The pain may never go away.
For somebody in pain, these are words that they may dread to hear. For me, they were possibly the most liberating words I ever heard.
I had chronic pain start in late 2010 that stopped me possibly getting into pro sport. It turned my life upside down. It also couldn't be diagnosed beyond "referred pain". My knee was very painful to extend but the structures showed no damage on scans.
After a year in pain, I went to see some people who helped me get more comfortable. They said I could be pain-free if I trained with them over the longer term so I did.
Fast forward a few years practising the methods that would lead me to this pain-free utopia and I was still not pain-free. It was also being inferred that it was because I wasn't good enough at the work yet which bred a strange kind of anxiety in me.
I should be able to solve this. Why can't I solve this?
Fast forward a few more years of practise, experience and growing up.
I had worked with many people who I had helped out of pain fully or partially. I had worked with a few that I hadn't been able to help despite my very best efforts. I had seen many others who had spent hundreds and thousands of pounds on treatment and on learning to treat using various methods. People didn't always get better.
One of the worst parts is that they think they should. They beat themselves up when they don't get to that pain-free utopia. The gap between their expectations and their current reality haunts them. It is worse than the pain itself.
Many people ask themselves the rhetorical question, "What if the pain never goes?"
Doing this one day, something changed in me. The years of experience made me answer this question that I had avoided answering at the edge of my awareness.
My sporting days were long gone. With that aside, my pain wasn't really impacting my life that much. Sometimes it felt a bit funny if I did a lot of activity and sometimes I felt a bit unsafe on ground where my footing was uncertain. Other than that, my life was pretty good.
I think the day I answered this question and came to accept that what pain I had left may never go, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. It was also the day I realised that mechanics' cars break down sometimes and doctors get sick sometimes. It doesn't make them bad at what they do.
Since I came to these realisations, my life has been better and my comfort has been better.
Fears, anxieties, embarrassment and shame make pain worse. They send impulses to the brain just like physical trauma does and can contribute to bodily pain in the same way.
I think one of the most damaging notions that we can have is that we must be pain-free to be happy and to perform well.
I know people who have severe chronic pain who are happier than people who sprained an ankle last week. I also know that pro athletes are very often carrying a niggle or more and are still crushing it performance wise.
I help people reduce and eradicate pain. Part of that is in helping them stress less about what pain they have.
The fixation on a pain-free Utopian existence is one of the most painful things we can do to ourselves. Focusing on what you can do and what is comfortable is about as close to Utopia as you're going to get...and it's pretty damn good.
Float Sting - Injury Rehab + Athletic Training, Manchester