As I shared on Instagram, when a FB-page I follow about Pain Science said they were looking for people with chronic pain in my city the upcoming weekend, I thought “Why not give I a try?”
They share a lot of interesting stuff about modern pain science & research, and I had read a couple of their articles, but not fully learned their message (or unlearned some of the traditional, now outdated, conceptions of pain most people have).
They were looking for people their course participants could practice on as part of the training. When I volunteered, I thought even I don’t end up getting anything out of it, I at least get the satisfaction of helping out.
My reason for signing up? Long term knee pain. I originally injured my knee in 2012, then made it worse in 2014, where I’ve had to live with more or less pain every day.
It’s hard to explain the way chronic pain can affect you. And while it’s not the cause for my depression, the pain (as well as how it has limited me from doing things I love) was a significant, contributing factor.
To make sure I (and my pain) was a good fit, the course leader asked me to fill out a short survey about it. Though I feel slightly embarrassed admitting this, I want you to know how deeply this affects, I couldn’t hold back the tears when I shared my history of pain.
Like, it bothers me every day, though lately I don’t have days where it’s extremely painful.
Which is also why some of you might not realise how serious this has been – because I see no point in sharing an Instagram caption that says “Oh and by the way, my knee hurt a bit, just like every other day”
So when I was writing out a timeline of long I’ve been dealing with this, how almost traumatizing it’s been. How big an obstacle it’s been for me in my education in Sports Science & Health, which involves a lot of practical lessons. I couldn’t hold back the emotions. Fortunately, the tears would later become those of happiness.
But like I said, I arrived with fairly low expectations but an open mind nonetheless. The course was held on a floor at a crossfit gym, so it was the perfect setting. The course participants were divided into a handful pairs, that each were responsible for one patient.
We were then introduced to the two most important principles: feeling safe and having trust.
So basically if we felt like we would be in pain now or later, we should say stop. We controlled the pace.
At that moment, if they had told me I’d be squatting 80 kg today, I’d have told them to 🦆 off and walked home.
Even if they had said 40 kg I’d be extremely critical, as they would have to work some serious magic for that to happen – and doing it pain free was just not going to happen.
So it was probably good we didn’t start like that. Instead we simply talked. She told me about how pain, and the perception thereof, doesn’t always correspond to the level of damage to the body. Pain is extremely complicated, and be affected by many seemingly irrelevant factors, like a lack of sleep or seeing the person you love. The nervous system can become overly sensitive and overprotective, which it has after my injury, and so my brain starts sending pain signals even when there’s nothing to worry about.
I was there for about 2 hours, but it felt like I had been there for half day with the amount of information I had to take in!
I struggle with a lot of different movements, including squats (bending the knee with weight on it), running, walking on stairs and such.
We started with squats. Air squats. Just a couple of reps.
She helped me make a few adjustments, but overall my form was great (which I was relieved to hear).
We slowly progressed to barbell squats, just a few reps at the time. Always stopping between sets to check in, make sure I was okay – that my knee was okay.
Put some 5 kg plates on.
A couple of 2.5 kg plates, then some more. We talked through it, she explained some more of the pain science, made sure I was okay, and added more 2.5 kg plates, one by one. Sometimes we took breaks to rest, talk, or work on some other movements.
My knee was (somehow) still fine. I didn’t know how much was on the bar. I could have made an estimate, but I didn’t want to know.
I said my PR from forever ago (pre injury) was 60-65 kg.
I had no idea how much I was lifting, it was starting to feel heavy, so I guessed I was close to that.
After many rounds of adding 2.5 or just 1.25 kg (still with compliments to my form), I was starting to feel tired, including in my knee. But not feeling pain, which was a huge success on it own.
I didn’t need a spotter on my last lift, but it was getting close, so we finally stopped.
Then, for the reveal, I got to count the plates as I pulled them off the bar. I thought I miscalculated, it was way too much.
I counted the plates again on the ground.
Plus 15 kg.
It was 79.5 kg!
I don’t know how I did it. I genuinely don’t know how my legs had the strength, with the limited training I’ve done lately. I haven’t squatted heavy in forever. This would be impressive even for a person without an injury who had done the same amount of training (or lack thereof) for the past years.
It was freaking amazing. Not just that I could lift that much, but that I was the muscles in my body, not the knee pain, that had limited how much I could lift.
I am so grateful for everything that I’ve learned, and I genuinely think this is going to change my life for the better. I no longer have to be the one with the bad knee. The one who’s constantly limited by her body. It’s incredibly empowering.
It’s a couple of days later as I’m writing this, and me knee still feels fine. I was worried my knee would hurt afterwards (I did a lot of squatting after all). But it didn’t. It hadn’t felt as good as they day I had surgery (courtesy of some very nice drugs and local anaesthesia).
I still find it hard to believe. Like if it wasn’t because I could feel the change in my own body, I wouldn’t believe it at all. To experience that kind of change in just a couple of hours?
I know it’s going to take a while to fully internalise these new messages. To unlearn years of bad habits and conditioning of my nervous system. I’ve felt pain here and there these past days, but now I can make it go away. With these new tools, I finally have the power to heal myself, and that makes me so happy I have to hold back tears of joy.
Would you like to know more about pain science? I’m going to write more about what I learned, at least for my own sake so I don’t forget it, but if it could help some of you just half as much as me, it would be amazing. Here’s a link to the people that held their course (some of the resources on their website are in english + they often share articles or talks in english).