Last year I had the pleasure of meeting Karen Litzy, MSPT host of the radio show Healthy, Wealthy & Smart. She has generously offered to answer some questions here each month. If you missed the first two Q & A’s check out these posts:
Today we’re discussing when to stop ignoring pain and when it’s time to see a doctor.
Let’s start with the definition of pain:
Pain is 100% of the time an output of the brain. If the brain perceives that there is a threat (ie damage or potential damage to tissues) then it will send a pain signal out to the body. It actually involves several systems in your body acting together to cause the pain experience.
Pain is NORMAL in acute situations. It serves as the body’s alarm system to protect the injured tissues.
Think about if you ever sprained your ankle. It really hurts!!! But, you would never think to run on that sprained ankle, possibly causing more injury to an already injured area. That is your brains way of protecting you. Then after about 4-6 weeks or so the tissues heal, the pain starts to resolve and you can run again!
The brain no longer sees this area as a threat and therefore the pain is gone! When that pain becomes chronic it is a whole different ball game.
Chronic pain is defined as pain that is hanging around even though the damaged tissues have physiologically healed (usually after about 3 months). This is a VERY simple explanation of pain. For more information on pain pick up the book Explain Pain by David Butler and Lorimer Moseley.
Everyone’s pain experience is totally individual…just like you. Pain is not black or white…but I feel like there are many shades of grey (and I am not talking about the book!). That’s why this post was so difficult to write. But I think there are instances where pain should not be ignored or pushed through regardless if the pain is acute or chronic.
Five Signs It’s Time to See a Doctor
#1) If the pain is a result of a traumatic event (think a fall or accident) where there is a medium or large amount of swelling and lots of bruising. There could be something very serious happening there like torn tissues or broken bones.
#2) If your pain is coupled with with numbness, tingling, or a feeling of weakness in the muscles.
#3) If you are experiencing chronic pain (pain lasting longer than 3 months)… go to the MD and ask for a referral to a physical therapist.
#4) If you can not find a single position that relives your pain.
#5) If your pain is associated with bowel or bladder dysfunction…get to the MD ASAP!
Getting to the doctor is the first step and the most important step you can take!! The doctor will take it from there and give you the appropriate referral if necessary. Do not ignore what your body is telling you…more often than not your body is right!