Break Your Pain Cycle - Part 2

by Curtis Tait, BSc, MPT, DPT, IMS, Doctorate of Physical Therapy

How to be active with pain:

Respecting Pain – The first question that you need to ask when you are learning to deal with pain is how is it behaving? Is it always there (constant)? Is it only there sometimes (intermittent)?

Constant Pain – Here I mean truly constant, as in the pain never goes away even for a second. There are a few reasons for constant pain, but the one that we are most familiar with is after an acute injury. If you have an acute injury, you will know it. There will have been something you did that lead to pain immediately and you will see signs of inflammation such as redness, heat/warmth, swelling, pain, and loss of function.

Look for redness, heat/warmth, and swelling – if these are all there, this is likely an acute injury and it deserves to be cared for. This is when progressive rest, ice, compression, and elevation, or PRICE, is the thing to do. Progressive rest means that movement is good and helpful, but start with gentle movement and build from there.

Intermittent Pain – This is great news! It means that there are some things that are perpetuating the pain and some things that are relieving the pain. This pain can be worked with!

  • Determine which things cause your pain, and then minimize these for a short period.
  • Keep pain after activity down.
  1. Green Light – the activity helps my pain; I should do more of this.
  2. Yellow Light – I feel my pain while I perform the activity, but when I stop it goes back to normal in less than 5 minutes
  3. Red Light – My pain is aggravated by this activity and stays aggravated for more than 30 minutes or I have notable pain the next morning.

The big take-away here is that pain does not always mean damage and, while it should be respected, you can work with it if you know how. Hopefully now you know a little more of the “how.” Think of pain as the messenger that the body uses to get your attention. This messenger is meant to change your behaviour, so don’t ignore it…work with it! Finally, if you continue to have difficulty or pain, reach out to your physiotherapist. They can help with some hands on treatment, exercise and education to help you get moving better and pain-free.