A number of you will possibly be in your final preparations for a half-marathon. Training can be hampered by the festive period along with the cold weather in January. Doubts began to creep in regarding the number of hours / miles achieved and those painful niggles can seem to be getting worse. Following on an excellent article by Tom Groom asking the question does stress slow down your running, I want to explore how we cope with demands placed upon us along with how we deal with pain. As the diagram below shows, the human body needs stress. Too little (underload) there is no training effect and we become inactive. Too much and the body rapidly becomes exhausted causing anxiety possibly leading to panic and anger. If you continue to push yourself without realising/ denying the symptoms, there is a danger of physiological and psychological burn-out.
Therefore, in usefully loading the body in terms of training you will experience a certain amount of pain. This may be whilst performing or muscle tightness / soreness after. Whilst pain is often seen as seen as an integral part of the sport experience (no pain, no gain); it is the meaning you assigned to it that is crucial in affecting your thoughts and behaviours. Previous research Addison, Kremer and Bell (1998) have suggested a continuum of pain experienced by athletes. This is useful guide to evaluate how your body is coping with the training load and if you are possibly moving from fatigue to exhaustion
Fatigue and discomfort—normal or routine sensations associated with competition, training, and rehabilitation;
Positive training pain—nonthreatening, typically occurring during endurance activity, and believed to be under the your control;
Negative training pain—perceived as threatening and an indication that continued training is no longer beneficial;
Negative warning pain—similar to negative training pain, but more threatening, signaling the possibility of potential injury and therefore should prompt you to evaluate its cause and take appropriate action;
Negative acute pain—indicates injury and is perceived as intense and specific;
Numbness—the absence of sensation, interpreted as highly negative and typically a cause for concern.
As Tom’s article showed, increased stress has a detrimental effect in a number of ways. Pain can cause a very strong negative emotional reactions causing you increased distress which in turn, increases the pain. Depression and anxiety can also enhance pain perception possibly causing pain catastrophizing, which is a maladaptive cognitive coping strategy. This is characterized by an excessive focus on pain, possibly exaggerating the threat whilst minimizing your ability to cope. This has the effect of increasing further muscle tension and anxiety increasing further the sensitivity to the pain. This has a cognitive element in that it can reduce your ability to make correct decisions in response to the pain.
In terms of managing your reaction to negative pain, it is important you focus on your thoughts and behaviours. Muscular relaxation, goal setting, education regarding injury, following training plans, and adherence to prescribed exercise are positive choices that facilitate your rehabilitation and healing. Fatigue, discomfort, and positive training pain should be expected during rehabilitation and ideally perceived as evidence that you are at the ideal levels of intensity to move you through to recovery. However if incorrectly interpreting negative pain, you may be at risk of treatment setbacks and re-injury.
Should you need any advice on pain management please do not hesitate to contact myself for a free 15 minute consultation or the staff at the Physio Rooms