What to do When Functional Movement Training is Painful

Muscle imbalances and dysfunction can cause chronic pain, and fixing those imbalances and dysfunctions can be painful. The good news is that, in most cases, the pain is just a temporary step on the road to long-term relief and not a sign of damage or a need for drastic measures.

 

Table of Contents 

 

Chronic Pain and Muscle Dysfunction and Imbalances

If you’re suffering from chronic pain, it's important to identify whether or not it might be related to muscle dysfunction and imbalance. 

Once you’ve identified dysfunctional muscles and muscle imbalances, you can train the problematic muscles to move with more ease by building strength at every muscle length. 

Whether you’re going through this process alone or with the help of a coach or therapist, one thing is almost guaranteed: You’re going to continue to experience discomfort. Chronic pain will take time to defuse, and while you figure out where it is coming from and how to move it out of your body, you may experience pain flare-ups related to training new muscles.

You may have trouble moving around your home. You’ll wonder if the training you’re doing is helping or hurting. You may fall into despair.

But before you give up on fixing your own body and surrendering yourself to a life of numbing medications, endless internet research, or the modern quackery that is orthopedic surgery, read the rest of this article first.

You can learn how to identify muscle dysfunction here and how to fix muscle imbalances here.

 

The Relationship Between Pain and Damage

First, let's be clear. The most important step is to stay calm and try to identify what is causing flare-ups.

Once you identify the factors that are leading to pain flare-ups, you can make adjustments to how you train. Training your muscles with the right movements and addressing the root causes of pain flare-ups will help you quell chronic pain and become a human that moves right and feels right. 

When you're in the middle of a pain flare-up, it's easy to get discouraged. You'll want to give up and call someone to give you pills, a shot, or invasive surgery.

Before you jump to those “solutions,” remember three things:

1. Discomfort is Temporary 

You can shorten the duration of a pain flare-up if you can identify the cause of it and begin to address the underlying issue.

2. Rushing to a Quick-Fix Treatment Rarely Works in the Long-Run

Relying on "treatments" in which someone allegedly fixes your body, like pills, shots, and even surgery, is a disempowering strategy for chronic pain with a high failure rate.

3. Pain Does Not Mean You're Damaged

People often think If I'm hurting, I've damaged myself. This creates needless fear and anxiety. Medical doctors often amplify this fear and anxiety by connecting pain with damage. You then start to worry that you are so damaged that you need someone to be your savior.

Pain and damage are NOT as tightly linked as you may think. Pain can be a sign that something is damaged, but it can also mean nothing. Sometimes, pain is linked to damage,  but oftentimes it’s not.

For example, a woman who was diagnosed with avascular necrosis of the femoral head reached out to me years ago for help. The head of her right thigh bone was chunked up and clearly damaged. Her pelvic bone was jammed into an indentation in her femoral head (see below). 

She was unable to move her hip joint. She limped as a result. The limping caused lower back pain. She consulted with multiple surgeons about a hip replacement, so she would no longer have to limp. 

Still, multiple surgeons said, "no" to the surgery.

Why? 

Because she had zero pain in her hip joint. 

The surgeons told her that they did not want to do hip joint replacement surgery because she had no hip pain, despite the fact that she had a clearly damaged femoral head that no longer allowed for any articulation at the hip joint. 

This is a clear example of how pain and damage can be dissociated. It's also a clear example of why looking at an x-ray is unreliable for finding the cause of pain.

This episode of neurobiologist Andrew Huberman’s podcast is on neuroplasticity and has some excellent explanations and examples of how pain and damage are unrelated.

See also RIIPS: Why Rest, Ice, Injections, Pills, and Surgery Shouldn’t be Your Only Options

 

What Your Pain is Telling You

Pain can be useful and have nothing to do with immediate damage—it can be a helpful advance warning so you don't end up with damage in the future.

Let's think about times when you get pain signals that are a natural and helpful part of life.

If you don't eat for 24 hours, you may get aches and sharp pains in your stomach. That doesn't mean you've seriously damaged yourself. Your stomach is trying to tell you that you aren't getting enough food! If you go several days without eating, you will definitely experience more discomfort in your stomach. 

