was really tight. She released the muscle with a deep massage of my hip, then showed me some stretches to loosen it at home and suggested I stand more during the day (at a standing workstation). My back pain has greatly diminished, thanks to daily yoga and stretches. If I slack off for even 48 hours, my psoas tightens, and I feel that familiar pain in my lumbar and sacral region
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About The Author

Stepfanie Romine Stepfanie Romine
A former newspaper reporter, Stepfanie now writes about nutrition, health, fitness and cooking. She is a certified Ashtanga yoga teacher who enjoys running, international travel and all kinds of vegetables. See all of Stepfanie's articles.

Member Comments

  • Excellent article. Thank you so much. - 10/18/2013 10:26:44 AM
  • THANK YOU for this wonderful article! It was written, it seems, just for me. I've been having aching hip pain (around the top of my thighs) since last Oct '12. About six weeks ago i thought i injured my left glut but finally went to the ortho who said it was that PSOAS muscle that wraps around the top of the leg. I waited so long for treatment that my back has been out for the last week and now i am going to chiro and physical therapy and off my exercise routine. I must learn to listen to my body from now on. thank you again for sharing this. It truly helped me! - 6/3/2013 2:33:50 PM
  • Love hearing rational, intelligent things like this article. - 6/3/2013 11:58:57 AM
  • Wonderful article. I suffer from lower back problems and fibromyalgia. I have had tremendous pain and decided I couldn't live this way any longer. I went on the internet looking for solutions and stumbled across a book "Foundations Redefine Your Core, Conquer Back Pain, and Move with Confidence" by Dr. Eric Goodman and Peter Park. I checked it out at the library first and decided it was worth my investment. I'm not going to say that I don't have flare ups now and again, and that it was easy to get into a routine to do the exercises, but I am getting stronger, not having many flare ups, sleeping better and I've gone off all my medicatons. I'm living proof that it does work, but you have to get out of that chair and JUST DO IT and also listen to your body. Just wanted to share this. I hope this book helps someone else. - 6/3/2013 11:17:08 AM
  • Currently with the fibro flare that I am having (cause unknown at this time), and have had for at least the past 3 weeks, I have just been putting on my happy face and continuing with daily things. Last week hit a point where I broke down crying at work because the added stress was too much. I have to not let it get that bad and let my coworkers know that I am in more pain. It is hard because I do not want them thinking I am just complaining, but the fact that I am at work with the pain should say something. - 6/3/2013 10:57:51 AM
  • i agree there are positive things to be learned from pain - however in my case and many of the people i know suffering with chronic and often crippling pain - FIBRO AND RA - in my case, you learn too many negative things . they are coping mechanisms to be sure and very necessary to living your life as these diseases let you.
    in a flare up - well - i am one big lump of pain who tries to stay as still as i can. i used to think stretching and walking were the way to go - but i sincerely cannot do that in a flare up. i use a cane - as i protest a walker - and i wear sensible albeit ugly shoes.
    when i feel some what normal again - i do try to move my body.
    i cope with good things INTO MY digestive system - anti inflammatories (drugs, foods and meditation) .
    i notice i will over compensate with other parts of my body - which causes problems else where -
    i still remember those days when none of this was an issue - and i want to forget that because it only makes the comparison so much more painful now. - 6/3/2013 10:32:56 AM
  • I have had chronic back pain since age 13. I had 6 back surgeries by 26. From 26-45, I had managed to listen to my body. I still needed pain pills for daily living, but was able to stay fit and do things at my pace, taking breaks at my pace.
    In March 2006, I joined SP and became obsessed with getting even fitter, dropping about 30 lbs. Diet and exercise became my priority. I worked out with the Wii EA Fitness 45 min. every other day with those days doing 45 min Just Dance and a 3 mile walk (17 min mile) plus daily life activities. On other days, I did the 3 mile walk and 90 min Wii Just Dance. I lost my weight and became toned. I also did require 1 more pain pill to do this.
    In September 2010, I went to a PT, during the evaluation he gave me an exercise which caused severe pain. Here is where I STOPPED LISTENING TOMY BODY! I couldn't sleep that night due to the pain, but went back and told the PT how bad it had been since I left his office. He didn't care and I went ahead and I'd his day's plan, SEVERE pain never leaving.

    The next morning I awoke and stood up straight and couldn't move either leg. I learned very quickly if I bent my knees and bent forward, I could walk. I wen to my doc that day in tears. He gave me a cortisone shot, said take it easy forv2-3 days then get back to walking. I did this.

    To shorten the story from here,THE ARTICLE IS SO VERY RIGHT, LISTEN TO YOUR BODY especially when it is yelling at you and changing your normal to get things done. I ended up walking in the hunched over position from Sept. to Dec. and for he first week I could walk the 3 miles, quickly my speed and ability deteriorated until my father or mother followed behind me with a wheel chair until my legs gave out. I was determined to do the best I could at exercising and listen to my doctor.

    By not listening, in December, I became wheelchair bound. Finally in Jan. 2012 a gifted surgeon figured out a significant problem that octopus for two years missed. I underwent life and death surgery. Needless to say, I SURVIVED BUT BY NOT LISTENING T... - 6/3/2013 4:27:33 AM
  • Some articles should be worth way more than three points---this is one of those!! Thank you for having shared it. - 6/3/2013 4:13:48 AM
  • Great article - 5/17/2013 5:27:44 PM

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