If you were involved in any athletic activities in your youth, you may have grown up with such phrases as “No Pain, No Gain.” Although this phrase became synonymous with sports and exercise, it is actually a very old proverb instructing us that sacrifice is necessary to gain success. But the actual, definition of ‘pain’ refers to “physical discomfort and emotional distress” that “typically results from bodily disorder such as injury or disease.” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pain
When applied to athletics, however, it has the potential to promote excessive abuses to our bodies. Long before the internet and the levels of health care technology we have today, we believed it was necessary to push our bodies through pain because we didn’t know otherwise. My husband recalls his football team members being fed salt tablets and denied any water to drink during two-a-day practices in the excruciatingly-hot, Texas heat because at that time, it was believed that water would cause muscle cramps. Numerous sprained ankles of mine at that time and the acceptable solution was generally to “run it off” and by all means “don’t take off your shoes or you’ll never get them back on!” Of course, it seems unbelievable we ever believed such things given our current knowledge of the importance of hydration, as well as, the importance of rest and icing an inflammatory injury but in fairness to our then trainers, they did the best they knew to do with the information they had available to them at that time.
In this high-tech era of computers and the internet, it is as imperative as ever to recognize we are still at risk of believing information that is the exact opposite of what we need. My own recent medical experience drove that point home for me. As an eye doctor myself, with a physician husband, I have a pretty good understanding of pain and how leaving pain untreated for long periods can create major problems. Using my specialty as an example, untreated inflammation of the very delicate tissues of the eye may cause those tissues to stick to unnatural places, leading to severe pain and potentially even blindness. So, when I started experiencing pain in my hip, and the all-knowing social media sites started filling my feeds with advertisements about the importance of stretching the hip flexors, and more advertisements about these little-known muscles called the “psoas.” Well, that made sense to me. The hip flexor stretches were very difficult which meant I needed to do more of them, right? Of course I needed to stretch more, I’d noticed my flexibility decreasing as I aged. So, I pushed my stretches to the limits, and kept stretching over and over, but the pain never went away. Only after seeing the specialist I should have seen in the beginning, did I find out it wasn’t a muscle issue at all. It wasn’t the hip flexors or the psoas. It was a bone issue and the stretches I was doing were only causing more inflammation and making the problem worse.
Every single day, I witness a new example of persons following bad advice by persons who are not experts in the field. As an eye doctor, nothing is more disrespectful as when a patient chooses to follow the advice of something they read on the internet rather than my own, educated assessment after a comprehensive eye exam. After 8 years of schooling and 20+ years of examining nothing but eyes, there are still people who choose to ignore my assessment in favor of almost anyone else’s. Mind blowing.
The lesson I want to impart today, is to listen to your body. Persistent pain is our body’s alarm that something is wrong. Don’t trust the social media advertisements; don’t trust your neighbor’s best friend’s cousin who “had that same problem” and don’t trust a physician who retired 30 years ago and hasn’t kept up-to-date with technology which changes on a daily basis. Visit a specialist, actively working with problems exactly like yours. And if your medical issues are complex, or if you question the diagnosis, seek a second opinion from another highly-regarded specialist. Doctors aren’t infallible but they are still your best option. If still in doubt, utilize the academic institutions. They are devoted to training our future doctors and therefore must be current on the latest technological advancements.