With the first of three bank holidays this month just passed, physio clinics up and down the country are busy with a spike in acute back, neck and shoulder pain. Why?
Very often the narrative of those presenting with their sudden injury is that they moved wrong in picking up a bucket or reaching behind something awkward. For those familiar with these blogs, you’ll know there is more to it than that.
The primary issue often in these scenarios is that people get very ambitious over a bank holiday weekend. Following a long winter of mainly sitting behind a desk or on the sofa, the May bank holidays inspire people to spring in to action and spend 8 hours a day for 2-3 consecutive days trying to restore their winter garden to it’s end of summer glory or paint the entire house in one weekend. It’s not that you’ve bent wrong once, it’s that your body was taken by surprise and you’ve taken on more than you were ready for.
Think of it this way. Would you expect to be able to run a marathon pain free if the most strenuous thing you had done for the last 4 months was walk around the shops every weekend. It might be a bit of a shock to the body to go from casual brisk walking, to hours of relentless plodding along. Of course it’s easy to think that you’ve kept yourself fit over the winter as you go to spin classes twice a week and such. Yes, you might have a very good baseline level of fitness, resting heart rate, VO2Max and the likes but are you fit for purpose? Running a marathon is very different to cycling virtual mountains or rowing miles. It requires a different skillset and conditioning of the tissues for that purpose. Gardening and DIY projects also require their own particular skillsets. You could be super fit with rowing, running and cycling but if the only time your arms usually go over your head is to get your jumper on and off everyday, is it any surprise that if you spend the weekend painting ceilings or cutting hedges you might get some shoulder or neck pain.
It’s not that doing the garden or painting the house is beyond you or bad for you, just consider what you are attempting to achieve and is it realistic in the circumstances? If you haven’t trained for the marathon, it’s maybe going to a bit tougher on the system than it looks. Maybe it was easier to do these things 10 years ago when the body could handle a few more shocks but that was then and this is now and your life was perhaps a little less chaotic back then too. If you have overdone it last weekend and have been feeling a bit stiff and sore but rested up during the week in anticipation of another ambitious project this weekend perhaps it’s time to think again. As luck would have it there are 2 more bank holidays this month, so maybe the job could get done across both of them. Complete rest between times is not likely to be helpful either. All or nothing rarely works. Chip away at it consistently and you’re likely to condition your body as you go. It’s the classic tale of the tortoise and the hare and you know who wins that one in the end.
Why does pain kick in to let you know you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. That’s because it’s your ultimate mentor. In this case trying to protect you from yourself and hopefully teach you that you need to be fit for purpose for that kind of job in the future. Hopefully you’ll pay attention and consider putting a system in place to give you the skillset to be fit for purpose so these jobs don’t come as a surprise to your body and you’ll consider what race you are entering into and if you have the capacity for it?
All this sort of thing and more are explored in Pain: The Ultimate Mentor out in Hardback, Paperback and e-book on the 12th of May.