Chronic pain can be debilitating. It can take away the things you love, strip you of your confidence, make you feel depressed, and leave you feeling hopeless. So when you go to the doctor and he or she tells you that you need surgery, it seems like an easy decision. Either you can keep living your life in pain, or go under the knife & take the risks of surgery and months of rehab all while hoping it worked. I’m here to tell you that in many cases, surgery is not the only way to get out of pain. You can have your life back, but it’s going to be hard work.
Your MRI means nothing
Okay, well maybe not nothing. But it is not the only reason you are in pain daily unless your injury just happened. Studies have been done where the healthy population (people with no pain or apparent injuries) got MRIs. The large majority of them had something that “should” have caused them pain. Bulging disks, torn labrums, torn tendons and ligaments. You name it, they had it! But they had ZERO pain. ZILCH. So if there are people walking around with the same injury as you with no pain then you should also have hope that your pain does not have to be fixed through surgery and that just because you have “X” diagnosis doesn’t mean you can’t be completely functional.
One of my clients doesn’t have an attached teres major (one of the major supporting muscles of the shoulder). You can actually psychically see it rolled up. However, he competes in CrossFit and has zero pain from it.
Now, nobody out there truly understands all that is behind pain. The best psychologists and pain doctors in the world will say the same thing. There is still so much unknown. However, there are a few things that we do know:
Pain is a signal your body uses to tell you to stop doing something. I.E. your knee hurting when your squatting is intentional because your brain wants you to stop squatting!
If your brain perceives a movement as “safe” it will not be painful
With these two things in mind, we know how important it is to listen to your body & to be strong. Specifically strong, that is.
I’m not talking 500lbs back squat strong. I’m talking about balanced strength on either side of a joint that creates stability and a feeling of safety. Strength = stability = safe. Of course it’s a little more complex than that. You have to know what exactly needs to get stronger (which is why we have a full strength balance assessment) and how to approach strengthening it.
Let me give you a very specific example using the shoulder.
Person X gets pain when going overhead and has a partially torn supraspinatus (one of 4 rotator cuff muscles). Two things need to happen:
This person needs to get each supporting muscle of the shoulder stronger to make up for lack of stability from the supraspinatus.
This person also needs to get their brain to understand pressing overhead is safe (when it truly is).
To address a) we would take X through a strength balance screen and start working on building strength around the shoulder. High pulls, presses, rows, etc. all based around their screen.
To help them build stability and feel safe overhead (addressing b) we might start them with a landmine press @ 45 degrees and overtime progress the angle to make it more overhead until eventually person X can press overhead again. The key here is slow progression to a fully overhead movement.
There is a ton of benefit in getting specifically strong to make up for something that is weak. But we know pain doesn’t end there.
Stress, Diet, Sleep
Probably the most overlooked piece of chronic pain is lifestyle. Stress, Diet, and Sleep play a HUGE role in pain and injury. Managing your stress, eating healthy foods, and sleeping 8 hours will enhance your ability to recover, repair, and manage your pain. On the flip side, a stressful lifestyle with a poor diet, and 5 hours of sleep will only make your pain worse.
These are things that you have the most control over. So control them. It could be the difference between you getting out of pain naturally and going under the knife for surgery.
At the end of the day, there are plenty of unnecessary surgeries going on. There is a lot that a physical therapist or a well educated strength coach can do for you so if you’re looking to avoid surgery, start there. You may as well try getting strong before you try getting sliced open. Getting strong is a lot more fun & a lot less risky.
Still weighing your options? Send us an email @ firstname.lastname@example.org to start a chat!