What a Pain!

A Blessing in Disguise

Imagine you are the parent of a baby.   Would you respond when your baby cries by putting in ear plugs and escaping to another room?  Of course not!  You would go find out if he is crying because he’s hungry; has a wet or dirty diaper; has injured himself; is feeling lonely or abandoned; or has another need that needs attention, and you would address that need.

Our physical bodies are like that baby.  They usually let us know when something is wrong or is lacking. However, we often choose to “put in ear plugs and escape” instead of giving attention to the cause of discomfort.   But pain is really a gift that God designed to help us know something is not right with our bodies.

I can count on pain to represent my best interests in the most urgent way available. It is then up to me to act on those recommendations…The beauty of pain is that it lets you know right away when you are harming yourself. Pain, my body’s way of alerting me to danger, will use whatever volume level is necessary to grab my attention.  Dr Paul Brand, Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants

As a doctor, I often tell my patients that it is better to address the cause of the pain rather than masking it with medication. Here are some examples:

Neck and shoulder pain and headaches are often caused by chronic poor positioning of the head.   Looking down at a device (i.e. cellphone, Kindle) or sitting at a desk for hours strains our neck and shoulder muscles and causes pain.  Instead of just masking the pain with pain pills and muscle relaxants, it is better to address the cause of the pain by improving posture and position; not staying in the same position for very long; and maybe even doing physical therapy.  Low back pain also is often due to poor posture; improper lifting technique; or a sedentary lifestyle and should be addressed in a similar way.

Knee pain is often due to a person being overweight but can also be due to certain kinds of exercise or previous injuries.   Instead of only taking pain pills for the pain, it is better to also work on weight loss; to find a different exercise that doesn’t strain the knees in the same way; and/or to do specific exercises to strengthen the thigh muscles so they will protect the knee joints.

Heartburn is often treated just by taking an antacid pill.  Pills may be needed in the short term to heal any damage but it is better to address the cause of heartburn which is acid reflux.  This can happen with overeating; eating the wrong kind of food; too much caffeine or nicotine; or too much stress.

Certain foods cause abdominal pain and bloating in those with intolerance to that food. It is better for a person to determine which foods cause symptoms and to avoid those foods rather than take a pain pill or an anti-spasmodic.

Many people deal with emotional pain by drinking alcohol, using drugs, binging on junk food, or other masking or escape behaviors.  It would be better to address that pain by talking to a friend, getting counseling, choosing to forgive, and/or wrestling with God in prayer about it.

We live in a culture that has a remarkable ability to shut down pain in our lives.  North Americans, who only represent 5 percent of the world’s population, consume over 50% of all manufactured drugs, one-third of which work on the central nervous system.  We are the most advanced society in the world in terms of suppressing pain.  Yet the more we try to shut down pain, the more pain strikes back.  When we refuse to listen to the pain in our bodies, we invariably begin to destroy ourselves.  Just think of the number of famous football, basketball, and hockey stars who have damaged themselves for life by going out on the field, still injured, with the help of painkiller injections.    Rev. Ed Hird, The Deep Crier

Pain is usually not fun or enjoyable, but in most cases it is a help and a blessing to us. Please don’t ignore it or mask it; instead, figure out why it’s there and address it.

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