Pain Series Pt 8: You Can Respond Positively to Stress

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You can respond positively to stress

Written by Mitchell Robinson

I know it seems strange that we as physiotherapists want to start stressing your body. I get it. But stressing the body is very important for recovery and wellbeing! Your body is not like a building that slowly wears down over time as it’s exposed to stress. In fact, it’s the opposite! Your body can respond positively to stress and become stronger and adapt. Perhaps some examples will help!

  • After a total hip replacement (THR) or total knee replacement (TKR), physios get patients up and walking as soon as possible! Yes, there’s still a lot of damage around the joint – it was just operated on after all! Yet, we know that appropriate loading and movement, while very painful, is nonetheless great for healing! Don’t take my word for it – just ask some of our patients who’ve had THRs and TKRs!
  • Patients who have undergone heart surgery or who are at risk of heart disease are both told to exercise. Appropriately stressing the heart is a vital component of recovery. Exercise asks the heart to pump faster and do more work, yet the heart actually responds well to this. It adapts, heals and gets stronger.
  • In patients who have osteoporosis (weakening of the bones), a crucial component of their treatment involves stressing their bones! Their bones need to be loaded - think gym exercises, rather than swimming in the pool. They don’t need to rest! Yes they need recovery time, but that is after appropriately loading the bones up to remodel to tolerate more and more load. It’s the stress on the bones that stimulate them to adapt and stay strong.

"What’s heavy for you to lift today may be light for you to lift in a year."

If you’ve followed me this far, let me take you one step further. Pain is often similar to the above examples. Sure, it’s not as simple as just getting stronger, but the principle is the same. As you’re exposed to different types of stress (physical, vocational, emotional, relational etc.), you can slowly adapt to them. Over time we turn down our pain alarm system because the stressors become less threatening. (Lehman, 2017)

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Reducing pain involves multiple changes in many different systems of your body. One way to create changes in those systems is to stress yourself in positive ways. For example, if you want to get strong muscles, you have to go to gym and exercise (stress) them by exposing them to heavy loads. What’s heavy for you to lift today may be light for you to lift in a year. Similarly, if you have a stressful job, you may notice that what stressed you out 5 years ago is now relatively easy. You have adapted to vocational stresses and increased your resiliency. Recently, James went on a trek to Mt Everest base camp. To prepare for this, he spent time slowly increasing his tolerance to walking and climbing by regularly scaling the Glasshouse Mountains.

If you’re struggling with pain and think you would benefit from seeing a physiotherapist for your pain management, talk to your GP. Sycamore Health has a speciality in pain management and non-medicated remedies, and would love to help you take control of your pain!

Next part in this series: What You Need To Know About Pain: Part 9

Lehman, G. (2017). Recovery Strategies. Retrieved from

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