Should you listen to your body?

 In Exercise and Health

Listen to your Body

I have been a physiotherapist for 5 years, and previous to this I was working in administration at POGO Physio. During my time I have met so many different people, all with different personality types. It has been so interesting learning about how different people see the world and tackle their circumstances. It has taken me all this time to really learn that there are some things you can say to some people, and other things that you definitely should not. Because pain and injury are an individual experience, we often have to go off what people report. The question people are most probably used to answering in their physiotherapist’s room is “how would you rate your pain on a scale of 1-10”. There are plenty of other things we focus on as well, such as range of motion, function, distance or time you can run etc, but pain is something we will generally ask about. But I must say I am definitely learning that pain is not the topic to focus on.

Now don’t get me wrong, it is important to be able to rate your pain on a scale of 1-10, this is definitely most important for tendon rehab as there is a low level of pain that you can exercise through and only at the higher levels of pain when you should cease. But there are two personality types that I have learnt to not say “listen to your body” to, because their scale of 1-10 may not be a true reflection of how hard they should push themselves.

The first personality type we will discuss is the high achieving, hard pushing, go go go personality type. These are my favourite types of clients because I know they will definitely do their home exercise program and they are always motivated to get back to their physical best. Sometimes this motivation can come at a price, and they can push themselves past what they should because they think what they are doing is right. Typical sports I have seen this in is gymnastics, dance and crossfit, but this personality type lies in all types of physical activity. The reason these people push themselves so hard is because they genuinely love what they are doing, and they don’t want to stop! So if you tell these types of people to listen to their body, it is more likely they will push themselves harder than you would want them to, and this can flare up their injury or slow down their progress.

So instead of asking this type of person to “listen to their body” – I give them detailed explanations of their injury and rehabilitation plan going forward. Knowledge is power, right? Motivated clients always perform their home exercise program as requested, so I am very specific with which exercises to give, how many sets and reps and how often they need to do their exercises. What we have found is that often if you take things slower at the start, set some good foundations, then you will be able to go further and harder in the long run. So trust that your physiotherapist has the long run in mind.

The other type of person I have learned not to say listen to your body to is people who have not exercised for a long time or who are trying a specific type of exercise for the first time. I would definitely say this is the less common type of person, but still it does exist that some people are not used to moving or pushing their body, so can sometimes misconstrue some discomfort or muscles working as pain. In these types of people, it is important as physiotherapists that we educate clients that pain does not equal damage, and if you experience some discomfort whilst doing an exercises, that it can be ok. Sometimes when people are anxious or nervous about their injury, they can be scared and hyper-vigilant that they do no movement at all. But as physiotherapists we say “motion in lotion” so we need to get some movement happening. For these people, starting with low reps and low sets is a good place to start, to help get them used to their exercises and not shock the system. From there you are able to slowly build up and help get them stronger. People will often shock themselves with what they can achieve and build up over time. I have seen this time and time again in Pilates, where people are very nervous to try and after a few weeks are doing exercises they never thought possible.

People will often shock themselves with what they can achieve and build up over time. #performbetter @pogophysio Click To Tweet

Now this article is not to make anyone feel bad about themselves, it is simply to open up the space for some self reflection. If you are one of those people who are likely to push themselves towards injury, now is the time to reflect on that and think of how sometimes slowing down and following the plan can set you up to win in the future. If you are the type of person who is more likely to steer clear of exercise because of fear of pain, have a think about whether it is pain or discomfort you are feeling and think of how you can gradually build up your activity.

The most important part is that often your physiotherapist gives you exercises for a reason, and certain sets and reps for a reason. Make sure you understand the reason why you are doing the exercises you have been given and your physio can discuss with you why they have prescribed certain things.  

Emily Georgopolous (APAM)

Featured in the Top 50 Physical Therapy Blog

Click here to book an appointment with Emily.


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