None of this means you're permanently damaging yourself. There's no need to consult a gastrointestinal surgeon. You need to do some basic maintenance! You need to eat! 

    meme about hunger pains

Likewise, if you find that your muscles are aching and giving you sharp pains, it does not necessarily mean they are damaged.

In fact, muscles that are starved of motion and challenge for even a few weeks will ache and complain. Starve muscles for months and years and they will give you chronic and recurring pain signals just like your stomach would! This is how you end up with "tight muscles" that never relax

So, when you have pain, don't let it fill you with fear and anxiety. Stay calm and start looking for the maintenance work you may have overlooked. 

Pain rarely means you're severely damaged or injured. 

See also Why Massage Sometimes Makes Your Body Feel Worse

 

3 Ways to Adjust Training if You Experience Pain Flare-Ups

Remember, pain doesn't necessarily mean you’re broken or damaged. If training exercises trigger pain flare-ups, it means that the problem can be solved. You’re just temporarily sidelined because you have to figure out the sequence of things to strengthen and lengthen.

If you are mindful while exercising, then there’s zero chance that you broke a bone, tore a tendon, or snapped a ligament. Even if you feel a twang from overstretching, it's unlikely you've done permanent damage. 

When training your body, poor form or poor exercise selection can lead to undesired muscles firing, which may contribute to pain flare-ups.

You need to identify potential exercise triggers. 

Ask yourself: 

  • What exercises have I done? 
  • Did one or multiple of those exercises feel uncomfortable, wrong, odd, etc. while I was doing them? 
  • Did I feel a negative result immediately after a specific exercise? 
  • Was there a specific movement that felt really weak? 

 

 Once you have identified potential exercise triggers your strategies are:

  1. Keep doing the same exercises with better form
  2. Substitute different exercises that focus on the same muscles
  3. Substitute different exercises that focus on different muscles

When exercises flare your pain, use it as an opportunity to learn and make progress. 

Sometimes even doing every exercise perfectly will still cause pain after the fact. That's why it's important for you to understand some common causes of pain flare-ups.

Below are some of the most common movements that lead to pain flare-ups during training programs designed to fix muscle dysfunction and imbalances associated with chronic pain. I'm going to provide strategies to address these issues as well. All of these observations and ideas are based on personal and professional experience with thousands of clients and online students since 2008. 

See also How do You Fix Repetitive Strain and Overuse Injuries?

 

Common Cause of Pain Flare-Ups #1: Activating Weak Muscles (and Making Them Sore!)

Whenever you work a muscle beyond its current comfort zone, you’re going to experience a temporary reduction of extensibility and range of motion of the muscle, which means you'll experience soreness. This is true for any muscle in your body, and it’s normal. 

This is your body telling you to take it a little easier and not push too hard. 

Many people have experienced muscle soreness in large leg muscles or in their calf muscles after running. This type of soreness tends to be less scary because you expect it. 

But the soreness and stiffness in some muscles can be debilitating. 

Here’s another common scenario: you have weak hamstrings. You do three sets of the below hamstring exercise.

 

Single-Leg Hinge for your Hamstrings

The next day you can barely walk. Your knees feel sore and you can barely straighten your legs. The bottom of your butt feels sore. 

Is this a sign that you’ve done the wrong exercise? That you’ve horribly injured yourself? That you need to see an orthopedic specialist to cut your tendons and shave your bones?

No.

Your hamstrings are giving you a warning signal that they are in a temporary fragile state. They are stiff (unable to lengthen). They are weaker than usual because you worked them hard. They require time to repair and regenerate. 

You’ve just made them do work they’ve not done in years (or decades). Even though the after-effects feel crippling, they are temporary. After a few weeks, the muscles will get stronger and they will not get so sore from exercise. 

See also How to Identify Muscle Imbalances and Muscle Dysfunction

 

Strategies to Restore Motion to Sore, Weak Muscles

If you get super stiff and sore after working some weak muscles, use these strategies to help yourself. 

 

1. Stretching and Massage

Stretching and massage restore length to shortened muscles. Muscles that are stuck in a short position, or stiff, don't work well. Shortness limits joint range of motion and can lead to pinching and jamming sensations around the joint. Restoring length helps restore some strength. In addition, massage helps move fluid in and waste out of the soft tissues.

