Pain isn’t a simple concept. When I tell you it hurts you have no idea what I mean, how could you?
Pain isn’t a simple concept because it isn’t one solitary comprehensible thing. I hurt today doesn’t feel like I hurt yesterday or last week. Doctors regularly differentiate between aching, stabbing and searing pain and tell you to rate the pain compared with your understanding or imagination of pain without helping you decide what is reasonable or not. What does a pain scale mean to you? I can raise my arm above my head, it hurts but not so much that I can’t do it – is that because I am prepared to tolerate the pain that I expect or because it doesn’t hurt very much?
How does it feel for you? You don’t feel my skin or my muscles and joints; my twisted ankle is not the same as when you twisted yours because the whole of my body reacts differently. What disappears in an hour might take a week to stop for me. One thing might make you swell up like a balloon and barely leave a trace on me – that warmth might be standard for you but that is my body over-reacting. Just because I am not crying doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt.
I am lucky the aches and pains that are part of my life have barely stopped me doing what I want. I grant you that there are hills I haven’t climbed because my knee hurt too much or because the scramble was too much to rely on my shoulder and I have scaled back my weekly work in the cellar in my job but thats not the same as having to stop working. When it hurts to sit at the computer I need to remedy my posture, ditto in an office chair or in bed. I’m sure I could do more with a little less complaint.
Maybe I should work harder to ignore the pain because I am told that I need to build the muscles up to help prevent the joints from getting worse. It hurts to do my physio and so I am lax about it. How do I tell the difference between doing more damage and strengthening, when the only message I have for both is pain? When should I fight against my instincts and when should I acknowledge and trust my body?
Pain is not a simple concept, but its definitely not nice.