Anyone who has sustained an injury will know that it is not just the physicality of it that affects you. The worry associated with what is exactly going on with your injury and how long it will take to recover is there, along with the frustration over not being able to do what you would normally do and the potential anxiety around work and the ability to provide an income for your family.
In Physiotherapy, we commonly use the Biopsychosocial Model when considering pain, especially chronic pain. Let’s have a look at what that is and how it may help you to understand your pain:
Bio – this concerns the pathology of the injury (muscle strain/ ligament damage etc)
Psycho – this concerns our thoughts, emotions and behaviours towards the pain (fear/avoidance/beliefs/coping mechanisms)
Social – this concerns issues such as how it may affect our work, family circumstances and financial situation.
When considering injuries, it is important we look at all 3 of these aspects in order for us to aid with recovery and promote health and wellbeing of the person rather than looking purely at the pathology (the “Bio” part).
Depending on our life experiences and what we value as individuals, the way we respond emotionally towards our injuries varies massively. No two people and no two injuries are the same, but here are some common themes we see in clinic:
- Fear of pain and potential ‘damage’ that may be caused through movement, leading to a withdrawal in many activities, sometimes including work. This in turn can lead to muscles and joints becoming tighter and weaker, leading to more pain and can become a vicious cycle lasting far longer than the actual physicality of the injury.
- People may have to take time out of their chosen sport or hobby due to injury. This can lead to resentment and frustration and therefore a reluctance to engage in rehab. We see clients returning to sport perhaps more quickly than we would like due to this and this can then prolong recovery or thwart it altogether meaning the person is experiencing pain for a longer period of time and the injury becomes harder to resolve.
- Depending on a person’s social situation, an injury can become an enormous source of stress and pressure on their lives. If pain is preventing them to work, this can have a strain on their relationships and anxiety around being able to pay for bills and their housing.
Being aware of how pain may affect you is the first step to managing it well. Other recommendation from the NHS include:
- Staying at work
- Pain relief
Now these may all look unachievable when you are injured and experiencing pain, however, let’s take a look at them individually to see how you can incorporate them into your day in order to promote recovery.
There is a wealth of evidence to show us that moving our bodies is beneficial to our overall health. Activities such as walking, swimming, Pilates and gardening can be a way of doing this. Be mindful when you do exercise though, as we want to start off slowly and build up the amount and the intensity we do.
Try to avoid doing extra on a day when you’re feeling good, as you may then be in increased pain for a few days following that. We want to avoid this ‘boom and bust’ behaviour and instead aim for a small amount consistently.
Find something that you ENJOY doing and try adding it in to your day!
Chances are, if you are injured and in pain, that work is difficult for you to engage in; whether that be due to the nature of your work being physically demanding or the pain making it difficult for you to concentrate on anything else.
Research has shown people who withdraw from work due to pain become less active and more depressed. It is worth speaking to your employer to see if any changes can be made in the workplace to make things easier for you; perhaps more flexible working hours or an assessment of your workstation from occupational health to help you be more comfortable at work.
Physiotherapy is frequently a first port of call for those with an injury and is often recommended by pain specialists for persistent pain. Manual therapy can be helpful in the initial stages, but specifically tailored exercises and advice on coping mechanisms regarding returning to activity is where they become invaluable.
4. Pain Relief
We often find people are reluctant to use pain relief as they don’t want to ‘mask’ their pain. However, using appropriate pain relief can enable you to be able to function at a level where you can engage in work and exercise rather than you having to withdraw completely. That way you are getting social stimulation and reaping the benefits associated with exercise, including increased strength and improved emotional wellness.
When using pain relief, it is important to remember what we have mentioned previously; pacing yourself and avoiding boom and bust behaviour is crucial. It is very easy, when your pain levels are reduced, to do more than your body is used to!
So as you can see, injuries and pain are far more complex than just the mechanical aspect, there is far more that contributes to it and to your recovery. If any of this resonates with you, the first thing I want you to do is cut yourself some slack. Being injured is tough, however hopefully by accessing the advice above you’ll be able to come through the other side quicker and happier!