Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians

Demystifying Pain

I've been listening to a few excellent interviews of doctors, homeopaths, movement specialists, and the one thing they all agreed upon was that we have to change how we think of and treat pain.

When an ache or a pain shows up in the body, usually the first thing we think is "Oh no!  I've got to take some advil/tylenol/etc."  Yet, we don't always ask the question, "why do I hurt and what can I change in my movement pattern/habits/daily life that will change this pain?"  Here's the difference:

Which came first, the pain or the pattern?

Which came first, the pain or the pattern?

When we just treat local pain and discomfort without a (w)holistic view of a person, the pain will inevitably come back.  But if one treats the local pain and looks at the whole person, the movement pattern can change and the pain, tightness, or misuse will end.  

Here's an example:

If you take NSAID's and rest as a cure for tendonitis, but don't change anything about your movement patterns, setup, warmups, repertoire, or the quantity of playing you engage in on a daily basis, your tendonitis will likely come back.  In addition, does it mean that your issue is strictly related to your instrument?  No, it could be dysfunction in your shoulders, back, etc that is then triggering a misuse of the tendons.  

Another:

You get a massage for your upper back and shoulders and feel great...for a few hours.  All of your tension patterns come back as soon as you start playing, moving, etc.

Asclepius, greek god of medicine, demonstrating a not-ideal movement pattern for long term spine health...the slouch!

Asclepius, greek god of medicine, demonstrating a not-ideal movement pattern for long term spine health...the slouch!

Sometimes overuse injuries are related to things outside of music, such as typing (!), sitting (!), driving, how one carries one's bag or case, and so on.  Evaluating those movement patterns can set you up for long term health, even if you don't have pain.  

Think of pain not only as a local event, but as a sign from your body that something you are doing is not working as well as it could.  Your ankles and knees hurt after wearing crazy shoes?  Your calves hurt after running on pavement?  Your shoulder hurts after carrying a 12 pound purse everywhere?You DO want to treat that local discomfort, but also ask the question about the long term use of your body.  Rather than numbing out pain, use pain as a warning sign that you need to take better care of yourself.  Eat better, sleep better, check in on your technique, your habits, etc.  

 We set very high expectations of our medical professionals, and assume (in 15-20 mins of exam time) they will treat all of our issues.  Yet, medicine "is the field of applied science related to the art of healing by diagnosistreatment, and prevention of disease."   So a movement induced problem would not solely be treated by medicine, but by corrective movement, bodywork, and in investigation of the body!  Does that mean we don't need doctors?  No!  We need disease treatment, serious injury treatment, accident care, etc, but we have a certain amount of responsibility for our own bodies and what we do with them.  Here's a quote from Katy Bowman that sums it up: "Medicine is a way to change the body without examining the behaviors that caused the issue in the first place."  

So start thinking about your movement patterns, folks!

(Thanks to all the fabulous interviews from Katy Bowman, Jonathan FitzGordon, and Eric Goodman, which inspired this post!)