I was very happy to hear this conversation on Iron Culture last week about pain, physical therapy and getting back to activities after an injury. I talk a lot about my own physical limitations, and I’ve seen a lot of physical therapists in the last decade. When physical therapy works well for me, it gives me tools to get back to the activities that I love. When it makes my life worse, it teaches me limitations and tells me what not to do anymore. I’ve had to shop around for a PT multiple times. I’d see somebody and realize that instead of empowering me, they were trying to limit me. This sounds like, “maybe you should never squat again,” or “I don’t think you’re going to ever be a runner again.” This sounds like “with a gate like that/with a shoulder like that/with a fill in the blank, you will never/should never fill in the blank.”
These statements are made from a place of compassion, from people who think they are helping me by teaching me acceptance. And the problem with them is that they are predicting an unknown future, and by doing so, they may actually be increasing the likelihood of that future.
The pain science today suggests what we believe about our bodies and our experiences of pain influences our experiences of pain. It’s not all in our control, and it’s not all in our heads, but it is influenced by how we think about it. So, a good physical therapist will be mindful and cautious in what they say so they don’t add to these unhelpful narratives. They will help you explore the possibilities rather than limit you.
If this is new to you, I encourage you to give this episode of Iron Culture a listen. You might find that you can begin to rewrite your own narratives about your body and to start exploring possibilities rather than seeing limitations. And even if it’s not new to you, it’s good to have the reminders that we cannot predict the future, that our discomfort can come and go and change in form over time. The physical deformities caused by decades of illness and half a dozen surgeries are going to stay with me. But no one can predict in what ways they will limit me and in what ways I might overcome them.