Pain Recovery Highs & Lows

Override Team

In The Messy Middle, Scott Belsky writes: 

“We love talking about starts and finishes, even though the middle stretch is the most important and often the most ignored and misunderstood. We don’t talk about the middle because we’re not proud of the turbulence of our own making and the actions we took out of despair. (…)

Every advance reveals a new shortcoming. Your job is to endure the lows and optimize the highs to achieve a positive slope within the jaggedness of the messy middle — so that, on average, every low is less low than the one before it, and every subsequent high is a little higher.”

The quotation can be applied to so many different areas in life – from building a startup to training for a marathon. We at Override saw this chart and not only thought about building Override but also about pain recovery. 

What is pain recovery? 

While it’s different for everyone, most people don’t see immediate and steady improvement when they start embarking on a pain recovery journey. Most people don’t just turn the corner, get the hang of it, and then continually improve until they are completely in remission from chronic pain. We wish it were that easy.

Sometimes it may feel like you’re really getting the hang of applying pain science principles, feeling and moving better, and taking control of your own condition without outside help from medications or interventions, but then you experience a pain flare! Maybe even a really bad one. And it can feel like you are right back at square 1. You ask yourself and your coach, “Have I made any progress at all?” And you think, “I’m just as bad as ever. This isn’t working for me.” It may even be tempting to give up.

The ups and downs can be exhausting and emotional. Especially the downs. And it’s a lot easier to notice the downs than the ups! 

It’s difficult to recognize and appreciate the absence of discomfort or a pain sensation. It’s far easier to notice when pain is sounding the alarm in your brain and trying to force every ounce of you to focus your attention on the pain.

Pain recovery is not linear 

Recovery from chronic pain is neither a quick nor an easy process. It requires a lot of determination to make the real functional and behavioral changes needed to combat the learned neural circuits of living in a sustained period of chronic pain and forming new ones. Pain recovery is not a linear process. 

So how do we focus on the ups – even the slight and minor victories? Of pain being just a little less loud… Of being able to move just a little bit more than last week … Of doing something you enjoy and actually being able to enjoy it…? 

Retraining the brain to treat chronic pain 

That’s one of the challenges in both life and in pain recovery. As we are retraining pain – learning how to “unlearn” the pain we’ve gotten used to being in – we have to create new neural pathways in the brain that focus on the more neutral sensations, the more positive moments in life, and even the smallest victories we experience.

Sometimes it may feel like you’re not improving or progressing, and that’s heart wrenching. But in reality, your pain recovery journey may just look more like the picture above.

Posted on 
November 10, 2023

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