I've talked about injuries in a previous Ideal Body post, but we all know that there are certain pains that we all feel at one point or another that we wouldn't classify as injuries. We all wish our bodies were painless, but alas, it seems to be an impossible dream. I've been interning this summer, learning about the human body, pain, treatment, etc from an alternative healing standpoint. It's all very interesting and complex stuff, but maybe I can simplify it and try to get us all a little closer to that dream.
I'm sure you've left class before and thought "Man, my ____ really hurts. I wonder what I did to make it hurt so bad...." It's a horrible feeling when you can't figure out what you did wrong, because then you're worried that you'll keep making the same mistake and turn this temporary pain into a chronic injury. I'm here to try and help you to decide what the pain is and what to do about it!
In general, there are three major types of pain: aching, burning, and sharp pain. I know, sometimes you'll just think "this HURTS" and you won't know how to tell which of the three it is. Let me try to explain:
- Aching pain: muscle/tendon pain
- How it feels: it's a constant annoyance more than anything. The ache can be throbbing, constant, or you could only feel it when you use the muscle. The area is probably tender when you poke at it.
- Diagnosis: the muscle is overworked, tense, and might have a few microscopic tears in it. Don't worry, it's nothing horrifying in most cases.
- Treatment: hot bath with epsom salt, tennis ball/pinky ball/foam roller work, light massage, heat packs
- Do NOT: use ice packs. Heat will stimulate bloodflow to the area and promote healing, whereas ice will cause the muscle to stiffen, slow healing, and possibly cause more tears.
- Burning pain (or shooting pain): nerve pain
- How it feels: imagine you have metal guitar strings inside you. It feels like someone is pulling one as tight as it will go and shot an electric current down it. If you can't imagine what that would be like, it's like someone took a thin fencing foil, heated it up, and stabbed it into you. The pain is generally not confined in one location, it will start in one and shoot into another. You probably feel the pain only when you're moving.
- Diagnosis: you either have a tense muscle(s) surrounding the nerve that is causing it to fire, or the nerve itself is holding too much tension.
- Treatment: tennis ball/pinky ball/foam roller, deep tissue massage, decompress the joint. The most common nerve pain is sciatica (sciatic nerve - runs from the back of your pelvis all the way down the back of your leg), sometimes caused by your femur being a little too "stuck", or compressed, into the hip socket. Have someone pull your leg down, away from your body to pull the head of the femur a little bit out, or lie with your back flat on the floor and your calves resting on a chair, knees and hips bent at a 90 degree angle.
- Do NOT: overstretch or overcompensate. Stretching could cause it to flare up even worse, and compensating for it could cause more muscles in the area to become overworked.
- Sharp pain: structural pain
- How it feels: someone is relentlessly stabbing you with a knife, twisting it while it's in there, and won't stop. The pain will generally be confined to a single area.
- Diagnosis: any number of things could be wrong. If it's in your back/spinal area, a disk could be bulging, ruptured, compressed, a vertebrae could be out of alignment, a muscle could be torn, a rib could be out of place, a ligament torn, something could be dislocated.
- Treatment: go see a doctor. Don't go to a massage therapist, physical therapist, acupuncturist, etc. Doctor's office. Now.
- Do NOT: attempt to treat it yourself. There might be something seriously wrong, and any poking, massaging, foam rolling, etc that you or anyone else does could make it worse.