A word on pain

Pain, by Verano y mil tormentas.

At some point in our lives we will experience pain. After an injury it’s easy to understand why you should give your body time to repair the damage, either by resting or by doing active recovery (activities that promote healing without aggravating the injury or stressing the body). What if there is chronic pain though? Say you’re experiencing pain whenever you’re performing your sport, what do you do? Here are two stories that illustrate how you could handle things in these situations.

Story 1: the avid runner

A friend mine has discovered his love for sports after almost 30 years of not taking good care of his body. He got into running, started kickboxing, was interested in Russian Systema and also did some Krav Maga. A few months down the road his foot started giving him a little trouble. Nothing big, just some pain every now and then. It would surely pass soon. My friend continued his training and the condition of his foot slowly got worse. By then it would take Ibuprofen just to get through the day. He told me the story of how he had to stop during a 5K run to pop some Ibuprofen, so that he could finish the race. A short time later he felt more serious pain in his foot during one of his martial arts classes and the pain continued to get worse. The doctor’s findings: multiple small stress fractures in his foot and one major fracture. The week before before a long trip abroad!

Story 2: the avid basketball player

See a pattern yet? There’s another friend of mine with whom I have been playing basketball for about 4 years now. His passion on the court and his desire to win was unmatched among my other teammates. There’s one problem though: knee pain above his knee cap. If you look at the anatomy of the knee you will see that his pain is actually in the quadriceps tendon. Here is what Anthony Mychal, M.A., writes about that kind of knee pain:

Tendonosis is a more severe form of tendonitis. By fighting through the acute bouts of discomfort, the pain can become a chronic (long term) issue in which the tissue degrades over time.

Unlike tendonitis, the pain nestles above the knee cap, usually in the quadriceps tendon area. If you were playing basketball you’d be in pain before the game started. You’d need extra time to get the juices flowing and probably would be sporting a brace or wrap during the game.

Whoops, time to get serious about fixing this, right? I sent that very article to my friend after we spoke about his knee pain, because a warning light went off in my head as soon as I had heard “above the knee cap”. My friend’s reaction? He told me about his buddy who had similar problems and had to quit playing basketball for good …. Yet my friend, let’s call him Roy, didn’t change a thing about his behavior. Roy told me that he was planning to play less often (he currently plays around 10 hours of basketball per week I guess), but that he hadn’t started to take any active measures against his pain yet.

The bottom line about pain

So what’s the bottom line about pain? The bottom line is that when you ignore it, bad things happen. It can be a stress fracture in your foot right before a trip overseas or it can be that you have to quit your favorite sport. Forever. The problem is that people who are passionate about their sport rarely listen to their bodies the way they should. No action is taken to fix problems and before you know it, nagging injuries pile up and get chronic. Sure there might still be a way to fix it, but do you really need to let things get that out of hand?

The logical conclusion is to never ignore pain! Pain is a warning signal. It tells you that something is wrong in your body and that you better get to finding the problem and fixing it. If you can’t do it yourself, you can always get professional help (although that can prove to be challenging).

In the case of knee pain something is obviously wrong with the knee, right? Wrong! In future posts I will shed some light on why the cause for knee pain rarely lies within the knee itself (unless there was acute trauma). For now let’s just say that your knee is but one link in the kinetic chain. The knee will pick up the slack if its neighbors, the ankle and the hip, aren’t fit for duty.


Take-away message:
Never ignore pain.