This Is How Bad Habits Can Lead To Stubborn Pain Problems
Many of the joys and happinesses in our life flow from the choices we make on a daily basis, and unfortunately some of the same “missed” choices can also bring forth pains and hardships that we’d rather forget. Cognitively, intellectually, we can make sense of the repercussions following our bad decisions, because we can understand what we did wrong and think how we can avoid another repetition — that’s a “life lesson.” I’m sure you can think of countless examples; “I should have fixed that broken step,” “I should have worn my seatbelt,” “I should have stayed home instead of going out last night with that strange group of people my friend introduced me to.”
Sprained ankles, broken ribs, acute onset toxic pyelonephritis… Whatever the tragic fallout of our bad decisions were, we try to rationalize the pain our bodies feel by committing ourselves to change. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I’m sure you’ve heard this adage before.
But what about the harmful choices we make to our bodies on a regular basis? What about the harmful choices we make, that we don’t even realize we’re making? What about our bad habits…?
The truth is, most of us know what our routine bad habits are, and we simply choose not to change them out of stubbornness or inconvenience. A lot of times it may feel to us that such an insignificant little thing — like slouching over our cellphones on the train ride home every day — couldn’t possibly result in the type of pain that requires years of physical therapy rehab, facet block injections, and even spinal fusion surgery to amend. But that’s exactly how easily a stubborn disc herniation in your neck can start.
We were discussing earlier about the body’s natural ability to heal. People smoke, people vape, people stay up late and do various legal (and illegal) stimulatory drugs. Many of us eat disturbingly high calorie diets made out of edible “food-stuffs” engineered by scientists in a corporate lab, and yet when we suffer a cut or bruise our bodies still heal. It is remarkable how much damage and insult a human body can take, and yet it still tries to push forward to rebuild.
In many cases, aside from those with legitimate terminal disease processes, most of us can help ourselves to reduce or even heal our pains by removing the key, provocative choices or habits that are causing us harm.
As an acupuncturist, I remember treating this one woman in particular, named Laura, who worked many years as a psychotherapist. She was coming to me for a deep, constant pain at the base of her right thumb that eventually prompted her to undergo surgery for tendon damage. Although the surgery was considered successful at repairing the injury, her pain continued to persist. Laura was not shy in revealing to me the cause of the problem — she texted four hours, every night, on her cellphone while answering patient emails.
Laura just preferred the convenience and the feel of the phone, versus sitting up straight and typing at an ergonomic computer. In fact, she “thumb-scrawled” all of these endless emails at home, not on the go or sitting on a train, where it would at least seem more justified to have used a phone!
It didn’t take a lot of detective work to figure out Laura’s bad decision making process here. She knew what the problem was, but didn’t want to change. That’s a bad choice. The treatment, as you might imagine, cannot possibly be effective without a conscientious change. Therefore, the real healing element of her program started with a firm, but caring, dose of patient education.
This is the classic example of removing the “thorn in the lion’s paw.” But what if you don’t even know what the thorn looks like, let alone trying to remove it?
Look at your daily routine. Examine your lifestyle, your behaviors, and your posture in different scenarios. Has there recently been a change in your activities or routine that’s different from your usual way?
Some athletes like to try interesting new trends to see if they can gain an advantage in competitive play. I treated a runner that had developed patellar tendinitis in his knee after switching his cushioned sneakers to ones that looked like “feet,” because he heard that marathon runners in Africa can run barefoot on concrete.
People do strange things. When you’ve been working in the healthcare industry for over twenty years, you hear a lot of odd behaviors.
What particular habit do you do that is out of the ordinary? Better yet, what would someone else think that you do is strange?
It’s hard to really comprehend how aggressive and strong the invisible hand of gravity is that pulls us down on a daily basis. Unless you’re frail, balance impaired, or afraid to fall, most of us just don’t think the phenomenal forces of physics working against our bodies. It’s like trying to feel what wetness is while swimming in the ocean.
Ancient Chinese acupuncturists were fond of constructing elaborate analogies that illustrated our body’s dysfunctions through imagery from the natural world.
Imagine cutting down a whole bunch of trees to make a strong bridge across a river. Every day you push your cart filled with heavy goods from one side to the other. The traffic accumulates, every day, little by little. Then one day you realize that your once straight bridge now shows signs of sagging in the middle. Instead of making regular adjustments, tightening up the ropes and rotating the logs in order to correct the problem, you ignore it. Maybe it’s just too much of a hassle, and you’re too busy with your busy routine to be bothered. After a while, the bridge begins to sag even deeper now, deforming to the point where it actually makes it nearly impossible to push your cart the other side to complete your activity. Eventually, the bridge collapses and you are forced to stop your entire life routine and urgently rebuild.
This is the pesky paradox of living a life against gravity. Unless you regularly put in the work to correct lazy habits, the easier ways will wind up taking the hardest toll on you, until eventually the problem becomes unfixable — even with most “successful” of surgeries.
Sometimes it’s hard — almost impossibly hard — to make better choices and root out a lot of these bad habits that ruin our health. In my clinical experience, about half of the people I see are completely unwilling to give up or change their way of doing things. It’s just too annoying, unpleasant, or plain old time-consuming to deconstruct their routine and make the appropriate changes. In addition, the positive effects may not be immediately noticeable right after the changes are made, which can discourage most people from trying to do better. For some, having a counselor or therapist to advocate for them and support them along this process may be a necessary choice.
Take a moment, step back and evaluate your problem, then get that outside perspective —get that second opinion looking in. Many times it is too hard to see when we’re settled into doing our own thing.
If you would like to schedule a visit to talk with us at Alté View regarding your specific type of pain, then please reach out to us here.