 

2. More Movement

More movement may sound completely counterintuitive and counterproductive. However, you can experience a reduction in soreness and improved range of motion after light movement sessions.

A light movement session doesn't mean you use maximum effort. Instead, take gentle movements that restore and retain range of motion. Keep gently moving to maintain range of motion. This doesn't work for everyone all the time, but many people will find it effective.

If you consistently ask your body to perform, it will eventually meet your expectations. 

This is the same strategy that works for people who want to acclimate to weeks-long hikes like the Pacific Crest Trail. At first, you're sore, then after a few weeks of constant movement, your muscles adapt and no longer get so sore.

Contractions help the muscles move blood and fluid around. It's a big part of circulation in your body! If you've got waste products hanging out in your muscles, contracting your muscles helps move that out. It also keeps your brain talking to your muscles and establishes better communication lines with dormant muscles.

 

3. Develop Better Proprioception

Continued movement also helps with something called proprioception. Proprioception is awareness of your body’s position and movements. Having good proprioception will improve coordination, strength, and quality of life. An extreme example of poor proprioception would be when your leg falls asleep. You go to stand up, and you cannot feel or use the leg.

What happens? PLOP! 

An example of the benefits of proprioception would be when a dancer or other athlete can accurately track any part of her body in space. She wants her right thigh to be at exactly 47 degrees relative to her torso while her left arm is exactly 15 degrees away from her torso and her head is tilted slightly back and to the left...  and she can make it happen. None of that would be possible without perfect proprioception. And that perfect proprioception leads to better performance overall. 

If you aren't an athlete or dancer, you still need to practice feeling and using your muscles so you can learn your limits and protect yourself when life throws you icy sidewalks or banana peels. 

See also ATM Theory: Your Joint Pain May Actually be Muscle Pain

 

A Special Note on Sore Hips

A stunning level of soreness can happen when you’re addressing chronic pain and muscle imbalances and dysfunction in your hips

Because the muscles of the hip form an intricate network, soreness can get scary and debilitating with new hip exercises. A simple hip exercise that targets deep, small hip muscles can result in crippling soreness. But that still doesn't mean you're permanently damaged. 

 An illustration of some muscles of the hip joint.The muscles of the hip.

Muscle dysfunction of any kind in the hips can cripple your ability to walk. Your hips may hurt in a deep spot. Your knees may hurt. Your back may hurt. Even your feet may hurt. The key again is to stay calm and notice which activities cause the flare-ups.

Massive soreness can also happen with shoulder, spine, chest, back, ankle, and foot muscles, so don't be surprised if you get crippled by new exercises there as well. 

Check out my Healthy Hips program

  

In summary, the first time you experience crippling soreness, it might be scary. Don't let it cow you back into a sedentary life of helplessness. After you've experienced this kind of discomfort a few times, you'll recognize that it's just an intense version of muscle soreness and you’ll be able to address it.

When crippling soreness strikes, look for cause-and-effect relationships. Identify what specific areas are uncomfortable and look at what specific exercises may have caused the issue. Sometimes this takes several recurring incidents over the course of weeks or months before you can draw clear connections. Patience pays off. Then you can stretch, massage, and move in ways that help you ease the soreness and maintain more mobility. 

As you develop strength and extensibility in your weak, stiff muscles, your body will get less sore and more functional. As you improve proprioception, your muscles and overall coordination will improve.

 

 

Common Cause of Pain Flare-Ups #2: Shortening Chronically Short Muscles

When you're training small muscles in the hips, shoulders, or spine, remember that if you shorten short muscles, you may end up with more pain.

 

Example: Chronically Short Hip Flexors Muscles and Low Back Pain

Let’s say you have chronically shortened quadriceps and hip flexors. You’re in the gym all the time doing barbell squats and going toes-to-bar with good form.

You start doing corrective exercises to improve hip mobility. One day you decide to do more hip flexor strengthening exercises. The next day you find your lower back is killing you. Plus, you feel pinching and jamming in the front of your hip. You can barely walk because of the pain. 

Have you just torn your labrum to shreds? Do you now need arthroscopic hip surgery to fix your bad bone shapes? Are you a candidate for hip replacement? Is your spine degenerating with every second? 

