I got home and started thinking about what he said, and of course went on the internet. I found myself on websites that talked about something called “pain science”. I didn’t grasp this concept, but I was intrigued. I saw him again for another appointment, and we talked more about pain science. He explained that he DID believe that I was having pain, but my clinical symptoms weren’t consistent with a herniated disc. He used some different analogies that made more sense to me, and went into more detail about this “alarm” going off. I still was having a hard time with the concept that this pain wasn’t necessarily coming from the area I was feeling it, but I was determined to find a way to understand this.
It was time to move on to getting me out of trouble yet again. This PT was standing there by the ditch, but he wasn’t going to pull me out this time. He was going to throw me a rope, and make ME pull MYSELF out! He gave me a “reality check” and said I needed to get my fear and anxiety under control if I wanted to change what was happening. He gave me more information on pain science, as well as reputable websites and professionals who had written about it. I read some very good books on the subject, and realized that I was the person in the books……..and the light bulb turned on!
My pain was definitely real, but was being magnified by my brain “thinking” I was in danger, and not from an acute injury. My prior injury had “sensitized” my neurological system, and pushing myself too far with exercise alerted my brain that I may be in danger, thus setting off this alarm. This was why my pain was so inconsistent and would wax and wane depending on what I was doing, or my emotions (and also why no weakness was present). Sometimes the brain can be a little too protective and respond with pain even if there is not an actual injury, this is because it remembers the previous injury. (Pain science is a whole other blog post!)
Grasping the pain science concept and knowing that I didn’t have an acute injury reduced my symptoms significantly, but there was still work to do. My neurological system had gone haywire, and it would take some trial and error to reset it. I did the exercises and stretches, got my anxiety under control, and the PT did some manual therapy. Before I knew it, I had pulled myself out of the ditch and turned the alarm off. It would still take a little time until I got the hang of this “alarm” in my brain. My neurological system was really sensitive now, and I had to be careful not to flip the switch. I tried going back to my fitness routine, but every time I did, it would trip the alarm and the symptoms would return. I finally realized I needed start over and do what the PT said and what I had read in the pain science books…….“graded exposure”. I needed to start out very slow, take small steps, and work my way back up. This drove me crazy, because I had no patience and wanted to be back to the level of fitness I was at prior to the setback. It took an entire year, and there were bumps along the way, but I finally got there!
Staying On Track
It took me almost two years to fully appreciate the value of physical therapy and how it improved the quality of my life. There are so many lessons learned, that I have lost count! This experience forced me to develop patience, which I definitely needed. I learned to understand my body, how it works, and that I need to listen to it when it is trying to tell me something. I learned that doing things the right way might take longer, but I will get a better end result. I learned that anxiety and emotions can have a big impact on me physically. I learned that I need to participate in my own healthcare, and what I want in a healthcare provider. I learned that physical therapy is an excellent choice as a first-line treatment for pain and movement problems, and it will ALWAYS be the first place I go before considering other interventions.