October 24, 2013

Does This Hurt? How to Avoid Injury Despite Having Decreased-Pain Sensitivity.

For most of my life, I knew I was a little different when it came to experiencing pain.

My peers would be crying over scrapped knees and falls, but I rarely did.

The difference between most people and me was even more apparent when I began practicising yoga. While the other students in class were audibly groaning in kapotasana, I was not. Granted, it was uncomfortable, but it seemed I could tolerate the discomfort more than most.

Despite this, I wasn’t aware of decreased pain sensitivity until very recently when a massage therapist friend mentioned it following a massage session. He noted that I seemed to have an increased tolerance for pain. As it so happens, the conversation coincided with a recent decision to have my DNA analyzed. A few weeks later, the results came back and confirmed that I am indeed one of those individuals who have a genetically-based decreased sensitivity to pain.

Needless to say, there are advantages and disadvantages to having this especially when it comes to yoga. The most obvious advantage is that it can allow me to assume and hold poses that others struggle with. On the other hand, it can and has caused me to incur some very bad to severe injuries.

Case in point: About three years ago, I injured my hip in a yin yoga class. I was not even aware of the extent of the injury until several hours after class. I had heard that some amount of discomfort was normal during a following yin yoga but the problem for me and others like me is that by the time we feel “discomfort” it is usually a sign that some serious injury has already occurred. While people with normal pain reaction probably would have immediately come out of that pose, I opted to remain it in for several minutes—thus, increasing the damage.

Despite this, the experience did have a silver lining, not the least of which was realizing that yin yoga, as well as other forms of yoga where poses are held for a very long time, are not right for me. Unlike most, people like me cannot just “listen to our bodies” to avoid injuries. Those of us in the decreased-pain sensitivity boat must use our other senses, namely our eyes, to judge if a pose is going has the potential to cause injury: in other words, if a pose looks crazy and/or that it may injure some or all of the body, then the best thing to do may be to skip it or only attempt it under the close guidance of a teacher.

Since discovering that I have decreased pain sensitivity, I now have more confidence speaking up when I am getting adjusted in my morning Mysore practice. In the past, some instructors have tried to assure me that I am not really feeling pain and what I am actually feel is fear. Now I know that if I say I am hurting, it is because I really am hurting.

My only wish is that I had been aware of this sooner because it could have prevented a lot of injuries.

In closing, decreased pain sensitivity can be both a blessing a curse especially when it comes to yoga. For those who do not have this and may be wishing they did, my advice is to be thankful that you can feel pain normally. Despite what we are often told in this macho, “feel the burn” culture, it actually is a good thing to be able to feel pain and know when to stop when we’ve felt enough.

Sometimes being able to do less really is more.


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 Ed: Sara Crolick

{Source: fitsugar.com via Elizabeth on Pinterest}

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