Or a pain in the back, or the shoulder, or the head….
Let’s face it. Pain happens. We all experience it, whether it be physical, emotional or spiritual. Every day.
The question is, how do you deal with it?
Well-being isn’t the absence of aches and pains. Rather it’s an effort to effectively cope. And to acknowledge that there are options beyond reaching for the nearest painkiller or drug. Here are some alternatives.
Get moving, but do it with care
As you get into your thirties, forties and beyond, physical flexibility changes. Muscles and ligaments are tighter, joints are stiffer. That’s why it’s even more important to keep blood circulating. Staying active is key. Strengthening and loosening joint muscles takes the pressure off the bones and joints, lessening pain.
While I consider yoga as a go-to for flexibility, weight training can also be helpful. However, soreness may occur if exercise is improperly done. Start by warming up the muscles. Progress reasonably, adding appropriate weights and maintaining good form.
Regardless of the activity you engage in, don’t forget to stretch after exercising. It’s a priority. Period. Include quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, chest, triceps and shoulders, and core and back. Stretching warm muscles can improve flexibility, reducing the potential for knots, trigger points, and injury. While studies are inconclusive whether cool-down stretching can reduce muscle soreness, it doesn’t hurt.
Pay attention to the source of aches and pains
When you have pain, try to identify the root cause. Is your knee pain the result of overextending as you squat, incorrect lifting posture, or organic aging? Is your headache caused by stress, a food trigger, or a neck cramp? Do your feet hurt from improperly fitting shoes, a running injury, or wearing high-heeled shoes? Diagnosing the cause is the first step to healing. Until you address the origin of the pain, it will keep coming back.
Here’s a very specific example, but it’s top of the mind for me. I do a lot of writing and may spend too much time sitting at my computer. Over the past few months, I experienced increasing pain down the back of my leg. I assumed it was sciatica (a condition associated with bulging or herniated discs in the back). I tried heat and ice remedies. I considered acupuncture and chiropractic options.
But then I realized I had no back pain—just the proverbial pain-in-the-butt (or more precisely, in the piriformis muscle in the buttock). The spasming of this muscle puts pressure on the sciatic nerve, mimicking the pain of sciatica.
I found many sources of information about piriformis syndrome. While I had always been doing the recommended stretches as part of yoga, I didn’t notice the hard mass in the piriformis muscle that was causing the pain. I began to use a foam roller on the knot and experienced a lessening of the spasm. This happened only because I paid attention to the fact that the pain came from a muscle rather than from my back.
Make choices to avoid future pain
Take your diet for example. You can choose to eat foods that are healthy or unhealthy (or somewhere in-between). You already know the drill. Sugary items contribute to diabetes and obesity. Too much salt can raise blood pressure. Leafy, green vegetables (think kale and arugula) are good sources of calcium. Fresh is better than processed. But knowing without following through is not enough.
Perhaps you can trick your mind into making better choices? Train your brain to feel guilty about bad food choices. Remind yourself about the negative consequences of improper eating. Teach yourself about healthy foods and their contribution to your well-being. Don’t store unwholesome items in your house. Avoid dieting that results in inconsistent eating habits. Drink more water, especially with food to increase absorption so it doesn’t just pass through you. Keep healthy options at your desk or within reach when you expect stressful weeks. Be mindful of what and how much you’re eating.
Whether you are talking to yourself or to others, words matter. Negative self-talk about your aches and pains reinforces the discomfort you feel. Telling others about your miseries not only pushes them away, it also conditions you to think in pessimistic terms. Rather than harping on “what could go wrong,” consider “what could go right?” What you say—aloud or in silence–brainwashes your mind and your behavior. Embrace an attitude that aches are temporary and can make you stronger. Divert your gloominess by focusing on gratitude. Your well-being depends on it.