After being fouled in a basketball game, players find themselves at the free-throw line to take a shot. Overall, the shooting motion looks relatively similar among players, but there are small differences that make each player’s technique unique to them. If you watch closely, you may notice that each player has their own stance, pre-shot routine and shooting mechanics.
A professional basketball player spends countless hours practicing this shot and developing a routine that makes them feel comfortable and confident. There’s a saying in neuroscience that’s applicable here: “Nerves that fire together, wire together.” With practice, their brain creates a crisp and fine-tuned program for shooting the free throw, and repetition makes approaching their shot second nature. The less thinking required for the actual shot mechanics, the less they’ll try to make small adjustments in response to stress, pressure, fatigue and fear that could interfere with making the shot. This ability of the brain to adapt, change, rewire and refine is referred to as neuroplasticity.
The repeated experience of pain is fired and wired together similarly to practicing free throws. The more you experience, think about and focus on pain, the more you can improve your brain’s ability to activate that pain program. Just like the way practice refines the shooter’s skills, the more you expect and believe pain will occur, the more likely pain will actually occur.
Want More Analogies Similar to This One?
For this analogy and 50+ others, I highly recommend checking out my new book with co-author Jarod Hall. The book is titled Sticks and Stones. It is a collection of analogies & stories to help people gain a deeper understanding of the complex nature of pain. With each analogy and metaphor covered throughout this text, you’ll find multiple stories that help relate the complex topics of pain, tissue breakdown, posture and more. Through each story, you’ll notice a strong focus on the power of language.
Jim Heafner PT, DPT, OCS
Heafner Health Physical Therapy