A few weeks ago I woke up in enough pain that it challenged one of my longest and deepest held beliefs about healing, chiropractic and how my body works. I had recently started rock climbing. I was using my upper body and working harder than I had ever worked before. My shoulder was throbbing. There were stabbing sensations in my neck. My hand was tingling.
I was reminded of this pain because I’m putting the finishing touches on the first Foundational Care educational module. In it I talk about how outdated the Injury Model of pain is. Research has been showing for the past 15 years that there actually isn’t much correlation between injury and pain. As I said in my last article, there is no connection between MRI findings and pain. Torn bursa, herniated discs, strained ligaments—we may see those things on an MRI or an XRay. But they are not predictive of pain.
The research goes farther than that. It actually shows that falling, lifting heavy things, poor ergonomics, and pulling yourself up a climbing wall with your arms rather than using your legs, isn’t actually correlated with pain. In study after study, researchers are admitting that they can’t find a connection between who gets injured and who has pain. The injury model of pain is outdated.
But when I woke up that Saturday morning, none of that seemed relevant to my pain, to my injury. It was really hard to believe anything other than that I had injured myself and that I might have a long recovery road ahead. I had flashes of all the patients I’ve had who had shoulder pain that took months, or years, to resolve.
My arm was weak that it felt like it was attached to my shoulder only by a thin, painful thread. By the afternoon I was walking down the street with my hand hooked over my shoulder, because the weight of my arm was too much to bear. The movement required to try on clothes was so painful I was almost in tears in a dressing room.
It was when I started thinking I needed an MRI that I knew I needed to snap out of this. Yes, I was in pain. Yes, my body was processing through a lot and trying to get my attention in some deep and intense ways. But I have organized my life around the knowledge that the intensity of pain is not suggestive of how long it will last. And injuries are not correlated to pain.
I forced myself to come back to what I know is true—which is that pain is caused by a myriad of factors, mostly related to nerve communication. By body was trying to get my attention. My body was trying to learn more about my shoulder. Maybe my body wanted me to just lie in bed and be still and quiet for an afternoon. Maybe it needed a break and this was the way it was going to get it.
I didn’t know exactly why I was in pain, but I didn’t need to. I just needed to listen. And know that I was not permanently wounded.
I spent the rest of the day with my shoulder propped up with pillows on my couch. It needed that support to ease the pain. By the next day it was a lot better. Will adjusted me and the mild pain resolved completely.
I haven’t had any pain in my shoulder since then. I went from a day of excruciating pins and needles, weakness and motion causing shooting pain, to full motion and no pain in the course of two days.
Even at my age.
Even with this injury.
It is so easy to believe that healing isn’t possible. Or that it’s going to be a really long road. Or that you need MRIs and diagnoses to address the problem. I’ve been deeply immersed in alternative health for over 10 years and I still fell into that thinking when the pain started. So I get it. And I’m encouraging you strongly—to stand up to those voices. To know that you can heal.
If you want to learn more about how outdated the Injury Model is. Or what research is telling us about what really causes pain and what to do about it, sign up for Foundational or Transformational Care! I’m releasing the first educational module soon and it is devoted to this topic.