Why Pain Doesn’t Always Mean You’re Injured



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Why Pain Doesn’t Always Mean You’re Injured - Outside

Sports medicine physicians are rethinking the relationship between damage to your body and how it feels

You’ve just put in a great block of training. Now your knee hurts. Does that mean you’re injured? Well… it’s complicated, according to a new opinion piece in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Athletes are constantly dealing with pains and niggles, some that disappear and others that persist. Judging which ones to ignore and which ones to take seriously is a delicate art—and how we choose to label those pains, it turns out, can affect the outcome.

The new article is by Morten Høgh, a physiotherapist and pain scientist at Aalborg University in Denmark, along with colleagues from Denmark, Australia, and the United States. It argues that, in the context of sports medicine, pain and injury are two distinct entities and shouldn’t be lumped together. When pain is inappropriately labeled as an injury, Høgh and his colleagues argue, it creates fear and anxiety and may even change how you move the affected part of the body, which can create further problems.

To start, some definitions: A sports-related injury refers to damage to some part of the body. It’s usually indicated by physical impairment, an identifiable mechanism of injury, and perhaps signs of inflammation. If you tear your ACL, there’s no doubt that you’re injured. One important caveat: If you look hard enough, you’ll often find something that looks like an injury. Take X-rays of a middle-aged athlete with knee pain, and you may see signs of cartilage degeneration in the bad knee—but you might also see the same thing in the good knee, too. That’s a common consequence of aging, and it doesn’t explain why the bad knee is hurting.