Listen to your body
Don’t wait for pain—a lot of the time your body will start to tighten up a long time before the pain starts in response to activities. This is its way of trying to protect itself from overuse and injury, and if you respond to it straight away, it will relax again once the perceived danger has passed.
However, if you continue to do the same thing the danger signals will escalate and your body has to try harder and harder to get you to stop. If you ignore the tension it will start hurting, and if you ignore that too then expect a muscle spasm or cramp to stop you.
Animals are the masters of listening to their bodies and not just when it comes to stretching. Can you imagine your cat, dog, or horse staying in a position or continuing a movement that does not feel right or is painful? And there is absolutely no reason why we should, but we do! So next time you see your cat stretch before it gets up, remember that it is following its body and releasing the tension that has built up.
If you are willing to be flexible in how you move and work, your nervous system can relax and it will gradually become less irritable and allow you to get away with doing more. Planning activities so that you can change the height, angle, and timings to suit your body will give you that flexibility and save you a lot of suffering. Remember that just because you have always done something in a certain way, it doesn’t have to stay that way.
“I’ll just finish this …”
How often do you think that and half an hour later find yourself in exactly the same position, doing the same thing? When you are doing tasks such as working at the computer, gardening or sewing, it is very easy to get so absorbed in your task that it is difficult to listen to the signals that your body is sending you.
Whether or not you have a condition that causes pain, tightness, or fatigue, if you don’t listen to your body, you will cause an increase in tension that over time will lead to symptoms. If you do have an underlying condition, it is even more important to listen to your body and pace yourself according to how you are feeling at that time on that day. It is normal for symptoms to vary from day to day, so you will find that your activity levels will vary accordingly.
How to help yourself
Take time to be aware of your body, particularly joints and muscles, during activities that you spend a lot of your day doing—can you feel areas tightening up after a certain length of time? This increased awareness of the changes that gradually occur during the day allows you to work with your body and to better manage or even prevent your symptoms from building up.
Myofascial release treatment can help your body to untangle so that it becomes the norm to feel loose and flexible, rather than tight. Then it is much easier to detect the early warning signs and to do something about them before they lead to a flare up of spasm, inflammation, and pain.
Asking for help isn’t giving up. A lot of people have been living with pain for a long time, and they just accept it. Changing the pattern of activities can be hard, but it is worth it in the long term.
Another common factor in symptom flare-ups is focusing on the amount of work or exercise that has to be done. So, rather than starting an activity by setting yourself targets of how long it is going to take or how many you are going to do, try doing it until you are aware that your body is starting to react. This takes practice, patience, and concentration to begin with, but it does get easier.
If a task feels overwhelming, try to break it down into stages that you know you are able to do. This even applies to something as simple as carrying shopping in from the car. Plan where you can take a rest. Have a chair waiting for you when you have finished.