A few weeks ago I was working with an individual who has experienced back pain for the past 20+ years. Recently he experienced an acute flare-up of his chronic low back pain. During this acute episode he stated, "I must have a spinal cord injury...the pain is excruciating...unbearable." Fortunately, a quick neurological screening revealed intact functioning of the nerves and muscles. Upon further questioning, the client said "when I am having the intense pain, it is like I am lost at sea."
The phrase 'lost at sea' resonated within me for hours after the treatment. When I imagine being lost at sea, I picture Tom Hanks in the movie 'Cast Away.' The movie character was alone, desperate, and literally fighting for his life. He had minimal outside resources and his only companion was a hand-printed volleyball. Tom Hank's character was physically and psychologically exhausted.
To describe one's pain as being 'lost at sea' depicts the intensity of the person's situation. As a chronic pain practitioner, when I hear expressions like this, I immediately know there is a emotional aspect to this acute flare-up of pain. From a treatment perspective, I must integrate and acknowledge the patient's biology (environment, past history, etc...) in addition to any physical impairments that are present.
Words and statements such as the one above make my role as a physical therapist greater than simply a triage expert after an injury. Physical Therapists play large roles as diagnosticians, coaches, counselors, and motivators. If you are experiencing any long standing pain, find a healthcare practitioner who has time to perform a thorough evaluation to investigate the true causes of your pain!
Want to learn more about movement and pain?
Check out Dr. Heafner's Anatomy of Human Movement.
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