Wednesday, 7 February 2018

How Getting Past Pain Relapses Is Like Quitting Smoking

We made it to February!

How are those New Year's resolutions coming....?

Mmmhmmm!

Stepping aside from New Year's-specific goals (as you already know my opinion on them), let's discuss the realistic situation of regression.

Across the board, regressions and relapses occur in every type of behaviour or lifestyle change, whether it's recovery from pain, smoking, or weight loss. While the ideal is that we persevere through the road block or speed bump and continue on through the recovery process, often, hitting a point where pain returns, a cigarette is lit, or a few pounds are gained back are enough to shatter motivation and derail progress altogether.


One research group categorized pain relapse responses into four possibilities, some less ideal than others.

1) An unpleasant mystery that leaves negative feelings towards oneself and the situation.
2) A fact of life that should just be ignored.
3) A reminder to keep within physical limitations in order to avoid a future relapse.
4) An indication to change your behaviour to avoid another relapse.

You can probably assume that the first option is the least constructive, likely resulting in an ever-increasing level of negativity regarding the pain and loss of motivation to pursue further recovery.

The second option, ignoring the pain, is dangerous, as it may result in the individual becoming too content with their pain to the point of identifying with it.

The third possibility is good to a point. During a more acute phase of healing, learning to stay within limitations is vital, and sometimes the reminder is necessary. However, avoiding behaviours for too long can end up in a person simply using avoidance as a long-term coping mechanism.

Lastly, the fourth option is the most ideal in the long term. Understanding triggers or becoming aware of an increased need for self-work for your health is the most productive response to have if reexperiencing pain. However, sometimes coaching (whether it be self-coaching or help from a therapist) is necessary to reevaluate a relapse in order to maintain a positive foreseen outcome on the situation.

As it turns out, you can closely relate behaviour change relapses between health behaviours fairly well across the board! For instance, these tips of quitting smoking are amazingly applicable to this very process!

1) Focus on the next 24 hours:
Manage the acute phase of the relapse. Modify the environment so that further aggravation doesn't occur. Understand that this was an acute occurrence only and that you shouldn't become down on yourself and treat all the work up until this point as a failure.

2) Talk to someone:
Seek advice or support as needed. Seek your therapist or even consult a doctor if it puts your mind at ease that this wasn't a complete reset to square-one.

3) Analyze what happened:
Did you decide to get too aggressive with the weight you were squatting? Did you take a week off of your rehab exercises in too-early of a stage? Try and ask yourself exactly what may have caused this relapse to happen so that you can use that knowledge for future recovery.

4) Build a new plan:
This one is built straight into the basic rehab process. We're always modifying and changing pain-management and prevention strategies as needed, and having this relapse happen is a bit of a blessing in disguise, as it can help you and your therapist to further progress your long-term plan.


I try my best to ensure that my clients are ready for the possibility of their pain returning at some point, whether it's simply next week or a sudden reoccurrence in five years. Yes, it may happen. No, it is not the many steps back that you may think it is. And yes, there are steps that you can take to get right back on the train and continue to always get better.

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