The Subtle Art of Embracing Pain with Style And Grace

Injuries suck. The resulting pain sucks even more.

But no, it seriously sucks. If you tallied people why they fail to adhere to an exercise routine, often you’ll find a pattern among many well-meaning individuals.

They experience pain. And who wants to workout if you’re in pain? Let’s face it… sitting on your couch and eating Doritos you experience very little pain!

This kid’s pain is probably minimal!


Pain kicks us in the groin for a variety of reasons (hopefully not literally). The general public perceives pain as a simple equation…

Pain=Damage to Body

When we burn ourselves with a pot of boiling water, we get a sharp pain sensation through the area burned. That is specific tissue damage that comes with a very sharp pain response to the brain.

Pain that is not directed to specific acute trauma can sometimes resonate long term in what we would call “chronic pain”.


Chronic Pain

Chronic pain sufferers are frequent fliers in physical therapy clinics, chiropractic, and massage therapy offices. Many of these clients and patients may even end up at pain clinics, getting various shots and pills to ‘fix’ their pain.

The reasons for chronic pain are vast. Deep emotional and psychological trauma are intertwined into a wide variety of these cases. These deep emotional ties conjoin with past physical traumas to create issues that can stem as far as forcing people out of work for long sustained periods of time. American Pain Society estimates that over $600 Billion is lost each year in work production due to chronic pain (1).


 A Painful Truth

Chronic pain can be traced back to many past traumas. Because of its complexity in nature, it can be difficult to track. In these cases, no damage to tissue may occur, but still, the pain can persist for a long period of time.

But wait… the equation says, pain=damage to tissue? If we had to break down what chronic pain is into a basic numerical equation it would look something like this…(this is not a real equation)

Pain= Acute Tissue Damage (traumatic experience ^2)- (sedation)+(relearned compensation pattern) (lack of activity)+ (emotional down turns based upon other stress in life)

Keep in mind this is NOT a formula used in ANY practice nor is this something I offer to people on what their pain is. This shows the complex structure to what pain is and what it can manifest into long-term.

But what if an MRI shows no signs of sustained inflammation, muscular tears, broken bones, or ligament tears? This is a common frustration to chronic pain sufferers. Compounded often times to a doctor telling them that “nothing is wrong with them”. This may lead the person to a feeling of hopelessness. Coupled with well-meaning Physical Therapists or other clinical movement manual therapists lack of help in “fixing” your problem. Unanswered questions coupled with mounds of frustration are keys to long standing painful episodes. Overcoming pain is a subtle art that anyone can work through with the right tools from the get-go!

1. Do not fully shy away from what you love

Like any unfortunate time in our life it’s normal for us to shy away from an activity if it causes us deep physical & emotional harm. Why would you keep doing it?!

Well, at one point the activity was most likely enjoyed. Removing activities you once enjoyed is a surefire way to place your pain on a pedestal. By maintaining a routine of something you enjoy or did enjoy pre-pain you will consistently be reminded of the positivity it brought you. Will you be able to do it at the level that you were doing before your painful episodes? Most likely not. And doing so more than likely will prolong things. But regressing the activity level to something more tolerable will have to do. This often times is a hard pill to swallow for some of the more regimented athletes.

2. Do Not Rely On “A Person” to ‘Fix’ You

Frequent fliers in Physical Therapy offices, Chiros, and other doctor’s offices may seem like the “right thing” to do. And having a good clinician is certainly a great tool to utilize. Having a good one can be all the difference in the grand scheme of things. But if you rely so heavily on a clinician to ‘fix you’ you are removing all power out of your hands. The truth is, the power is in YOUR hands. The clinician will lead you to the promise land, but they cannot buy your ticket and open the gate for you.

Furthermore, a clinician that gives you outlandish, long term plans to tell you WHY you should continue working with them to relieve your pain is not worth visiting. If your clinician tries to tell you you need 80 visits per year to ‘solve’ some slight dysfunction you have, run for the hills and never go back! A clinician that does not seek to empower you to be self sufficient is clearly just out for your hard earned money!

