Good Pain Vs. Bad Pain

I think most people with chronic pain are familiar with this concept, but maybe you haven’t articulated it. When I started doing Pilates and experimenting with different types of bodywork, like acupuncture, chiropractic work, cupping, electrical stem, gua sha, etc., I started to really clarify this point for myself and my practitioners and trainers.

Good pain:

This is the “hurts so good” idea. It’s usually when my practitioner or I have found a tricky area—a knot, tension, tightness, etc.— and the work we’re doing hurts, but it’s productive hurt. I know that I’ll eventually feel better and have less pain in the long run.

Bad pain:

This is damaging pain. It does not make you feel better. This feels different than good pain. You know something is wrong. Your body is not relaxing or stretching. This is when you’re actually making something worse. Like for me, I can barely twist my spine, so if I try to twist it more than it can, I will hurt my back and delay the process of getting stronger. (And I’ve done that when I first tried yoga: definitely a learning experience.)

By now, I am an expert in telling the difference. It takes a lot of trial and error and experience, but if you have chronic pain, this is something you will learn. It’s also an important concept for those who live or work with people with chronic pain.

Like if I tell my chiropractor something hurts and she needs to stop, that means something has provoked bad pain, and I know that it won’t help me to tough it out.

This is also why phrases like “pain is simply weakness leaving the body” upsets me. No. no. no. Sometimes pain is just pain, and it’s not serving any purpose: it actually makes you more physically vulnerable.

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