06_Cervical_MRI_scan_R_T1WFSE_G_T2WfrFSE_STIR_BFor well over a year, maybe a year and a half, I’ve been plagued by a steadily worsening, sore shoulder. Some days it bothered me so much that it limited how far I could run, because even just holding up my arm was too much. Even so, I figured I could tough it out until it eventually healed itself.

After nearly a year of ridiculous denial, punctuated occasionally by internet searches that told me I suffered from maladies ranging from stress to cancer, I finally went to the doctor. Four hundred dollars and an MRI later, I learned my shoulder pain actually radiated from a bulging disc in my neck. Good to know.

A spinal cortisone shot and many more dollars later, nothing had changed. I frittered away the calendar days suffering in (relative) silence until I found myself a quarter of the way into a new year and a new, unmet deductible. That seemed as good a time as any to finally pick up the script the doctor had written and make an appointment for physical therapy.

Two months later, I’ve found significant relief. I had started to believe the light at the end of the tunnel was getting pretty bright–until last weekend. I had a regression, and many of my symptoms came back hot-and-heavy.

The thing is, I knew it was my fault. I had gotten sloppy with my posture again. It’s not comfortable to stand/sit up straight all the time. All those neglected muscles get sore from walking around at attention. It’s so much easier to just relax in a slouch. After all, I feel kind of silly carrying myself like a soldier, and it takes so much focus to not slip into old habits. (Excuses, excuses.)

Even so, I knew when I went back to PT this morning that I needed to fess up and ask for a taping treatment.* I really, really, really didn’t want to; it’s not super comfortable to maintain a rigid posture when you’re body’s not used to it, and sometimes it gives me a slightly claustrophobic feeling. Oh, and did I mention that after awhile, it makes my back itchy. No, no, no…please no.

But I did it. I asked to be taped again, because I knew that whatever amount of discomfort I would experience would ultimately lead to the healing of my root problem.

And there’s the metaphor.

Another kind of therapist–the head kind–tried and tried to tell me that years ago, though I shunned her advice. It figures that my stubbornness only led to being presented with the same lesson in a physical manifestation.

Sometimes you have to go through hurt so you can heal.

*My PT uses a technique where he applies tape to a patient in slightly exaggerated, good posture. When the patient starts to slouch or to return to bad form, the tape pulls, giving a physical reminder of the lapse. Essentially, it gently forces the patient to maintain good posture. Different problem areas call for different taping techniques. If you don’t believe me, you can learn more HERE.

Comfort zone

When I run, I have a tendency to constantly assess how I feel. If I don’t otherwise occupy my brain, I will spend the entire time I’m pounding pavement registering each twinge, ache, and burn. How’s my breathing? Is my knee okay? Why does my calf feel stiff? Am I tensing my shoulders? When something hurts, even a little, my willingness to continue plummets.

In general, I think that pain serves as an indicator, a warning signal. Pain means, Stop! Something’s wrong! But what if–WHAT IF–there’s a difference between pain and discomfort?

This idea came to me during my run yesterday morning. The day before, I had done a long run that taxed my body more than I wanted to admit. I had some sore muscles–but no real injuries–as I hit the pavement. Every step seemed arduous, and my calf muscles made themselves known each time they flexed. More than once, I had the thought that I should cut the run short, that I wasn’t up to it.

Thankfully, I started to consider the logic. The route/distance I had planned for the day was a normal one for me; I’ve done it countless times. My muscles were sore, but that was because I had given them a pretty good workout the day before. There was no pain signal to stop, just reminders of my earlier activity. I might have been uncomfortable, but I wasn’t risking injury. If I stuck with it, not only would I feel better about myself afterward, but I would also likely work out much of the lactic acid plaguing my muscles in the first place. Instead of killing me, this run might actually help me. Though it was far from my best ever, I finished it. And I’m glad I did.

I’ve been thinking about the difference between pain and discomfort ever since. True pain should be an indicator to stop what I’m doing in order to avoid injury. Discomfort, however, is usually just a signal that making progress isn’t always easy. To realize success, I plow ahead.

I wonder how many times I’ve confused discomfort for pain. I wonder how many times I’ve given up on a project when I should have muscled through it.