As I’ve just been to and from Skepticon, an endeavor that took an exorbitant amount of driving, and a fair amount of stress, it’s time for a pain update.
This update is mainly to say that this trip illustrated for me how much of my pain is determined by stress levels. After a full day of driving, I found I do not have the uptick in pain I would expect (there is uptick, but it’s not as massive as I’d expect). Pain gets progressively worse in the car the longer I go without taking a break from driving, to the point where, at the end of the drive, it’s pretty unpleasant. But that doesn’t seem to transfer to increased pain after the drive is over and I’m walking around or sitting somewhere else.
There was, however, a significant uptick in pain that corresponded with all of the issues I encountered with my car this trip. Having car issues that far from home was incredibly stressful, and pain followed. Similarly, I experienced an uptick in pain after the first day of con, which left me incredibly exhausted, both emotionally and physically for a number of reasons, mostly having to do with not knowing anyone at con very well (introversion: what is it good for?).
My working theory on the car trips is that the reason the pain isn’t as bad as I’d expect for sitting that long is partially psychological. Contrasting, for example, a car ride and a plane ride: in the car, I’m in control, and I can stop whenever I want and walk around. In a plane, I can’t, and there’s a sense of being trapped. Whether or not I’m actively in pain on a plane, there’s an awareness that there aren’t a lot of avenues open to me to relieve that pain if I were. I can’t stop the plane, get out, and walk around. Generally, I have to stay in my seat. That sense of being trapped is a stressor in and of itself, and it’s a stressor that doesn’t exist in a car. It’s also the case that I can shift positions a lot more easily without bothering people in a car, which helps a lot with pain.
That I’ve had less issue with pain lately as compared with in the past may largely be a factor of my current locale simply being less stressful overall than my old one. I rather hope this is true, and that the trend continues.
[Addendum]: Oh, I almost forgot to add another data point! As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been feeling incredibly injury-prone lately, and for the last month or two have been a bit cautious with my abs and shoulders, as they’ve been particularly whiney in this regard. It’s been frustrating.
I consider the turning point between my back pain deteriorating and improving to be the day that my PT point-blanked me with the fact that I almost certainly did not have any sort of damaging injury in my back, and that pain was a neurological response and not a sign that I was about to destroy anything physically. This enabled me to effectively call bullshit on some of the upticks in pain I experienced when exercising, and the ability to call bullshit enabled me to start exercising again.
The question of when to be careful and when to call neurological bullshit is a complicated, and sometimes scary one. You bet wrong, and injuries happen. Injuries don’t just mean you can’t spend time exercising those muscles, they mean that, in general, fewer exercise options are open to you. Since exercise is one of the more important things to be able to do to reduce pain, this can be bad on a number of shitty, shitty levels.
The additional data point is that I’m not experiencing an uptick in pain in either my shoulders or abs in spite of some unexpected and reasonably intense exercise over the weekend. So yay me. Perhaps I should call neurological bullshit on the complainy abs and shoulders more often.