One of the most significant lessons I learned on my path toward overcoming chronic pain was making the distinction between discomfort and pain. Quite often, discomfort precedes and might even be necessary to improve soft tissue conditions. This is something I really wish I had understood and embraced early in the development of my chronic pain disorder. At the age of 30, a muscle tear cascaded into a chronic myofascial (muscle and connective tissue) pain disorder that kept me from living the active life I wanted for the next 13 years. Through trial-and-error I eventually uncovered the keys to effectively treating and managing this frustrating condition. A big part of it was identifying the right health professionals – those with a holistic, problem-solving mindset; engaging these experts in order to fully understand the best approaches to improve my condition; and putting in a lot of effort to wholeheartedly implement their recommendations.
Once you have identified a health professional who really seems to understand your musculoskeletal condition (problems related to muscles, connective tissues, bones and joints), be sure to pay attention to the exercises and treatments they recommend. Ask many questions about how these approaches can improve your condition. It’s important to understand this, because there is a good chance that the prescribed exercises and/or treatments could be uncomfortable for you – at least in the beginning. Belief that you are doing the right thing is critical to persevering through the discomfort.
Looking back, there were several occasions in my 13-year struggle, when I was prescribed exercises that were difficult and uncomfortable. I suppose it was my misguided self-preservation instinct that led me to discontinue these exercises soon after I started them. After all, I thought to myself, if the exercises were too difficult and uncomfortable, then they were probably bad for me, right? How I wish the many physiotherapists I saw had thoroughly explained the importance of persevering with the strengthening exercises. The bottom line is: if it’s difficult and uncomfortable, it’s a sign that you have a weakness, and the only way to “fix” it is to continue doing the difficult and uncomfortable exercise until it is no longer so difficult!
It was 13 years after beginning my search for the “magic cure” to my chronic pain disorder that I met Jillian Halligan, a Certified Exercise Physiologist. Her detailed explanations regarding the importance of each exercise she was prescribing gave me the courage and determination to stick with her program, despite some discomfort and setbacks. As the difficulty of the exercises increased, I was tempted several times to revert back to my self-preservation mode and avoid those particularly difficult and uncomfortable moves. I needed Jillian to reinforce the importance of these moves, as their difficulty was revealing a weakness in the muscle groups being worked. I have to admit, I was disappointed on a number of occasions when I couldn’t justify quitting those difficult and uncomfortable exercises! But in the end, I am so happy I followed Jillian’s guidance and persevered. Not only did the exercises lead me to develop the strength to complete an IRONMAN triathlon without injury, they also served as an important life lesson: the most rewarding results in life are associated with overcoming a challenge or struggle.
As long as you’re working with a competent professional with expertise related to your musculoskeletal condition, don’t abandon recommended exercises or treatments too soon, simply because they are difficult and/or uncomfortable. These might actually be your ticket to long-term recovery. Magic cures are rare. Effort and perseverance are more likely the answer – both in finding the right health professional(s) and in implementing their recommendations.
Carole Staveley is President of Inner Victory Coaching, an organization she founded to empower others to reach their full potential by overcoming the barriers holding them back. After suffering 13 years of debilitation caused by a chronic myofascial pain condition, Carole realized there was no “magic bullet” coming to her rescue. She took charge of solving her health problems, became her own Health Champion, and went on to complete an IRONMAN triathlon in 2013.
Carole’s 20-year career as a pharmaceutical executive, combined with her personal health journey, put her in a unique position to develop her Inner VictoryTM 9-Step Approach to Becoming Your Own Health Champion. Her most recent book, Conquer Your Pain in 9 Steps (Influence Publishing), empowers readers to develop a self- advocacy mindset, guides them through effectively leveraging health resources, and inspires them to persevere in order to reap the rewards of a healthier and more fulfilling life. Inner Victory Coaching offers Health Champion workshops, seminars and coaching programs to corporations and individuals.
Conquer Your Pain in 9 Steps will be released May 1, 2015, and is available to order on Amazon.