No. Again, this is a common situation. You should respond calmly. The network of muscles around the hip joint is complex. When muscles start pulling at uneven rates, your range of motion may change for the worse and pain may be the result.

In this example, your already short, strong hip flexors yank your pelvis into anterior tilt. That puts your lower back into end range hyperextension.


Matt Hsu, founder of Upright Health, demonstrates how tight hip flexors can cause lower back pain.

Your high anterior thigh muscles (hip flexors) can trap your lower back into too much concave curvature, causing pain

That doesn’t mean you broke your back or that you suddenly grew a stenosis (which wouldn’t matter anyway based on studies like this, in the journal ‚Äč‚ÄčOsteoarthritis and Cartilage). It means your muscles are forcing your lower back into a position it doesn't want to be stuck in. Sure, your spine should be able to go there, but it doesn't want to be stuck in end range extension all day. 

Training your hip flexors to shorten positions your body parts poorly. You are now getting a warning signal in your back. This is a normal function of your body's warning systems. It's not a sign of damage.

If someone put you in an armbar and your shoulder and elbow started to hurt, you would consider this a proper, valid, and useful warning.

If someone put you in an armbar for three hours, you would expect your body to give you pain signals.

If you train muscles to trap your spine into submission, you should also expect your body to give you pain signals. 

As for the pinching in the front? Your hip flexor muscles could be very weak (something we'll get into in a moment). Sometimes people with very weak muscles experience a sharp pinching sensation as soon as they activate those weak muscles. 

But in this case, it's more likely the muscles are just too stiff and short. You've already been training them to be short with your normal workouts, and now, with the added hip flexor exercise, you've shortened them even more.

     

Example: Chronically Short Quadriceps Muscles and Knee Pain

Another common example of short muscles causing problems is around the knees. Often, people learn to do shallow squats in which their knees never go into a full, deep bend. They train their quadriceps (thigh muscles) to operate in a limited, shortened range of motion.  

They squat and squat and squat. They add weight and squat some more. They do as many squats as they can, always thinking I'm doing something great for myself! and then BOOM: One day their quads have gotten so overworked in a shortened position that their knees hurt constantly. 

The solution is not to strengthen the quads more in the shortened range. The solution is to teach the quads to lengthen and build strength through a full range of motion. You need to stretch. those quadriceps AND teach them to be strong once they're long. You want strength at every length.

 

Strategies for Shortened Muscles

Muscles that are short and strong need to learn how to be long and strong. That means you should: 

  • Massage and stretch the short muscles.
  • Load and contract the muscles at lengthened positions. 

To improve your flexibility, you need to learn how to stretch properly. This video will walk you through some key elements of stretching and provides examples for contracting muscles.

 

 

Common Cause of Pain Flare-Ups #3: Stretching or Massaging Weak Muscles

Pain flare-ups from stretching and massage happen most often with yoga practitioners, dancers, and gymnasts. It can also happen with people who have spent decades suffocating their butt muscles in chairs.

Let’s look at two examples:

Example 1: Super flexible hip flexors that feel tight

Let’s say you’re already flexible in your hip flexors. You can do squared-off front splits with ease. But you feel tight and pinchy in the front of your right hip. So you stretch it. And stretch it. And stretch it. You massage it. You roll it on a foam roller.

Every time you stretch or roll your hip flexors, you feel better but then the tightness comes right back. It just seems to get worse over weeks and months until you’re clawing at your eyeballs due to pain and discomfort.

Example 2: "Tight" glutes that suddenly lock up

You do yoga a lot. You're super flexible in the pigeon pose. But you feel like your butt is tight all the time. So you do pigeon pose as hard as you can. And then you get up and find that your hip feels locked up and jammed in the right inner thigh! Everything hurts! What gives?

  

In both scenarios, you’ve got a nagging sensation of tightness. That tight sensation is misleading. It's not telling you that you have a knot that needs to be stretched, rather it’s trying to tell you that you have weak muscles. 

We are often told to interpret chronic tightness as a signal of stiff muscles that need stretching. Read more about this phenomenon here.

