Ask any fibromyalgia patient about the daily thrum of pain that fills our bodies. For most, it can be a low hum, background noise, white noise, but then something happens, or the weather shifts, and the pain moves as well. It starts to scream and yell, to rage against the body and our ability to do things. If don’t have fibromyalgia, but you’ve had an especially strenuous or specific workout (like “leg day”), then you might be familiar with the pain that comes after working specific areas of the body. It’s a “feel good”, “hey, I did something” sort of pain and depending on the activity that caused it, you might even smile.
Now, imagine living with a dull, achy, all over pain, all the time, one that rises and falls according to its own whims, and then add this pain on top of it. Can you tell the difference? Should you be able to tell the difference? And does it matter?
People with chronic pain have a heightened sense of awareness of their own bodies. In fact, many pain treatment protocols try to get the patient to stop focusing on the pain. To some extent, I understand this practice, but to others, I don’t, because by being able to distinguish pain from “usual” causes from something that may be a life-threatening emergency or something that will affect your body’s functioning, might make a big difference in the quality of life.
I think it’s important, and certainly I use this in my work as a yoga instructor, for people to be able to tell the difference between every day pain and “something isn’t right” or “this was worked harder than usual” pain. In the course of a yoga session, a sudden, sharp, stabbing pain is an immediate indicator to stop, rest, ice if possible, and explore what may have happened. Achy muscles after a yoga session, while not my goal, can happen, and is simply the body’s way of saying it has been worked. Those aches should go away after a day or two.
The best way to be able to do this is to know your body on a daily basis. I’m not advocating for focusing on the pain, or zeroing in on it, but simply being aware. A short body scan in the morning and evening, perhaps even one in the middle of the day, will help to clue you into where your usual pain is. In fact, you probably already know. Most of us do. In addition to this body scan, when something new comes up, make note of it. If your instincts tell you what it might be, then note that too. Obviously, if the pain appears to be a medical emergency, please take appropriate actions.
If an official journal isn’t your style, then keeping track in a spreadsheet or a planner is a good way to remember this. Or, keep a sketch book and draw an outline of the human body shading in with what hurts, using different colors.
The importance is by knowing your body, you can begin to differentiate the different types of pain. This helps to alleviate the worry of hurting more when you do yoga or a workout, and it helps you to understand your body better, so you can, in time, learn what your ongoing practice can do for your body (and what it can’t.).