Paying Attention to Pain
Paying Attention to Pain
By: Joe Hannan
I fell off of my partner’s back instead of rolling. The drop seoi nage didn’t proceed as planned, with my 175 pounds falling at the rate of gravity and my shoulder absorbing the impact. I could feel the ball-and-socket joint were my bicep plugs into my shoulder slide inward and under my collar bone, taking the ligaments in a direction that they aren’t inclined to travel. I knew right away that I was out of commission. What came later would take a few days to accept.
To admit it feels a lot like getting dumped. I typically go through all five stages of grief when this happens. Right now I’m bouncing between bargaining and depression. I usually skip over anger and go straight to depression, turning my anger inward where it’s more readily accepted.
We talk about being hurt a lot in jiu jitsu. We don’t talk much about the recovery process. For most of us, myself included, recovery usually looks like swallowing as much ibuprofen as our stomachs can suffer and returning to the mat as soon as the pain siren quiets to a whisper.
This isn’t new territory. To be hurt is a normal state in jiu jitsu. Almost all of us are always somewhere on the continuum between hurt and injured. I define injured as being debilitated. To train at this point would only exacerbate the situation. There is no working around the injury. There is just the injury.
So here I sit. Me and my injury. On a Sunday morning when I should be in the post roll and kickboxing endorphin haze, I’m doing pilates and wondering if amputation would be preferable.
After the fall, I paced around the back of the mat, trying to maintain some range of motion in my shoulder while inflammation had its way. I decided that this injury would be different.
We talk about being hurt a lot in jiu jitsu. We don’t talk much about the recovery process. For most of us, myself included, recovery usually looks like swallowing as much ibuprofen as our stomachs can suffer and returning to the mat as soon as the pain siren quiets to a whisper. We are, in effect, distancing ourselves from the injury and pain. Shoving pain away. Telling it to keep quiet. I considered these things and began to wonder, what if I did the opposite?
What if I really listened to pain, really let it have its way, really let it steer the direction of the recovery? There was once a time in human history when what happened below the surface of the skin was as mysterious as what happened over the horizon. What did primitive man have to act (or not act) on except pain? Somehow, they managed to survive, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. How?
I like the chiropractic philosophical concept of innate intelligence. Innate intelligence holds that the body — for the most part — has what it needs to be healthy or to regain health. We simply need to get out of the body’s way, to pay attention to what it’s telling us, and to heed its advice. Silencing the pain mechanism short circuits one of the body’s feedback mechanisms. When we ignore pain or chemically silence it, the underlying injury remains, we just don’t feel the ensuing damage when we return to activity too soon.
So, this time around, I’m listening to what pain has to tell me. At the moment, it’s telling me to lay low, to pay attention, and to give my body the chance to heal itself. It has also told me to share its simple message with you: Listen.