Monday, February 22, 2016

When Should You Listen to Your Body?

Your poor body has a complicated network of communication called your nervous system.... Unfortunately,  it only has one way to communicate a message to you:  PAIN!
Cheryl, my wife the runner, has been dealing with an injury for the past several months.  It happened at a race and the initial signs were faint.   However,  as she attempted to return to her normal running schedule,  she immediately got a slightly firmer message that things were not as they should be.

This brings up the question: When should you listen to your body?   As  children we are told by parents and teachers to "Stop crying!  You're not even hurt!"   When you obviously are!   Your skinned knee or bruised elbow tells another tale.   And there is no denying the pain message your body is sending to your brain.   A message  you can understand loud and clear as a child.

As teenagers who are into sports and other physical activities,  you quickly learn it is not "cool" to bawl your head off over ever bump, scrape or bruise.   Your coaches reaffirm the earlier message that "Pain is Weakness Leaving the Body!"   In many ways, this is helpful in pushing through the pain of physical exertion to reach a level of conditioning that helps you attain a goal.  Young adults tend to give up too quickly the moment their muscles ache or their breathing hurts.   They need to be shown that the pain of training is worth the price of victory.

But then we all eventually become adults.   By this time,  either we get the message to push ourselves to achieve greatness,  or we simply refuse to try.   We have learned that, in many cases,  the physical pain is not always worth the price of victory.   However,  there are still those seeds that were planted deep in our psyche when we were children.   The message to ignore pain.

So adult runners,  conditioned to "push through the pain" are at risk for causing themselves injury.   An injury that may affect their performance in the bigger picture of things.  Muscles ache and joints groan over the course of any run.  How is a runner supposed to distinguish between the "normal training pain" and the "I think something is seriously ****-ed up! Pain?"  

As with everything,  I would guess training is key.   Training inflicts a certain level of pain that allows you to overcome and recover over time.   As you gain experience and conditioning,  the physical pain is able to be endured longer and over greater distances.   Sometimes runs that used to cause you great distress no longer even register on your body's pain threshold.

Education helps as well.  Reading up on various injuries and how they can be prevented can prove invaluable.  It also helps to hear that injuries can happen to anyone, even pros, at any given time.  And, in most cases,  the cure for these injuries is simply to not run.    Allowing your body to naturally recover is the best way to heal the injury and get back out there.

Lastly:   Experience!    Newbie runners may push themselves too far, too fast.   They might lack the experience to know the difference between normal training pain and "something is messed up" pain.   To them,  all runs probably feel like "I'm about to die!" pain.   As you run longer miles,  inevitably you will learn to distinguish between the two.  And, if you are lucky, you may forever avoid any serious or reoccurring injury from ever happening.

This all sounds good on paper,   but how is it in practice?   My only case study is limited to my observations of my wife.   Oh, sure I have a little bit of Army PT runs to bring in,  but watching how my wife handles her injury is quite telling.   I would describe her as a "Go Getter!"    one who focuses on what she wants and achieves it.   With her new found passion for running, her attitude has allowed her to make great strides in a short amount of time.  In less than one year after her first 1.5 mile run,  she was able to qualify for the Boston Marathon on her second Marathon attempt!   Not bad for a newbie....  However,   with every attempt at a new PR ( personal record) she ran the risk of hurting herself...And eventually, her luck ran out.

So now she has been in recovery mode for the past three months.   Unfortunately,  she wants to run and often attempts to run before fully recovered.   She listens to her body, ( Hey!   I still feel some pain there...) and decides to ignore it.   But then her body tells her, in a not so friendly voice, ( See!  I Told You!)  that she is going to have to go back to the recovery room for an additional two weeks.  It's a frustrating cycle that I , unfortunately, can't help with much.   Like her body, I offer support and reassurance that she can take longer to recover properly....but, like her body,  I am often ignored.

So how do you undo all that deep seeded pain repression to know when your body is actually broke?   Who knows?    Doctors have probably been laboring over this question for centuries.  It is really up to the runner to change their understanding of the pain and the messages that are being sent.  As for the spouses and supporters of these injured runners,  all we can do is reaffirm the doctors orders and hope that they will not injure themselves further.  Bear in mind that the loudest you can possibly scream is probably nothing compared to the volume levels their bodies are sending.

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