Monday, June 18, 2007

Pain: Is It A Real Problem?

I could have easily named this post: The deception of pain.

There is no doubt that pain hurts. That’s why we call it pain. But pain itself can be deceiving. Why? Because pain is normal. Yes, I said pain is normal. How can that be you ask? Simple. Pain is a normal function of your body that indicates when something is wrong.

Pain itself isn’t a problem. Don’t get me wrong, pain sucks. Pain can cause you to “have problems” but pain itself simply just hurts. From the most devastating pain to the most mild. The pain can be so severe that it prevents you from being able to perform the most basic daily activities, or so mild that it goes away when you occupy your mind with another though.

Pain, however, is an indicator. Pain is a sign and should be thought of more like an alarm rather than anything else.

I like to use the analogy of a smoke detector. It’s not a fire detector, it’s a smoke detector and as the saying goes, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. So one night you are awakened by the smoke detector shrieking it’s annoyingly and purposefully loud whine waking you and your family up. At that point, you have 2 choices

[1]Get up, pull the batteries out of the alarm and go back to sleep.
[2]Get up, get your family out of the house and call the fire department on your way out.

Which one sounds like the more rational and responsible thing to do? Which one makes more sense. Which one is common sense and which one is just plain stupid?

I won’t even glorify that with an answer. I know which one you’d choose.

Now think of it in the context of pain.

You wake up due to a terribly severe pain in your lower back. You stumble out of bed and you reach for the aspirin (salicylic acid), Advil (ibuprofen), Tylenol (Acetaminophen) or Aleve (Naproxen Sulfate)….You take the recommended dose on the bottle and attempt to get back to sleep. You eventually get back to sleep and you wake up the next morning, problem averted. Right?


I would ask you why did you have this tremendous pain that woke you up in the middle of the night? The first things that come to my mind are (1) Cancer (2) Kidney Stones (3) Abdominal Aortic Aneurism (4) Herniated Disc…and there are more.

· Why? Because all 4 can cause you to experience low back pain.

Most likely, it's a simple mechanical lower back pain. But, you never know do you?

Now you go ahead and take that aspirin, or Aleve, or Tylenol, or Advil, or Motrin or whatever. Maybe you don’t even take one of those. Maybe you rub on one of those muscle pain relieving creams into your back to get rid of your aches and pains.

Think they are benign? Think they are harmless? Read this article about a girl who died using a simple muscle cream. Why did she use so much? Why did she use it so often? What else was going on? Why did she have the pains in the first place? This young athlete could have gone so far had she not ignored the signal from her body telling her she needs to go get checked.

So, what are the muscle rubs, the aspirin or the “whatever” doing? They are covering up the pain so you aren’t inconvenienced.

The one you maybe inconveniencing maybe yourself. What it your little ache or pain was indicating an important condition in its early stage. Everytime it alerts you, you ignore it with some OTC (over the counter) pain killer. Eventually, the problem spreads and by the time you realize it's serious, it may be too late for your doctor to help you. Still think it's convenient?

Once I can understand, maybe even twice. But after that, you better get in to see a health care professional and find out why…WHY are you having pain?

The reason could be simple and insignificant. The reason could be complex or very serious. But see pain for what it is: an alarm system that is trying to tell you that you may have a problem. Pain is an alarm, not a condition. Treat it as such.

Or, you can simply pull the batteries out of the alarm and go back to sleep. So just take that pain killer or rub on that cream so you can ignore your alarm.

But didn’t you already say to yourself that that was the stupid decision?

And how is this important to you athletes out there? Well, if your feeling pain, it means somethings not working the way it should. Regardless if you take something to cover up the pain, somethings just not 100%....and for you, it could make that 1/10 of a second difference between the silver or gold medal. So stop the muscle rubs, stop the OTC pain meds and go get checked. It could be the difference between winning or losing or simply between life and death.


Dr. Narson is a 2-term past president of the Florida Chiropractic Association’s Council on Sports Injuries, Physical Fitness & Rehabilitation and was honored as the recipient of the coveted Chiropractic Sports Physician of the Year Award in 1999-2000. He practices in Miami Beach, Florida at the Miami Beach Family & Sports Chiropractic Center; A Facility for Natural Sports Medicine.

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