We never really think about pain and its impact on us until we get injured. Get hurt, suffer, heal, and get back to normal life. When you have a high threshold for pain, you have to be even more cautious. Sure, being resistant to pain sounds like a good thing, but it has its disadvantages. With a good tolerance for pain, the scenario often winds up being… get hurt, don’t notice and continue damaging the injured area, finally feel it when it’s really messed up, suffer for longer, take longer to heal, and then finally get back to life.
To deal with this, you have to take extra precautions. Unfortunately, I learned that the hard way. A number of years after the rehabilitation of a knee injury, I eventually learned that the doctors missed a minor tear (because of my tolerance to pain), and this went on to grind up the cartilage in my knee. It felt like some minor soreness to me, and with a little stretching and ice, I was good-to-go the next day.
Over time, the soreness lasted longer and longer and one day it gave out on me while playing basketball. X-rays… nothing broken. Doctor twists it around… "Does this hurt?" "Not really." "How about this?" "A little." And after all that, they gave me some crutches, put me through a few weeks of rehab and declared me fit for duty.
But they were wrong. The big mistake? Asking me if it hurt. They tell you to be honest, and I was… it didn’t hurt that much. It would give if I tried to put weight on it… but it didn’t hurt, so the doctor set up treatment for me that matched the evaluation. Not a lot of pain and some swelling and weakness. Probably just a sprain… ice, rehab, move on.
If he had put me through an MRI, he would have seen the actual damage in the knee. When I finally got to a point where I needed to see a doctor again for the knee, I mentioned I had a high tolerance to pain, so he decided to scope the knee out just to be safe. My wife waited outside for me to get through my 45 minute procedure… and she wound up waiting for two and a half hours. When the doctor came to her, he stated, "I don’t know how he was walking on that knee let alone running 2-3 miles a day."
Turns out that since I did have a high tolerance to pain, my legs built up in strength to be able to compensate for the injury. When the doctor did the stretching and twisting tests, my muscles held everything in place to make the joint appear stable and strong. When I went in for the scope, the anesthetic relaxed my muscles and he was able to see the full extent of the damage… 80 percent of the meniscus ground to hamburger, split ACL, bones starting to show wear from grinding together and the onset of a degenerative arthritic condition in the knee.
Did that change my ways? No… too stubborn and afraid of hospitals for it to be that easy. I eventually ran into more situations where things that would normally be causing people pain would just be getting worse for me. Tonsils the size of golfballs? Meh, just a little trouble swallowing, that’s all. Sure, it was a major cause of my 10 years of sleep apnea, but it didn’t hurt.
Then during an exam for possible bronchitis, my doctor discovered I had an umbilical hernia. From his description of the signs for it, I’d had it for months. That’s when I decided I needed to make a change to how I approach things… I needed to do more than just go by the feeling of pain.
Now, I take extra precautions when dealing with injuries. I treat them as best I can but if anything doesn’t seem right at all after the first few days, I go see the doctor. I make sure the doctor knows I have a high tolerance to pain and that the muscles in my legs don’t relax very well. That alone makes a big difference in how he looks at the injury.
I also self-examine my body every few days to see if there’s anything wrong (that should be causing me pain). It’s odd how many cuts and scabs and bruises I find on my body where I can’t even place where they’re from because I never felt them occur. I also check my joints with various balance and stability drills/checks. Since I can’t always rely on the amount of pain, I can see how the various joints hold up under stress to see if they feel like they’ll give or wobble, etc.
So, just be wary, no matter how tough you think you are… that same toughness and tolerance to pain can take you down without you even realizing it. If you know that describes you, be sure to take precautions early on in your life and it’ll do you a world of good.
[NOTE: this was supposed to auto-post Friday morning while I was working (since I wrote it way early in the morning), but I just noticed this morning that it didn't post. I'll have to check and see why that feature's not working in my WordPress, but for now, this post will just have to show up late and Monday's post will go up this evening.]