Respect Your Pain


I've been thinking a lot about our attitude towards pain recently. As massage therapists we come across it a lot, all kinds, from muscular aches and strains to nervous disorders, psychological discomfort such as stress and depression, and repetitive strain disorders that eventuate from overuse of one part of the body or a poor posture. Like pleasure, pain is one of the fundamentals of our lives. 

We are learn from when we are very young to avoid pain at all costs. Like the hedonists of old, we trick ourselves into thinking life should always be in pursuit of pleasure. But pain has a purpose. Pain is important to survival. It warns us that something is wrong. Yet all too often we brush it aside as just as just another unavoidable part of life: as being overworked, as getting old, as a result of stress. A third entry alongside death and taxes, if you will. Unless the pain is acute and painted in neon colours against the silver screen of our consciousness, we tend to learn to just live with it. We allow it to slide into the backdrop of our lives. It becomes a sort of annoying hum, subtly draining our energy, making us more likely to be tired, irritable and stressed. Often we forget it is there at all: it becomes our pain baseline. I'm constantly surprised by how often our clients are unaware that they are holding pain in an area until we touch it.
The second response, of course, is to medicate the pain away. We take all manner of little white pills to remove perfectly normal pain signals, which when they are chronic, may be signs of deeper problems that we ought to investigate. Our instant-gratification society, however, expects that we ought to be able to take a pill and make discomfort vanish. Constantly popping pills, of course, can have many side effects (nurofen can cause stomach sores, for instance; others can be addictive). The beauty of holistic practise, whether it be massage, naturopathy, etc. is that it attempts to place the pain in the context of the whole person.
Surfing around the interwebs recently, I discovered an article that tackles the function of pain perfectly. Called 'Understanding Pain' by K. Ferlic, founder of creativity website ryuc.info,  the essay deals with the function of pain, how physical and psychological pain are more simular than we may may have thought, and how pain actually protects us from ourselves. Have a look for a new viewpoint on the issue. I certainly came away with more respect for the good work of my nervous system.