The Application of “Pain Science”

There has been a recent rise in the popularity of “pain science”. While I am not completely on board with some of the more extreme opinions/theories (read the above story highlight “Injury Rehab” to read my full breakdown of this), I think there is much to be said about the overreaction many have to pain, and I am 100% guilty of this in my own training. When it comes to drug free lifters in particular, severe acute injuries are fairly rare. Injuries such as muscle tears and tendon ruptures typically do not happen to natural lifters. This is comes down to the fact that enhanced athletes can increase their strength at rates that the soft tissues cannot adapt to quick enough, so these severe acute injuries occur due to how much they are overloading these tissues past their tolerable levels. Natural athletes on the other hand tend to suffer more from overuse issues, such as tendinopathy or chronic strains. These are injuries that start out typically as just some slight discomfort and slowly build over time due to neglect.

So when a natural athlete finds themself experiencing what they believe to be a very acute injury that seemingly came out of nowhere, my first action is to create optimism versus pessimism, as there is good likelihood that it is more of a pain response versus an actual serious injury. It doesn’t mean there isn’t something that was slightly tweaked, but the issue is the 10/10 pain level far over estimates the actual seriousness of the issue. Let’s take the example of┬áDan, who a week ago during a backdown set on squats felt a “pop” in his quad. The picture HERE notates the spot of the “pop”. The immediate reaction of most powerlifters feeling a “pop” would be immediate freak out mode and thinking their powerlifting career is over, as we tend to over dramatize things. But with Dan, he had never had a single issue with that quad before, ever. So to think he went from zero pain or discomfort to full on muscle tear was a very, very unlikely scenario. The one thing that is certain is that some recovery factor must have played into this sudden pain. Any and all injuries are caused by a tissue being pushed past its loading ability, so if absolutely nothing has been changed in training there must be something outside of training that can be attributed to this. And sure enough I found out Dan had spent the weekend moving his brother to Colorado, picking up heavy things for hours on end, and sleeping on a coach with his knees fully flexed so that he could fit. He had produced added stress to that quad, so even though his training had been very similar to what it had been, there was now a different response due to the added stimulus over the weekend. So while Dan may have tweaked his quad a tad, I was fairly certain this was just one of those fluke little tweaks due to this added stress, and we had him do some soft tissue release throughout the week and backed down the volume and intensity on his second squat day to return his fatigue/stress levels back to baseline. Fast forward to one week later, and Dan is hitting the 365lb. pause squat you see HERE on the right, with zero pain.

This doesn’t mean someone should train through injuries or push through pain, but the point I hope to get across is that the more you can remain optimistic and not over-dramatize these acute out of nowhere pain signals, the faster you are likely to return back to training. In these scenarios, many times just a couple slight adjustments during the week can get you back to training pain free again in no time.

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