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More Turkey Wisdom.

December 30, 2011

In my last post, I described how I went head-to-head with a dead turkey, and the turkey won. Using basic principles of Physics.

Even though I knew on Christmas morning that I was in pretty serious trouble, it did not occur to me to say to my beloved “Here, you take the cooked turkey to the family shindig, please give them my apologies but I really need to lie down horizontally because a two hour car trip followed by a three hour sit down lunch is only going to increase the damage I’ve done to myself.”

If I had said that, I wouldn’t be writing this post. A day’s rest on the back, and I would have been back to business as usual.

But no. Instead, I gritted my teeth and taxed that little group of postural muscles further by sitting, standing, and generally struggling to maintain my torso upright with respect to gravity. For 5 hours. Over which time various other muscles came under unusually heavy load (lumbar extensors, diaphragm) in an attempt to compensate. I became profoundly aware of postural sway – millimeter deviations from a pain-free organisation was accompanied by a screaming spasm of muscular pain.  Acute pain, which I foolishly chose to suffer through in order to satisfy my socio-cultural obligations.

By acute, I mean short term pain with a pathology (aka injury). Pain of this kind is an incredibly useful (albeit unpleasant) product of evolution. Its purpose is to make an organism stop doing something harmful to itself. Like take-your-hand-out-of-the-fire, or don’t-bear-weight-on-that-broken-leg, or in my case: don’t-load-kaput-extensor-muscles. Ignore or use painkillers to dampen acute pain at your peril.

I’m not against painkillers per se – they’re incredibly useful in certain situations. I’m just not a fan of painkillers as a blanket first resort for the reason I just raised: acute pain has a purpose. If you can identify the harmful thing to stop doing, and be confident that your conscious willpower (or some external device like a sling or cast) can prevent you from doing that harmful thing, then go ahead, gobble those aspirin, spray on the anesthetic, smear on the Deep Heat or whatever your choice of painkiller is.

The thing is, what most of us use painkillers for is to mask acute pain signals so that we can keep on doing whatever harmful thing our body has just red-carded. This is pretty much a sure-fire recipe for further injury and prolonging recovery time. I’m no fan of suffering, but I turned down the various pills and potions offered (with the very kindest of intentions) on and since Christmas Day.

Instead, I chose bedrest: commonly considered a bad idea because we all “know” that “the best cure for back problems is to keep moving” .

Rest. Is. Good. The important thing is to rest relative to the kind of injury you have. This article from SaveYourself.ca has my vote for the all-time, best-ever advice on relative resting. Because my injury involved the postural muscle system, being upright ran the risk of making the damage worse, and of establishing compensatory muscular habits that would, in the long run, lead to other damage.

That’s not to say I did nothing while lying on my back. I employed my skills as a Feldenkrais Practitioner to keep moving, to stay within the boundaries of comfort, to explore what I could do, to take things slowly, and to discern and appreciate the smallest of changes. I set myself little challenges, and listened to when my body told me to rest. I only experienced pain when I engaged the damaged muscles – which told me they weren’t ready to take load yet. Using painkillers would have blurred and confused that critical feedback.

So let me be crystal clear here: there are definitely situations where using painkillers to dampen acute pain is beneficial. But you need to be aware that the flip side of the coin is the potential to prolong recovery time.

More Wisdom of the Festive Turkey:

1. Just about everybody will hurt themselves at one time or another by doing something foolish. Even movement ‘experts’.

2. Pay attention to acute pain, and stop doing whatever is causing it. Regardless of the social situation. Do not ‘soldier through’ – you’ll regret it.

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