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How Much Pain is Normal?

Some pain is normal and healthy. Just don't ignore what it's trying to tell you.
Woman with neck pain

I went to a symposium last year on sports medicine and orthopedic acupuncture. It was amazing! I always find events like that to be a bit of a fire hose experience – there is so much information coming that I have to just let it wash over me and take in what I am able.
 
One of the things that did end up sticking with me was when one of the speakers went on a bit of a tangent from his lecture about how problematic it can be to focus on eliminating pain with our clients.
 
His point was that elimination of pain should not be our goal, nor anyone’s goal. Pain is a normal, healthy part of life and often arises to try to tell us something. Sometimes that “something” is obvious (e.g. you stubbed your toe and it hurts to walk on it!) and sometimes it is not so obvious.  
 
In both cases, our goal should be to try to understand what the pain is trying to say so that we can start to correct the core issue that is causing it.
 
“Eliminating the pain” as if there is an on/off switch, or trying to prevent pain from occurring in the first place, is what led to the opioid epidemic; convincing people that they should not feel pain and that something is wrong with them if they do is not practical at best and dangerous at worst.
 
To be clear, this does not mean we should just ignore pain when it arises. In fact, I recommend you do the opposite! Identify the pain when it occurs and dig into what it is trying to tell you.
 
Is it tissue damage? Well that is the simplest reason for pain and acupuncture, heat, manual therapy (e.g. cupping / massage), physical therapy and appropriate rest can be very helpful.
 
But if it is not tissue damage causing your pain (and it typically is not if the pain has been around for more than 3 months with no obvious sustained damage), something else is contributing to the sensation of pain and will need to be addressed.
 
Factors beyond tissue damage that affect pain include: stress, sleep, physical activity, emotional state, belief in your body, genetics, metabolic diseases, microbiome health, gender, age, hormones, immune system function, mental health, ethnicity, cultural norms, childhood beliefs, nutrition…


It’s… a lot! 


Which is why pain is not simple and should not be treated as such. There is no master switch for pain. Every case is different and will likely require different interventions to help you navigate the pain and what it is trying to tell you.
 
Some pain will be reduced through physical exercises & stretches. Some will be more effected through mindfulness and a belief that you are not fragile. Most will need some combination of interventions.
 
If you are in enough pain that it is affecting your daily life, I highly encourage you to not just try to push it away or succumb to the feeling that this is just how you are going to have to live. There are interventions and therapies that could greatly affect your sensation of pain.
 
Got questions? I’m happy to answer them! Reply to this email or schedule a free 15 min consultation here if you are in the Austin area.

Chris Goddin, owner and acupuncture of Balance Wellness

Why choose Balance?

I have made it my mission to be an advocate for you, my patients, and determine what steps you need to take to improve your health and get to the root of your health issues. My background in Integrative Medicine gives me the opportunity to understand the various mechanisms that are causing your health issues and the tools we can use to fix them.

I feel extremely fortunate to have found this medicine and I look forward to the opportunity to share it with you!

—Chris Goddin, L.Ac.

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