If you have started to notice that you are feeling stiff and sore, or that it takes more effort to get out of that recliner, off that toilet seat, or up those stairs—more so than usual, even—you are not alone. Thanks to the pandemic, we are not moving as much as we could be, which has led to an increase in chronic pain symptoms for many.
In this article, I want to talk about a few things that could help you overcome these symptoms. Making changes to a lifestyle is not for the faint of heart. Yet every year, we have good intention, or hope, to try to do better or be better in some way. Given that the New Year is less than a month old, I think it is an excellent time to revisit what promise(s) you made to yourself for 2021. What habit(s) did you want to nurture? And, how is that working out for you?
Urban Legend: it takes 21 days to make or break a habit?
Nope, it could take 14, 35, or 72 days or anything between, above, or below. How long it takes depends on:
frequency – practice makes progress, not perfection, and how often you repeat the new habit matters.
effort – the more you plan or pay attention to pursuing the new habit, the sooner you will get there.
Anything important you want in life requires sustained focus and action. Focused action creates new brain pathways for thinking, feeling, and behaving or moving differently. Did you know that one healthy habit could trigger a cascade of other healthy habits?
“Aren’t we all in varying degrees, captives in our own personal prisons,
bound by our limiting habits?” – Ruthy Alon
Move More Wisely, not just Move More.
“Move more and perform a gentle exercise, like walking,” even a few blocks is a standard solution given to those who suffer from chronic pain. However, it may seem nearly impossible to do because more movement means more pain. So, this year, let’s re-solution this resolution to move more. We are more isolated than ever since the pandemic started. Many people work from home, which means that they are no longer having to get up and walk, even the short distance from the parking lot to their desk. However, did you know that acquiring the ability to get up out of a kitchen chair, a recliner, or a toilet seat, with ease, can drastically improve chronic pain symptoms?
To move more wisely means knowing your habitual way of moving and the ability to make a different choice. Remember, a habit is something you do automatically – no thought required! We create a habit, “good or bad”, by repeating a behavior over and over and over again. But there is a ‘keystone’ habit that helps other practices or habits fall into place. Think of it like the first domino you flick that creates all the other dominos to cascade, tumble, or flow.
The Magic of Awareness: Choice
Awareness is perhaps the single most crucial mental function that changes our brain. Awareness is the cognitive ability to observe our movements, behaviors, thoughts, and emotions without judgment. So, self-awareness is what allows us to watch what it is that we do in the present moment. The ability to pay attention with compassion or kindness will enable us to notice what is working in this “situation” and what is not working and giving us more pain. When we are aware of differences, we can choose and learn to interrupt negative, unhealthy, and disempowering patterns of movement, thought, or feelings.
If you know what you are doing, you can do what you want.
– Moshe Feldenkrais
Being mindful of your body’s comfort requires a certain amount of discipline. If you can train yourself to start listening to your body, you might be able to stop chronic pain symptoms before they escalate into lockdown and immobility.
Start small. Let’s apply awareness to the action of getting up out of a recliner. Make an effort to notice the first thing you do. What is that keystone habit that signals to the brain that you want to stand up? Does your head lead the way as your torso moves away from the back of the chair? Do you immediately draw your hands back and put them on the chair’s armrests in preparation to push down, and then stand up? What is your habit?
Try noticing if it is possible to withdraw or push your pelvis back into the chair seat to trigger the torso to move away from the back of the chair. Then without using your hands to push down into the armrests of the chair, can you “buttock walk” to the forward edge of the chair. Once there, negotiate! Just how much “push” from your hands, if any, is needed to get yourself out of the chair. Instead of your hands, could you begin to push both feet down into the floor, especially the bottom of the heels and the back of the foot arch? Maybe you have been used to favoring one foot over the other. You might have needed to do that at one time. And it became a habit.
Talk to Me About Your Chronic Pain Symptoms
Chronic pain can be challenging to treat if you don’t know the cause. It could be an old injury that flares up under certain conditions. Or it could be the result of an imbalance in the body that has developed over the years.
In any case, I want to help you this year to discover the reason (or reasons) that keep you in the cycle of chronic pain. Once you know why you are experiencing symptoms, you can start using strategies that allow healing and regaining balance within your body’s systems.
Talk to me about what you are going through to come up with a plan that starts you on the path toward feeling better and moving better. Set up a consultation with me today and be sure to learn more about the somatic platforms we offer, including Total Motion Physical Therapy for Pain Relief, especially if you want an option you can do from the comfort of your own home.
I hope these New Year re-solutions help you find peace, ease, and a little more relief from your pain.
Carol Montgomery, MSPT, GCFP, STMI, is a dedicated, passionate Physical Therapist whose focus is on the somatic relationship between the physical body and the psyche for rehabilitation and recovery. She is also a co-creator of Integral Human Gait™ Theory and a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner and Movement Intelligence Senior Trainer. She is a graduate of both the Indianapolis Gestalt Institute and the Institute for Integrative Psychotherapy.