What to do When Your Pain Flares Up
When dealing with chronic pain or a chronic injury, many often live or move in fear of having a flare-up or recurrence of their pain.
People change the way they move, sometimes to their detriment.
Gripping muscles around their trunk - back and abdominal muscles.
This can result in feeling like all your muscles are tight and you constantly feel the need to stretch!
I’ve been there. Having dealt with back pain on and off for 10 years, sometimes a small tweak can turn into a full-blown acute episode of muscle spasms and struggling with every little movement. But often times that small tweak can just be that, a small tweak, that subsides as you continue to move about your day.
Not every niggle or tweak will turn into an episode of pain and immobility.
There are key things you can do to prevent these “small tweaks” from snow-balling into acute episodes that leave you flat on your back struggling to walk or get out of a chair.
You can apply these same principles when dealing with neck pain, shoulder pain, knee pain or tendon-related pain.
What’s the first thing you feel when you tweak your back?
Give yourself enough time to ruminate on these emotions, and it’s like feeding a fire - it will grow!
As you feed the fire, you only feed your pain.
Your movement slows, your body stiffens and your pain intensifies. You rest. But the less you move the stiffer you get.
So how do you prevent it from snowballing?
Take a deep breath.
In and out.
Try to soften into the pain if you can. And it may gradually pass.
Try not to ruminate with what could happen. What you should have done to avoid this from happening. What you would have done differently. The ‘ouds’!
If the pain doesn’t pass quickly, keep moving.
Perform light gentle stretches.
Go for a walk.
Avoid starting with any aggressive stretching - this may aggravate things. I would recommend light stretches and walking to keep you mobile and settle your spasms.
And don't go straight to bed or the sofa.
As a Physiotherapist, I often see people who have flare-ups of old injuries. The movement patterns that lead to the eventual “tweak”, subsequent muscle spasms and decreased mobility are usually quite consistent.
Commonly triggers for the episode can be related to stress and anxiety - work, personal, family or all of the above.
Feelings of stress and/or anxiety can impact your breathing pattern, which can change the tension in your resting muscles and as a result the way in which you move.
My tips for preventing flare-ups over the long-term:
Move daily - walking in the morning, lunchtime or evening. If you’re a runner, run!, swimmer, swim! You get the idea! Have a dog? Walking your dog is a great way to move daily and get your step count up!
Strength training. This could be as little as 2-3 days/week, but more if you have the time, and it aligns with your fitness goals. Include whole body movement patterns - squats, lunges, push-ups, pull-ups, etc.
Stretch and mobilise! Some key mobility moves and stretches to keep your body free and limber. You don’t need to systematically stretch every muscle in your body, but can easily perform a few key stretches to get at your stiff/tight areas. Short 10-15 minute daily yoga practices or attending yoga classes 1-2x/week can be a great way to do this.
Meditate. Whether you practice meditation or mindfulness, formally or informally throughout your day, taking care of your mind can help reduce the stress and tension that builds up in your body. There are countless apps for your Phone and courses you can take (e.g. Headspace, Calm, Buddhify, Insight Times, Openground MBSR, Ziva)
Seek help. If you don’t feel you are managing your stress talk to you doctor, see a Psychologist. In NSW you are eligible for Medicare funding for 10 sessions each year. If anything, talk to a friend.
Get assessed. You may have areas of your body that are not moving well or lack strength. Having a Physiotherapist or Exercise Physiologist assess your movement strategies and prescribe the appropriate exercises may be exactly what you need. Through Medicare you may also be eligible for 5 sessions to see a Physiotherapist or Exercise Physiologist each year.