Does muscle pain mean I'm injured, or is it all in my head?
Updated: Apr 6
Do you ever find yourself wondering why you are experiencing pain?
Does muscle pain mean I'm injured, or is it all in my head? A question you may have found yourself wondering before, or maybe not...
When we experience pain, what we are feeling is an output of the brain. For example, did you know that it is possible to have muscle and other biological tissue damage with no pain and it's also possible to experience pain with no biological tissue damage?
There are so many things that can affect pain, including tissue damage, your thoughts and beliefs surrounding pain, what you are told about pain, your previous experiences, your emotions, your deeper worries- including your financial situation, relationships, stress levels, chemical reactions in your brain, the sensitivity of your nervous system, your culture and surrounding environments. This is just a short list of contributing factors.
Something to consider...
What is your work and living situation like? Do you have high exposure to things that crave your attention? Overstimulation can have a big impact on the nervous system and brain, so if you find yourself watching TV, whilst flicking through your phone, or continuously listening to music with every task you do, then you may be overstimulating or over sensitising your brain. These are just a few examples to give you an idea that there may be more things that are contributing to your situation than just an biological injury.
This video does a good (if not better) job of explaining things in visual terms.
What would life be like without pain?
Over the last few decades, we have learnt that pain has many factors that contribute to its presence. Not only is pain a warning alarm alerting you of potential danger, but it is also a protector mechanism to prevent you from doing further damage.
Without muscle pain or any pain for that matter; you would feel like you could exercise every day, with no soreness, no discomfort and with the ability to do anything you want, and you'd feel fresh every single day. Unfortunately, there is a downside to a life without pain, because although theoretically, you'd be able to exercise every day, you wouldn't necessarily be doing yourself any good.
Without the sensation of pain, you'd find it incredibly difficult to guage how your body is truly adapting, because despite the absence of pain, you could still become injured, and probably even more so seeing as the majority of chronic injuries stem from something small and then gradually get worse over time. So essential, some of us already choose to push through minor pain with caution and sometimes make things worse for ourselves. If we didn't have any feeling of pain, we would most likely run ourselves into injury all the time.
Without pain to govern and help you avoid injury, you are likely to train to physical failure every time resulting in a likelihood of causing serious damage to your body because the only reason to stop would be when a structure fails, such as a broken bone or a ruptured ligament, tendon or muscle. Without the ability to feel pain, we would be in real bother.
"Without the ability to feel pain, we would be in real bother."
Here are 3 key categories that affect pain, and together they make up what is known as the bio-psycho-social pain model that I use every day in the sports injury clinic.
We have neurons that receive information and send it to the brain, and we have neurons that act upon that information based on the brain's response. Read below for a little more info.
What governs pain? The brain is the governer and the billions of neurons within our body send and transport signals through our nerves to and from the brain at lightning speeds- way quicker than your local broadband provider claims for their internet speed! There are two main forms of neurons in our body, afferent neurons receive information/ signals through our sensory organs (sight, smell, hearing and touch) and transmit those signals to our central nervous system (a network of nerves within our body) our brain responds to these signals by sending impulses through the central nervous system back into the muscles, organs and other systems via efferent neurons.
Psychological means our mind, thoughts, feelings and emotions, but it doesn't mean our whole brain. So when someone suggests that pain is all in your head don't take it personally, because technically although it is, it's not something you can simply think away as our thoughts, feelings and emotions only consume a small percentage of our brain and as mentioned above, the things we see, hear, touch and smell make big contributions to our brain output.
Financial worries, relationships, home and work environments can all impact your threshold for pain. Stir in some over sensitisation for good measure and boom, welcome to the pain party.
Thanks, but how do I manage my pain better?
If you found this information interesting and want to read more into the science of pain, here is a great resource If you want to get some treatment and speak to someone about how to manage your pain better, book your initial consultation with ZEN Anatomy Sports Therapy here
Pain is a warning signal to alert you that something isn't quite right, it doesn't always mean something is wrong and it doesn't always pick up when something is but the presence of pain is ultimately an important thing that needs to be managed well rather than totally eradicated.
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