I have a real interest in the psychology of pain and have written a couple of blogs about it (check them out here and here). Last week I had my own brush with pain psychology that I want to share with you.
At the time I was 6 weeks out from running the Boston marathon and started to feel something going on in my shins. I had gone out for a short, easy run and felt that tell tale stabbing pain in my shin. I stopped for a second (cursing under my breath), refocused, thought about my form and then continued on with no problems. Unfortunately that had already planted a seed, I also remembered my ankles had been tight after a race – when I was running a couple of days later on the treadmill. Next run I felt it again, not painful but a sensation of discomfort. And before I knew it I was imagining all sorts of problems and feeling it more and more. What if I had to cut down on my running training so close to the marathon?
You also need to know this. Every time I have a big event like this I have an “injury”. I think I’ve had them all: runner’s knee, plantar fasciitis, sore foot, “tight” ITB, the lot. I also have a husband who reminds me that I always have something wrong with me just before a race. Him telling me this is how I recognise this pattern. He has stopped believing me, and rightly so.
Luckily one of my best friends is a Physiotherapist, so I call her up for an appointment to check things out. She asked me what I have been up to and points out I have been on a couple surfaces I am not so used to (treadmill and cross country). Through a few tests she finds that it is a muscle that is a bit tired, gives it a bit of a rub (well, it was quite painful actually) and sends me off. All thoughts that I had damaged something were alleviated and when I ran next I felt the area of the massage rather than the shins. I also increased the volume of Biomechanics exercises I was doing and that had the benefit of making my running feel freer and more fluid again.
I felt a little twinge on a couple of runs but apart from that I have been fine since. So it just goes to show that the mind can conjure up all sorts of problems due to previous experience. The level of pain is not in relationship to the level of damage (if there even is any) and a bit of positive thinking goes a long way. As soon as I knew I hadn’t damaged anything I already stopped feeling so much pain.