Having a son that plays football and another that plays soccer for the Northville High School Mustangs, I have always loved watching them play on a sunny autumn day but the older they get it seems the harder they fall until sometimes I feel as if I am cringing the whole game wondering not if but who will be injured by the end of the game.
Growing up in a family of boys and living with a husband who also grew up in a family of boys, watching sports and reading the sports page is just a way of survival and my attempt to blend in with my environment. A recent article on the mental nature of pain in sports injuries caught my attention. In response to a question about how he was able to complete an entire game with a strained arch, Dallas Cowboys safety, Gerald Sensabaugh commented that he believes that “Pain is just mental”. He continued in the interview by telling reporters “I don’t take any medications. I’ve dealt with all kinds of illness without medication. Pain is just mental. That’s how I was growing up and that’s how I’ve raised my kids. If you fall and bust your head, get up and play. If it’s not that bad, they usually just get up laughing.”
Now, many people today struggle with pain and it can often be debilitating, chronic or difficult to overcome through medicine or otherwise. Those that struggle with chronic pain often move from medication to medication never finding one that completely alleviates the pain and suffering many side effects in the process. But there are a growing number of medical studies showing the very mental nature to pain and specifically to the degree of pain one feels. Factors like stress, depression, fear, and fatigue can influence the degree and duration of pain. So, medical professionals are turning to mind to understand that nature of the pain as well as the cure.
According to Scott Fishman, the President of the American Pain Foundation, “I think of mind-body approaches as techniques that tap into the body’s own pharmacy.” After all, he reminds us “ You can’t have pain without mind, so it’s all connected.” In studying this effect at Stanford’s Neuroscience and Pain Lab, they proved that redirecting ones focus away from pain to something peaceful and positive, can lead to over a 40% reduction in one’s awareness of pain.
I remember hearing Lance Armstrong talk about how important it was to keep his mind sharp, focused and positive during the Tour de France. When racing with an injury, he recalled having to change his mindset from “I’m hurting and I need to stop” to “I know I can do this.” Note that Lance Armstrong didn’t ignore the pain, but rather he re-directed his thoughts into a more productive and positive line of thinking that helped him blow right through the pain and out the other side to victory.
Both my husband and I grew up in families where medication was a last resort and despite the fact that my mother in law was an ER nurse, trips to the doctor or hospital were rare. A dear family member used to remind me that my body was just the car that I drive around and that a car never goes anywhere the driver doesn’t tell it to go. I was taught that the body by itself can’t complain but it needs my mind to listen to it and shout about it. Like a complaining child, the body’s complaints grow worse, the more attention we give it. And parents know, we quiet that child, not by ignoring it, but by re-directing it to another line of thought or another activity.
To be sure, we should not ignore injuries or teach our kids to either. But any athlete will tell you that in order to finish the race, win the game or break the record, you need to quiet suggestions of pain from the body and keep on going!