Pain: Your Body’s Way of Talking to You
We have all experienced pain at some point in our lives. It can be a sharp, shooting pain that brings you to your knees, often referred to as acute pain, that is generally of short duration. Or it can be a dull, numbing pain, often called chronic pain, that is an ongoing condition and generally doesn’t make you stop what you are doing, but is an ever present discomfort.
Regardless of how it feels, pain is your brain’s way of giving you information that it received through nerve pathways. Of course, the information being delivered is that something is wrong. Most people shy away from pain and try to avoid it. This is rightfully so, as pain is often a precursor to injury. However, it is important to pay attention to the pain, and try to decipher as much as you can from what your body is telling you. By analyzing the pain, it is possible to understand the best way to proceed in the future.
For example, there is a difference between pain in the muscle and pain that is in a joint. Pain that emanates from the muscle is something to certainly pay attention to, but it does not usually require an athlete to run straight to the orthopedic surgeon. I can think of numerous times in my career where I experienced pain in my bicep while throwing. This let me know that I probably had some inflammation in the muscle and it needed to be addressed, but I knew that it did not call for surgery or even a trip to the DL.
Pain that stems from a joint is a totally different beast though. If an athlete’s pain comes from a joint, it raises far more concern because this is where most serious injuries occur. Pain in the shoulder joint, for example, could indicate a tear in the rotator cuff or a torn labrum. Pain in the elbow joint could potentially be an issue with the ulnar collateral ligament, or as was the case for me in college, it could be from bone spurs and chips in your elbow. Bottom line, pain in a joint should raise more red flags and the athlete should immediately see a medical professional.
Another way to distinguish pain that you feel and can help you determine the appropriate response is to try and distinguish between pain that is soreness or tenderness and pain that is truly an injury. Often times this analysis is closely connected with the inquiry I mentioned above regarding the location of the pain. Generally, if the pain is located in a muscle then it can probably be classified as more of a soreness or tenderness. For example, I mentioned above that at times during my career I had pain that stemmed from my bicep. This pain for me could be better classified as soreness or tenderness, not an actual injury. This type of pain is generally best dealt with by getting treatment and trying to strengthen the area while continuing to throw/pitch or whatever the activity is that contributes to the pain.
A true injury, however, is something that feels different than merely tenderness in the affected area. A true injury is more than that and is pain that causes such discomfort that you feel as though you shouldn’t (or can’t) continue on with the activity that contributes to it. This type of pain almost always will come from the joint and is much more severe. When an athlete has this type of injury he should not try to continue with the activity that contributes to it, but instead should completely shut down that activity and seek medical treatment.
Why am I discussing pain so in depth? Why is it so important? It’s because pain is a great inhibitor. It keeps an athlete from being able to move as efficiently and explosively as possible. In terms of pitching, it keeps an athlete from reaching velocity and command goals, and even worse, it can actually lead to a more serious injury as your body tries to protect itself from the current pain or discomfort. This is the result of the body’s primary goal, which is self-preservation. The body will try to alter its movement patterns in order to avoid the movement that causes the pain, which in turn will generally result in a less efficient movement pattern. As Coach Brent Strom says, “Survival always trumps performance.” For pitchers, this has a tendency to alter mechanics, and specifically, a pitcher’s arm action. These new mechanics or new arm action could result in a loss of velocity and command, or even potentially create a more significant injury as the stress from throwing a baseball is placed on new muscles, tendons, and ligaments, many of which are not prepared or designed to handle the stress.
My advice for all of you athletes out there that are experiencing pain is to no longer ignore it and simply “grind it out.” Instead, pay attention to the pain and what your body is telling you so that you can properly diagnose the contributing factors and eventually get rid of the pain. In my next blog I will discuss how Coach Ron Wolforth has been able to do just that as he has made pain the first of his “Big 6” at the Texas Baseball Ranch. By confronting and diagnosing the causes of pain up front, Coach Wolforth has had tremendous success in helping athletes to diminish the pain they feel and often even remove it completely. This allows those athletes to stop focusing on the pain and instead focus on becoming better baseball players. Tune in next time to see how Coach Wolforth handles the issue.
Until next time,