As I was thinking about the big game tonight I was reminded of a former client of mine who passed away last spring. His name was Bill Cox and prior to going to work full time for the US Government, he played 3 seasons of professional football for the Washington Redskins in the 1950’s.
Bill used to tell me stories about what it was like to play back in the “leather helmet” days. He told me about fractured skulls, dislocated shoulders, severely sprained ankles, broken bones and other injuries that guys would play through because teams didn’t always have enough players to make substitutions. He said that the only way they could do it was to just mentally “block it out.”
Although playing through pain is not something I endorse, I do believe we can all learn a valuable lesson from athletes about how to mentally change our perceptions of pain.
Recently, scientific research has allowed us to understand something very interesting about how to reduce our perception of pain- give it a different meaning.
In a university study, published in 2015, participants were given painful heat stimuli on their arms while their brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI. During the first scan, the participants were asked to clear their minds and not think of anything in particular while being subjected to the painful heat on their arms.
In the second scan, the participants were asked to imagine that the burning heat was actually damaging their skin. This mindset was found to increase perceptions of pain.
In the final scan, participants were asked to imagine that the heat was actually a welcome sensation on an extremely cold day—this explanatory style was found to decrease the perceived experience of the pain.
Through this study of the brains activity while in pain, scientists have discovered an area of the brain that can reduce the severity of the pain sensation, if we choose to give the pain a different meaning.
As someone who works with many people in pain, and is a relied upon source for advice on how to reduce it, this is quite compelling.
So that brings me to you. Are you in pain? If so, what meaning have you given it?
Does it mean you’re “falling apart?”
Does it mean you’re “getting old?”
Does it mean you’re always going to feel this way?
Does it mean that you should be afraid?
Does it mean that you need to change your habits?
Does it mean that you need more recovery time?
Ready to change your perception of pain? Here’s 3 action steps..
1. Become aware of the meaning you give pain now. Take an inventory this week of what thoughts crop up in your mind when you have an ache or pain. Is it a hopeful thought or a hopeless thought?
2. Be careful with who you surround yourself with. Some people like talking about problems more than they like talking about solutions and they hold a hopeless attitude that they want to project on everyone else. Try to limit your exposure to those people and try to always keep positive people around you who feed your hope.
3. Be very careful how you talk about your physical ailments. Beware of labeling any part of your body as “bad” or “messed up” or anything like that. Using more positive language such as having a part that’s “in recovery” can make a bigger difference than you think.
Also, if you haven’t begun to do the right types of exercise to help your specific ailments, check out the videos on this website. If its something more serious, you should consider speaking with James or I in person.
I hope this was helpful for you! Please pass it along to someone you care about!
Have fun watching (or not watching) the game tonight!! Blessings!
Chris Vercelli MATm, CPT
Founder: Non-Fiction Fitness
P.S. If you have a minute (and can stand reading a bunch of latin words) check out this article. It was written by an ultra endurance athlete who talks about how he used this strategy to run 35 miles barefoot while his feet felt like they were on fire.
Check it out here- Cognitive Self Regulation Article