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3 Rules for Reducing Chronic Pain

I was sedentary for the first, oh, 20 years of my life. My only exercise was lugging my backpack, dense as a neutron star, from class to class because I was too lazy to make the detour to my locker.

I had back pain. Man, did I have back pain, and it was ever so mysterious.

Poor kid.

That’s me about 18 years ago, taking a “before” picture (I think I was planning to start lifting weights… didn’t happen). Please realize that I thought I was in a completely neutral stance, feet even, shoulders relaxed, etc., and please notice how completely I failed. One foot was forward, one hip was hiked, one arm was rotated inward, and my entire torso was displaced 2 inches to the left.

Our bodies do the best they can with the stimulus that we give them. While our brains have access to a ton of information, the body will get limited cues, such as “needs to walk short distances,” “needs to sit for long periods,” and “needs to occasionally haul heavy loads.” Based upon these inputs, our bodies adapt. Mine had decided that I needed to be shaped a certain way to meet the needs of playing lots and lots of video games.

Rule #1: Change the messages you send your body, and it will adapt.

There’s a reason your muscles grow when you start lifting heavy weights. There’s a reason your ankles and feet become stiff and inflexible when you stand for 10 hours a day. There’s a reason your posture changes when you sit for months on end.

These reasons can be kind of mysterious, but the body seems to have its own logic. The muscle growth is an easy one, but why the stiff and painful feet from standing all week? Well, your body has received the message that you need to be stable in an upright, static position. You’re constantly using the small muscles of your low legs to keep yourself in a very specific ankle posture, so your body (in its infinite wisdom) decides to tighten those muscles in a more permanent fashion.

Sure, this can lead to intense pain after your day of standing, or to the inability to engage in certain things you used to be able to do, but your body received your message loud and clear: My survival depends on extended periods of standing. What else are your legs supposed to think, based upon their limited information?

So, change the message. If you need to sit at a computer all day, you do what you gotta do, but get up often, and venture completely out of your C-shaped sitting posture whenever you can. Change the message from “needs to sit for hours” to “needs to sit, then needs to do cartwheels and the YMCA.”

Really want to send your body an interesting message? Do yoga. That doesn’t just tell your body that it “needs to be flexible,” it proves something to your brain.

Rule #2: Prove to your brain that you can move painlessly.

There’s an interesting phenomenon that takes place when