Riding through the pain is a challenge we all face. Some people have more pain than others, while some are more sensitive to pain than others. Pain is a relative and completely subjective term and it only means what it means specifically to an individual. There is no way to relate to another’s pain. My pain is specific to me and may have nothing to do with the actual causes of the pain but is directly related to my experiencing the pain that I do have. If my torn rotator that now has developed tendonitis was identical to your injury, my experience of it would be unique to me. My perspective of pain is completely subjective and unique to me. It has become as individualized as my personality and may have a lot of connections to my personality.
Pain in not experienced in the site of the injury, it is experienced in the brain and projected on to the injury. When the commercial tells you to rub their cream onto the sore spot on your back to directly affect the pain they are making a fundamental misunderstanding of physiology. If there is any benefit, it would be either in your skin absorbing some pain relief ingredient that once in your blood stream affects the part of your brain that is signaling pain or it is drawing blood into that area which can also provide relief to the pain you are feeling in your brain. There is no pain in my shoulder but the nerve does send a signal to my brain to warn me of the injury. Leprosy is so dangerous because it kills the nerve and we have no feeling in our extremities, which lets us damage a toe or finger without knowing it and not knowing leads to poor maintenance, which leads to infection and probably losing that digit.
Some people when they lose a limb, say a leg, still can have pain in their leg, even though it is gone. Phantom pain is a real problem for amputees and it is not just a psychological problem. Your brain is the seat of pain. We have immediate pain from a new injury or residual pain from an old injury. For residual pain, there are two ways to deal with it. You can deal with it by reducing inflammation (aspirin) at the site or increasing circulation (icing it) to the site. Or you can numb the pain centre in your brain with an opiate like drug. Avoiding injury in the first place is highly recommended but that kind of thinking doesn’t usually hold sway until you are older and have hurt yourself a few times to induce learning.
I have five old injury sites that all occurred at the age when I thought I was invulnerable. They all healed within months but as I have aged each has now returned with a vengeance. Each injury site has developed either arthritis or tendonitis or both and each site usually acts out separate from the others. Our brain usually can only focus on the strongest signal and that depends on the stresses, the weather and my daily temperament as to which site is going to get the attention that day. If I focus on that pain it becomes worse.
Riding through the pain is always an issue as my lying cheating body will sometimes try to avoid exercise by amplifying pain in an old injury to get out of what it knows is coming. I have rarely had more pain at the end of a ride that before the ride. Movement increases circulation and helps reduce inflammation and naturally takes the pressure of the affected nerve thus reducing the signal to my brain where I actually experience the pain. I have found that I need less medication, ice and heat if I stay active than when I yield to my lying cheating piece of meat and do not ride because of some pain.
So with pain being such a subjective experience I can only speak to my own situation but after years of riding and working with others to get them riding I have found that no matter what a persons actual experiencing of pain, exercise, specifically cycling can greatly reduce their pain. The beauty of cycling is that it is smooth, puts less stress on the joints and anaerobically burns off some of the stress drugs we make internally that affect our perception of pain.
Stretch first, start slowly and build up to a good burn of at least an hour and don’t shy away from a hill or two. You may need a month or two of easier rides to get into shape to reap the benefits of regular cycling but once you are there you will be amazed at how you can regulate your own pain through exercise versus just killing it with meds. You may need to take a pain killer but you will probably only need a minimum amount versus what you would have to take for the same effect without exercise.
The side effects of cycling versus the side effects of medication are polar opposites. Instead of pages of warning of this complication and that impediment are the direct effects of getting in shape, healing yourself of diabetes, of heart disease, of some arthritic conditions and experiencing less pain and you probably won’t need Viagra to get it up.
So get off the couch, get on your bike, ignore your lying cheating piece of meat and go for a ride and remember, hills are your friends.