The “tight” muscles are actually weak muscles that are barely keeping things together. They’re telling you, “Hey! We are too weak to do this job! We're trying to hold things together, but we can’t produce enough force! Pay attention!”

And, in response, you stretch the muscle. But here's the thing: Stretching tells the muscle, “Get longer and relax.”

Then you go and stretch those muscles more. And that causes big problems. 

 

Strategies for Long, Weak Muscles

The solution for aches and pains like this is to strengthen muscles. Again, it’ll be helpful to read more about the misconceptions about "tight” muscles here.

In case 1, strengthening your hip flexors is the better option (knowing that you may get muscle soreness, possibly intense soreness if you’re very weak). Strengthen the hip flexors in a shortened position and a lengthened position. Above all, make sure they get stronger, not just longer. 

 

 

In case 2, strengthening your butt is likely the better option (knowing that you may end up with some normal muscle soreness, possibly at a debilitating level if you’re extremely weak.) You will need to strengthen your butt muscles in multiple positions and you’ll potentially also need to strengthen your inner thighs, hamstrings, and the muscles of your anterior thighs (hip flexors and knee extensors).

In summary, weak muscles can feel tight. Telling weak muscles to relax is a recipe for more pain. If stretching and massaging have no positive effect after a month, change tactics and try strengthening instead.

See also Why Massage Sometimes Makes Your Body Feel Worse

 

Common Causes of Pain Flare-ups #4: Heightened Stress Levels

Heightened stress levels have nothing to do with exercise selection but everything to do with your chronic pain. And people with high-stress lives are often resistant to changing the lifestyle habits that get them into trouble in the first place. 

For example, you’re sitting at a computer 12 to16 hours a day. You’ve got deadlines looming. You’re pounding away at the keyboard with a jug of coffee and a bag of pork rinds. As the deadline get closer, your shoulders creep into your ears; your hip flexors tighten; your lower back muscles tense; your knees, ankles, and wrists lock up.

You aren't sleeping well. You pass out with your phone on your pillow. The few hours of sleep you do get are restless and filled with anxiety. You wake up and immediately check your phone for work or catch up on the news or see what's on social media.

This is a high-stress life. 

 

I know the majority of productive people will say, "No, it's fine. I'm not stressed by it."

That's simply because you don't recognize or remember the feeling of a low-stress life. 

Stress and muscle dysfunction are a two-way street. Stress can create tension, as in the above example, and if your muscles are dysfunctional, you may feel less able to handle stress and more quickly feel “stressed out.” Not only are you stuck in the same positions and postures all day, but your brain is operating at too intense a pace to process new movement patterns. 

A high-stress life means you will barely have the mental bandwidth to process what you're doing with your physical training. If you're too stressed, you aren't able to accurately feel your body. Proprioception is dulled. This is backed up by neuroscience research. This Dr. Huberman podcast episode does a great job of explaining the science. 

When you can’t notice subtle messages from your body, you’ve got a recipe for slow or no progress.

In addition, stress hormones and brain circuitry tend to make you more likely to experience pain more quickly. This TEDx talk by neuroscience researcher Lorimer Moseley explains how this happens. You’re likely to over-interpret pain signals as something catastrophic. In the case of training, you’re likely to start thinking, This must be bone damage or This must be permanent damage from that car accident 17 years ago.

Being constantly stressed (and having a medical system tell you that you’re always one fragile moment away from shattering to bits) does not help you become stronger. It makes you weaker.

 

The solution is to treat yourself like an animal you love. Treat yourself like your own pet. 

Would you force your dog Fido to stare at a laptop in one position for 16 hours a day? Would you cage your cat in a tiny space with nothing to do but stare at a phone and tap its screen in the hopes that it doesn’t receive a nasty email from her boss? Sounds like a miserable, abusive existence, doesn’t it?
  a meme with a koala talking about what a bummer it is checking email every day.

If you wouldn’t do it to your pet, don’t do it to yourself. Take yourself on a walk, feed yourself well, and get some rest. If you need help with some of this, be sure to check out this article on breaking phone and internet addiction.

It took me 15 years of denial before I clearly saw the effects of long work hours on my mental and physical health. I was enamored with my own productivity and willfully blind to the true costs. I hope that you, dear reader, will not make the same mistake I did.

