After many years of trying to explain the complexity of symptoms to patients, I came across an idea that seems to be getting traction.
99% of people that come to see me are in pain of some sort. Their pain could be showing up in their back, their hips, knees, feet, neck, shoulder, butt, hamstrings, headaches, or whatever. I always struggled on how to explain to patients that their problem (in most cases) didn’t happen at the same time the pain appeared. To be more specific, the cause of the problem is one thing, the awareness of the problem or pain is another. It’s very normal to link both events together.
Remember way back when you were a little tike and you first smashed your 2 little fingers with a red brick you were playing with and it hurt like !*#$%? Well, that’s what I recall as my first lesson in pain and at that point my little brain started putting it together … brick…heavy…fingers…soft..brick on fingers = instant pain= “When I do this, this happens”.
As we get older we equate the initial awareness of pain with the start of the problem. “I woke up with the Flu”, “All I did was pick up the razor and now I can’t move my back”, “Everything was fine yesterday”, “I haven’t done anything different”, and even “I felt good last week and now they tell me I have cancer”.
Somewhere along our life’s journey we started thinking that we are more like our cars and computers than like the living environment that surrounds us. When you break something mechanical, the results are immediately obvious. Smash your car; you see it. Hot water heater fails; you feel it. Computer crashes; you yell at it. Just as importantly, these things seem pretty straightforward to repair.
In contrast, when a living thing or system starts to have problems, the symptoms may not be apparent for days, weeks or years because there’s a sub-threshold adaptation process occurring that we can’t see or feel. The cold you woke up with probably started 4 days ago (when you were exposed to a virus) and just reached threshold (awareness) today.
Think about it. The grass isn’t going to turn from lush green to brown overnight if your sprinkler system broke in the middle of a hot summer is it? And when you discovered it, the mechanical sprinklers should be pretty easy and quick to fix, but how many days or weeks will it take to get the lawn healthy again?
Complex systems are usually able to do and perform a lot more than simple systems. And since we ask our bodies to do just about everything imaginable and we’re about the most complex things on the planet, observing subtle changes can be difficult at best.
I propose that instead of thinking on/off, feeling good/feeling bad we consider the idea that we remember we are really Human Beings (living) not Humans doing (mechanical) and therefore will go through millions of changes and adaptations in a lifetime.
This will help us make better decisions on how to develop long term strategies to take care of our bodies and develop expectations that are more in line with the rhythms of nature. This seems much more sensible than the distortions of the quick fix mechanical approach we seem to default to.
Dr. Michael Cerami is an avid runner, cyclist and triathlete. He is available for a no change consultation one Saturday per month at The Salt Lake Running Company (700 E store) by appointment. He can be reached at 801-486-1818 or online at www.utahsportsandwellness.com