How to measure your progress with pain.

So you want to get out of pain, right? Maybe it has been lingering around longer than you’d expect, or maybe you’ve lived with it for years.

You’ve tried some exercises you were given but they didn’t make much difference. You’ve tried resting, which seemed to help but the pain returned quickly once you got active again. Maybe you’ve even bounced around several therapists and finally come to the conclusion that nobody can “fix” what you have. 

I’m pretty sure that if you’re nodding your head to any of this you’ll be making one tiny mistake that millions of people make these days. 

You’re mixing up Goals and Measures.

It’s time to take better measurements

When we set outcome goals, like resolving a particular pain, we have to remember that an Outcome Goal is the end result of the work we do. In fact, this “outcome” should be an inevitable result of the work that we do to achieve it. 

When we measure our progress along the road to recovery, we have to be careful that we don’t measure it against whether or not the particular pain is resolving. This sounds counter intuitive, right, but it actually makes great sense. You see, it’s all about psychology and interestingly, so is pain.

Let’s use the example of Weight Loss as a way to illustrate the psychology here. 

A person wants to lose weight and knows that being overweight is a clear sign of health choices that they’ve made. So they decide to eat whole foods in a calorie controlled manner and get good exercise. 

They are told to measure their weight at least once per week on the scales to see progress (or better yet take before and after photos to help the Trainer with their marketing… um, I mean, to help see progress!). 

Initially they see the numbers falling but a few weeks in they plateau. “This never works for me” they say to themselves. “I never lose more weight than this. I must have that Fat Gene everyone talks about”.

It’s at this point that psychology really kicks in.

Subconsciously they do the “Effort vs Reward” maths and quickly realise it isn’t going in their favour. Hours of sweat and feeling eternally hungry yet they’ve managed to gain a pound this week. So they quit, or worse still, beat themselves up mentally for not being good enough.

A common story right? Everyone around this person could see that they were becoming more healthy, despite the weight plateau. And we all know that if you stick to a lifestyle of exercise and whole foods and don’t over eat, that it is absolutely inevitable that you’ll also lose weight in the long run. 

8 week Abs syndrome

What we have here is what I call the 8 week abs syndrome. It’s the expectation that comes from years of being marketed to. We’re all learning that results should be achieved in record time. So all focus is then placed solely on the end goal and all the milestones along the way are directly associated to that goal.

The pain therapy industry is just as guilty as the fitness industry on this one. Claims of “Fast fixes” are everywhere. But for those that struggle with resolving pain, none of these fast fixes seem to help them. All they’ve done is teach them to focus on the wrong things.

Regaining focus

When measuring progress (notice I’m not using the word success), you should focus on improvements in activity. 

A great physio called Tom Goom, says “At the end of each day, write down 3 things you did well today and 1 that you’d like to improve on”.

Notice how he didn’t say “write down if your pain is any better or worse today”. Can you see how you are being encouraged to move your focus from measuring the ‘Problem’ to measuring any other improvement you’re making? 

In the clinic I ask clients to explore activities they had stopped doing. We gradually introduce more activities of greater and greater challenge until you are doing all the things they had stopped due to pain. At no point do we really want to focus our attention on the pain along this path, as much as we may want to. 

The idea is to regain focus on positive aspects of your life and leave the resolution of pain to the inevitability that it surely can be.

If you want to learn more or book in to see how we can help at Muscle Therapies, please call or book an appointment here.

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