See also Cut Screen Time to Relieve Stress and Pain

 

Common Causes of Pain Flare-ups #5: Other Systemic Issues

Now that we've covered our bases, we know that exercise and general stress levels can be the root causes of pain flare-ups. When we’re trying to resolve chronic pain with functional movement training, we need to talk about some other potential reasons for your pain. 

While exercise selection and execution are extremely important, some insidious systemic issues commonly cause aches and pains. 

Some of these may require professional help, depending on the severity and nature of the issue and your own ability to play detective. I personally prefer to be my own detective for my body, but sometimes it's faster, easier, and more effective to just ask an expert. Nothing here should be considered medical advice, and anything you choose to do as a result of reading this is at your own risk!! 

First, let's talk about why you might suspect a systemic issue like food sensitivities and nutrient deficiencies may be causing chronic pain or pain flare-ups as you try out functional movement training. 

Let's say you're doing moderate levels of exercise for three months. You get enough sleep and relaxation time on a regular basis. Despite your consistency and overall good habits, you find that you have not made one single degree of improvement. You feel stiff, sore, and achy in your entire body in all the same places. 

Even if you have noticed some small movement improvements, you have a generalized sense of pain, malaise, and fatigue. Moving some joints feels extraordinarily creaky and you may have the sensation of glowing with pain. 

As wonderful as exercise can be, it won't solve everything. As potent as the Always Think Muscles philosophy is—of first evaluating muscle dysfunction and imbalances—sometimes problems originate elsewhere. 

Addressing muscles first is a good idea because it's inexpensive and well within your control, but if you find yourself spinning your wheels (or if you want to speed up your progress), start exploring the following issues as well...

  

Food Sensitivities and Chronic Pain

If you’re stuck in pain and haven't ever explored food sensitivities, it's worth trying. Dairy, wheat, eggs, and sugar are common culprits. These foods can trigger reactions in the body that make you feel like garbage.

I know that I can tolerate a slice of cheese on a burger every now and then, but if I eat something cooked in butter for lunch at a restaurant, within two hours I'll feel a glowing body-wide ache that forces me to take a nap. Also, I’ll experience sneezing and itchy eyes. And you will not want to be around me.

On the even more extreme end of the spectrum, my friend's son cannot drink cow's milk without vomiting.

a meme about dairy allergies.

Dairy intolerance can be a combination of things, including lactose intolerance, sensitivity to whey, and sensitivity to casein. After testing with various protein powders and lactose-free combinations, I determined that my own challenge with dairy is due to sensitivity to whey and casein (so no more protein powders, milk, yogurt, or most cheeses for me). 

Wheat gluten is another food sensitivity that seems to cause me minor issues. If I eat a sandwich from a deli once, I'll be fine. If I have a slice of bread, I'll be fine (maybe a little sniffly). But if I have half a loaf of Irish soda bread because it tastes good, and I just can't say no because I'm a ravenous bread monster, I'm going to pay with an aching stomach for half a day and a lot of sneezing over the next few days. 

Some people I've worked with cannot eat any bread, or they will have incredible bouts of pain and swelling all over their bodies.

As for sugar, I can tolerate a few pieces of candy (I have a weakness for good chocolate and Sour Patch Kids), but if I gorge on candy or have candy two or three days in a row, my nose gets sniffly and my energy levels waver in abnormal ways. 

A final personal food sensitivity: If I eat too many almonds or peanuts (or have either one in butter form), I get an incredibly itchy, scaly patch on my neck for a week. If I have a small bit of either, I'll be fine, but more than a spoon's worth of almond butter, and I'll be scratching at my neck like a meth addict. It took me over a year of trial and error with my diet to figure this one out. 

Luckily, most of my own food sensitivities result in annoying reactions that are not painful. But I've known many people for whom food sensitivities were a fast track to joint aches and pains. 

If your gut reaction is to dismiss this category of potential issues because it sounds too annoying to experiment with, I invite you to reconsider.

If I said, "Here, I'd like you to drink this bit of arsenic every morning. It'll sap you of 15 percent of your energy," you'd probably say, "No thanks, jerk." 

