Understanding Your Pain


There are times when nothing seems to bother us. We can walk 10 miles through the city of Chicago or we can pick up a ton of branches after a big thunderstorm. But then there are also times when we seem to struggle to get over pain or minor things cause pain that doesn’t ordinarily. That could be doing laundry or a runner that runs 5 miles per day with zero problems then one day both end up with terrible low back pain. There are a million reasons something like this can happen. It could be a fluke and the body did simply just break down.  It could be an overuse injury that finally found the straw the broke the figurative camel’s back. But there are less obvious reasons for instances like these as well. 

Think of your body’s ability to deal with stress/pain as a coffee cup. There’s a finite amount of capacity that a cup has. It’s similar to the body’s capacity to deal with stressors. The body only has so much capacity to deal with stressors and when that capacity is exceeded is when we feel pain. Normally we have plenty of capacity in that cup. Everyday life is like a shot of espresso and a sugar cube. The sugar cube could be you going up the stairs and the shot of espresso is your daily stress at a liked job. The two put in the cup together take up some room, but you can handle a lot more. Those are the times you can walk all over Chicago and not feel anything.

Now, there’s a time when you get to that top step and slip on a banana peel and fall all the way down the stairs. That alone is a big enough stressor that it overfills the cup’s capacity. Or you have recently lost your best friend unexpectedly, that too on its own obviously overflows and you feel a lot of pain. 

Those times all make sense and we understand why we are feeling pain. Where it catches us off-guard is when there are multiple stressors going into the cup, nothing that seems overwhelming individually.

You really find your job stressful and your co-worker is regularly offensive. That fills up half the cup. Your marriage isn’t going well, or your child has been ill as well. That adds even more to the cup, but you’re keeping it together. You also work out vigorously; running 8 miles a day. Now, the cup is full, but not yet overflowing. You don’t realize it but you are teetering on the edge. Then you miss a stepdown on your nightly run. Something you have done numerous times before with no lasting results. But this time you are agonizing in low back pain and it won’t go away. You don’t understand why. Your capacity to deal with a stressor was already full. Adding even a little thing such as missing a step was plenty to cause your cup to overflow. 

If the other stressors in your life are never addressed it can make it hard to get over even the simplest of injuries. For this reason, every new patient is asked to fill out a questionnaire asking about family, social, and work stress. It cues us into if we need to look outside of the physical injury to treat the patient. If you can’t figure your pain out, please schedule with us.