Do you hurt when you wake up? I do—at least sometimes. My joints are stiff and my back aches, and it just kind of sucks. Turns out, there are two reasons this happens. First, less movement while you sleep means the fluids that lubricate your joints aren’t flowing, causing stiffness. But studies also show that the body suppresses inflammation overnight. When daylight hits, inflammation starts back up and that may cause morning pain.
I think there’s a lesson here. That pain is trying to tell you something, and once you get the message, you can deal with the issue. You can take steps to minimize the problem, whether that means adding a morning stretch routine or upping your vitamin D intake.
Nobody likes pain, but for the most part, it’s a good thing—or at least a necessary thing. Pain is the body’s way of letting you know something is wrong. The obvious example is touching a hot pan. You grab the handle, and sensory receptors in your skin send a message to your brain. Your brain perceives pain and responds with its own message: Let that fucking thing go!
Both messages are sent at lightning speed, which is a good thing because otherwise you’d be standing there, holding a hot pan, and developing third-degree burns.
This holds true whether you’re feeling aches in your joints, a strain in your side, or heartache after a loss. Your pain is pointing you towards something that needs attention.
Let’s take a brief detour here to discuss the different types of pain. Doctors identify five kinds:
Each type (combined with the severity and cause) sends a different message and requires a different response. Or more accurately, every instance of pain has its own message and requires a different response. For example, let’s say you have delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, from changing your workout.
That’s an acute pain, but you know why you’re experiencing it. No need for a doctor, you can handle it on your own with:
On the other hand, let’s say your lower back is killing you and you have no sense of any injury that may have caused it. Now you have to evaluate how it feels and how long you’ve had it to figure out if it’s time to see a doctor.
Side note: Pain can be tricky. You might feel back pain, but the problem can easily be something in your hip, your kidneys, your feet — honestly, just about any body part. And don’t forget that emotional pain can cause physical aches, too.
Pain may be necessary, but that doesn’t mean you want to keep it around. Granted, chronic pain can be its own special kind of hell, but that just makes managing it more important. The first step is identifying the source. If your pain seems weird—basically, is it what you would expect for the situation—or lasts longer than you would expect, get help! Otherwise, you might try:
I think the big takeaway from all this can be wrapped up in a Buddhist saying:
Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.