This morning I was enjoying my post-spin class high and sipping my protein drink. Only a few minutes ago, I was struggling to keep up my cadence at high resistance, lungs and legs suffering. I knew that the suffering I had just endured was worth it – efficiently stressing both my anaerobic and aerobic capacity with interval training. In the midst of this endorphin high, I contemplated the importance of suffering in promoting growth and advancement in life.
I see many patients who have recurrent bouts of back pain every few months. They often look for quick fixes, and feel that they are healed once their back pain subsides. I have a stark warning for these patients – don’t ignore this roller coaster of pain. The regular recurrence of these symptoms is telling you something is wrong. Most patients who eventually require surgery have ignored these symptoms, only to have pain more frequently and with more intensity. With proper posture and strengthening, this pain will likely go away and accelerated degeneration of the back will be prevented.
Once you have taken the first step of paying attention to your recurrent pain, it’s important to realize that your improvement will likely require some suffering. You will need to build up atrophied core muscles. These muscles won’t strengthen without stressing the muscle to temporary failure (meaning doing the exercise until the muscular burn is no longer tolerable). Just the same as my spin class was designed to use music, motivational instructor, and smooth bikes to push the comfort of my aerobic limit, it’s important to partake in a spine rehabilitation program that most efficiently strengthens the core in the least amount of time, with the least risk of injury to spinal structures.
To address your chronic pain, you will also need to address the emotional component by developing mindfulness. This will also likely bring some suffering. Repressed, internalized, or unexpressed emotion can cause bodily symptoms. Facing some of these demons will be uncomfortable. However, taking the alternative ‘easy’ route of leaving these issues unexpressed and unaddressed will cause much more long term pain and suffering. Additionally, pre-existing personal health beliefs and poor coping strategies may be hampering your recovery. If you are anxiety-prone or expect the worst in situations, you will be feeding this pain cycle. Although not easy, it is important to use the impetus of relief from pain to live fully in the NOW. To release the regrets and self-pity of the past and stop the fear and anxiety of the future. To be fully mindful and present.
Don’t expect to create real change without discomfort – celebrate the pain, the pain that if correctly channeled will fuel your improvement.