I recently started to going to physical therapy to help recover from an injury of unknown origin to my hip. I ignored the pain and hoped it would go away, only to have it worsen. I have tried everything…massage, chiropractic care, stretching and now, finally, physical therapy.
I have avoided physical therapy, because….well, it’s hard. I’ve done it before and it can be inconvenient and pretty uncomfortable. And I have this thing about pain. I avoid it. Anybody with me?
When I arrived at the consultation, the new patient paperwork included a questionnaire. Most of the questions were about pain. For example:
Do you think pain
a) should be avoided at all costs
b) should mostly be avoided
c) should be accepted but with with tears and tantruming
d) should be embraced with a shout, “Bring it ON!”
Yeah, something like that.
After I completed all the questions, I was so curious. Was it to prepare them for how difficult I would be? A measure of wimpiness? To determine whether to play good cop or bad cop to motivate me?
I had to ask. They told me the answers predicted likelihood of improvement. If I answered the questions in a way that indicated I feared and avoided pain I would be less likely to improve, but if I was open to the idea that sometimes recovery hurts, my chances of improvement skyrocketed.
And the really interesting thing? The results did not factor in my diagnosis at all, only my attitude.
So I took my attitude into the therapy room, hoping that would be enough. But after some twisting and measuring the Physical Therapist (a Bradley Cooper knock-off by the way) told me he thought the problem resided in some trigger points in my muscles. And then mentioned something about dry needles being stuck into those trigger points, but at this point I might have dissociated because I just started mentally naming every movie Bradley Cooper has starred in.
As I came back to reality, I was signing a consent form to have said needles stuck into my hip and inner thigh muscles (yowza) and somehow this was supposed to make me feel better. Let the torture begin.
You know how you can be certain you have hit the trigger point? It HURTS. Let me re-name that sensation…it is uncomfortable, you know, like labor or kidney stones are uncomfortable. Layman’s definition, you take a tiny needle and poke it through the skin (that doesn’t hurt) into the trigger point (which does). This creates a short burst of muscle spasm/release that somehow helps reset this muscle that has gotten all gacked up. And you no longer like any movie with Bradley Cooper. You actually wish you could punch him in the face.
But a few hours later, I noticed something. I could actually rotate my hip in ways I hadn’t in weeks. I could climb in and out of my car without pain, and my hip felt looser. And I felt hopeful. The temporary pain (and it was seriously probably less than 3 minutes total) has gained me so much relief. And because of that, I am a huge believer in trigger point therapy and will go back for more.
I hear people say all the time in my counseling practice that something “triggers” them. In other words, something brings them pain or discomfort. And we are taught to avoid triggers at all costs. Or if they are unavoidable we are taught to cope with them. It becomes a bad thing to be “triggered.” But what if facing down those triggers…those places and faces of pain and discomfort…is exactly the way we heal? What if we need to change our perspective on suffering?
The only way to do that is to walk right into the pain trusting the guy with the needle. And for me, that is God, who has allowed certain things into my life that are painful, but ultimately I believe are for my good and His Glory. I don’t get that in the moment. I might not get that in this lifetime. But I see enough of His hand and healing that I am willing to bet He knows what He is doing.
And as I resolve to face down the pain, I will ask for all of Him. Will you?