Which brings me to this zen-like koan: "If you eat something that harms your body, but you don't realize it harms your body, does it still harm your body?"

This koan has a clear answer. The answer is yes. Ignorance of the effect does not protect you from the effect. So consider investigating this with an elimination diet. Get some professional help if you feel you need it or want to save some time.

 

Nutrient Deficiencies and Chronic Pain

Do you spend all your days indoors with no sun exposure? Do you eat the same microwaved entrees day after day to save time? Do you neglect eating specific types of food (say, vegetables?) because you just can't be bothered? 

If you have no idea what a good diet even looks like, you'll find the following dietary breakdown or Michael Pollen’s book Food Rules: An Eater's Manual useful. And no, I don't think you should eliminate all carbs from your diet. 

We all know that if you don't get enough Vitamin C, your gums bleed, and you'll start to smell and act like a sailor from the 17th century. 

 a meme about sailors and scurvyOriginal artwork (public domain): Der Alte Matrose by Gustav Doré

Vitamin D deficiency may lead to anxiety and depression, muscle weakness, and possible cognitive impairment

And there are more than just these two nutrients to consider. Are you getting protein in your diet? Are you getting carbohydrates in your diet? Are you getting fat in your diet? 

Reading a good simple book about food can be super helpful (and in many cases is the most cost-effective and practical way to make progress).

Getting help from a holistic nutrition, health counselor, or naturopath may be a good idea to zero in quickly on areas to improve.

 

Infections, Disease, and Chronic Pain

Chronic pain associated with infection and disease is more rare than nutrition deficits and food sensitivities, but it’s worth ruling out with a professional if nothing else is helping.

These issues can include infection of structures within a joint.

For example, I've had two clients with infections and complications due to hip replacements, several years after surgery. There was no way of addressing these issues without more surgery (this is one of the many reasons I personally would never opt for joint surgery of any kind unless my bones have been shattered by severe trauma).

I've also had a client get a severely infected and inflamed elbow bursa from constantly injuring it. He had to get surgery to drain his elbow and excise the rotting tissue. Not fun.

Cancer, lupus, Lyme disease, and autoimmune issues can also come into play. I'm not an expert in these arenas, so I can't go into any useful detail. My strongest advice is to find a health professional who is a good critical thinker and 100 percent committed to helping and empowering you.

If they want to put you on an outrageously expensive and exclusive supplementation regimen for the rest of your life, something may be amiss. Likewise, if someone starts suggesting radically invasive procedures to fix you, be sure to use your critical thinking cap to analyze your risks.

In summary, the pace, schedule, and expectations of our modern lives make it easy to be blind to basic issues that hurt our bodies.

However, it's your body. It's your responsibility.

It's the one vehicle you'll be cruising through life with, and it requires some upkeep. Give it the love it needs so you can keep cruising with it for years to come.

 a meme about yearly maintenance plans on expensive cars and human bodies 

Closing Thoughts on Pain Flare-Ups 

When our muscles aren't able to do their jobs well, we should expect our bodies to give us internal warning signals. We often interpret these signals incorrectly and catastrophize their meaning.

Remember to interpret pain flare-ups and discomfort as guides rather than as catastrophes. 

Your stomach hurts on a regular basis, especially if you ignore its hunger signals too long. That's part of its normal function. Likewise, your muscles will hurt if you ignore them for too long or do the wrong thing with them.

Pain and discomfort are guides that help you on a life-long journey. Sometimes pain is a warning of atrophy. Sometimes it’s a warning of a temporarily weakened state. Sometimes it means you're not eating well. Sometimes it means you're eating a bit too well. ūüėĀ Sometimes it's feedback that you've done something wrong. Sometimes it means you've done something right! 

With time and practice, you’ll understand how to interpret your body’s signals so you can safely navigate a life free from chronic pain.

 

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Suffering from joint pain? Read Why you DON’T Need Orthopedic Surgery for Joint Pain

To effectively navigate your way out of pain, be sure you understand the fundamentals of muscle imbalances and dysfunctions and the strategies to fix muscle imbalances.

Still not sure where your pain comes from? Read How Shifting Your Perspective on Chronic Pain Can Help You Heal.

 

Train your body to be more flexible, strong, and resilient! 

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