3. Have Macro Patience on Micro Speed

Gary Vaynerchuk gave this very quotable phrase in a video from a few months ago to a young woman entering the working world.

If you simply only think about being 100% pain-free each day when you STILL have pain, you’re thinking of the long term results of something that involves micro results day to day. Highlight your good and keep it at that.

  • Were you able to get out of bed today?
  • Did your knee start to bug you at 90 degrees of flexion instead of 120 degrees?
  • Did you run for .75 miles before having pain in your foot when you normally get it at .5?

Those may seem small and to our instant gratification society it may be impossible to stay positive. But recognizing those positive changes day to day or week to week will lead to long-term pain relief.

4. Eat Well/Limit Alcohol Use

Does this go without saying? When we are stressed we gravitate to things that provide us with pleasure. Sweet, salty, and greasy foods are tastes that our body loves. It sets off short term feel good hormones in our brain telling us that this food is good. When you have a diet rich in omega 6, systemic inflammation will show up in greater numbers. Processed carbohydrates and fats often times come with this effect. A diet that is deficient in dark green, leafy veggies, fruits, and minimally processed lean meats will see a diminished systemic anti-inflammatory effect. Which could hinder your ability to recovery from stress mentally AND physically. Eating well on a consistent basis will give you the tools to build and repair from exercise. Recovering from exercise means exposure to pain-free stimulus to the body… which equals a step towards overcoming your pain.


Alcohol is a depressant. It slows the body down and in small amounts has been shown to reduce stress and in small doses IMPROVE recovery. But in excess alcohol inhibits decision making which can potentially cause poor food choices and overall bad choices physically and mentally. Stress later that day or morning plus potential pain from potential poor decisions physically can perpetuate chronic long term pain. Limit your alcohol use in order to reap the benefit of your day to day progressions.

5. Eliminate or Substantially Limit Pain Medications

Sadly, this is often times looked at as a first step for some clients/patients. Finding relief in medications is big business in the United States.

Some pain remedies out there from minor OTC meds such as Tylenol and Ibuprofen to strong pain medications like OxyContin and Dilaudid. Cortisone shots are given out regularly to patients as a means to relieve pain as well by reducing inflammation to the area.

Long Term Side Effects/Short Term results

OTC pain medications, although relatively safe if taken on occasion, will begin to damage the stomach and liver if taken too frequently. How do some people take 1-3 of them every day? The answer to that is quite frequently. When those do not work or “stop working” Percocet or OxyContin has been given out in the past. These are basically pharmaceutical grade opiates that give off very similar effects to heroin. Heroin is one of the most addictive substances on the planet. So the result of this road is sometimes the last road, which for many families is a very sore subject.


Many pain sufferers often times seek cortisone shots as a means to relieve pain. Cortisone works to reduce on spot inflammation. It is a derivative of our body’s hormone cortisol.. which breaks down tissues in response to stress. Cortisone, if taken in excess can damage soft/nervous tissue and potentially break down bones over time if administered multiple times. How often do people get multiple injections in an area? It’s pretty common, ask anyone over 60.

Medications suck as long-term treatments…period.

If you fail to treat the cause of the pain you will become more and more a slave to the medications meant to help treat your pain. Because the more you get them the more you will need them as a treatment long term. Because your body never treated the movement issue/psychological issue at hand.


Take Away

Pain is as much emotional as it is a physical sensation. If we continue to place it on a pedestal and view it as a major roadblock in our life, it will become so. Pain will become a “learned” norm to us. You are strong and powerful beyond measure. Finding the RIGHT practitioner to work with your physical and mental state will provide you with lots of relief if you put your mind to it.



  1. American Pain Society. (2012, September 11). Chronic pain costs U.S. up to $635 billion, study shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 17, 2017 from