“I feel like I’m going around in circles – it keeps moving from my hip to my back to my neck and to my hip again.”
“I was feeling so much better, but then the knee twinge came back just as bad as ever. I don’t get it – I wasn’t even doing anything strenuous.”
I’ve heard these phrases (and others like them) from many clients. Although it may not seem like it, what these clients are experiencing is a similar, very normal part of the healing process. These recurring symptom patterns, whether it’s a cycle of on-again, off-again strain, or pain from a long-forgotten injury that shows up after years, are showing us what might still be going on in our bodies that we have not yet addressed. So, what are some possibilities that these patterns might be showing you, and what can you do about them?
Many of our symptoms are the result of more than one strain or injury, with bracing or holding patterns layered on top of one another. Our bodies are able to compensate and accommodate for a lot of dysfunction, adjusting to a new ‘normal’ in order to reduce discomfort. In the case of the first quote above, the individual may have compensated for the neck pain by holding the shoulder in a slightly elevated position. The neck pain may have seemed resolved, but over time that shoulder developed symptoms of its own because of that bracing pattern. In resolving the shoulder pain, the therapist reduced the compensation, and so the neck pain showed up again. In order to get lasting improvement to the shoulder, whatever is happening in the neck will need to be addressed, or the whole cycle will start over again.
Another way to think of it is that the old injury or pain never stopped being present at all. If you think of your brain and how it processes signals from your body, it doesn’t always have great multi-tasking abilities. In many cases, the ‘loudest’ signal is the only one that gets heard. This can show up as either on-again, off-again pain, or as a traveling symptom pattern. One area gets flared up, and so we treat and self-treat, and as that area improves, another comes to prominence. It’s not that any of the symptoms actually resolves completely, but one will become ‘quieter’ and another area becomes more pronounced by comparison. What this cycle might indicate is that there is something else underlying the symptoms as a whole, something that may not be actively painful but is contributing to the strain pattern.
As we often say to our clients, healing is not a linear process. We often zig-zag back and forth, with times of great improvement followed by plateaus, or even a step or two backwards before another improvement. The recurrence of symptoms can actually be a good thing, bringing up and helping us resolve the oldest bracing and holding patterns, the ones that might be hidden underneath the current symptoms.
So, if you’re feeling like a scratched record, repeating the same old symptom patterns, what can you do to ‘move the needle’ and get out of the groove you’re stuck in? Just like when you’ve hit a plateau in your healing process, there are a number of things you can try to give your body a nudge.
Try one (or more) of the following ideas to see if this helps your body make a shift.
Ideas for ‘mixing it up’ with your self-treatment
• Change the time of day. If you usually self-treat in the evening, try in the morning, or during your lunchtime. You may notice different restrictions at other times of day, which might also change based on your activities.
• Change your positioning. For example, many of the techniques with the four-inch ball can be done either lying down or seated in a firm chair, so try a new position and feel the difference in your body.
• Change where you treat. If you usually self-treat your symptomatic side, shift your focus and treat the less-symptomatic area – see if you can feel connections running across your body. Remember, there are no dividing lines in our bodies! Anywhere you self-treat has the potential to affect your symptoms.
Ideas for ‘mixing it up’ with your treatment at Natural Balance Therapy
• Switch therapists. If you’ve been seeing one of our therapists most of the time, ask if you could benefit from seeing one of the others – with our unique therapeutic backgrounds, another therapist may notice something different going on in your body.
• Change the frequency of treatment. This can often help you break through a plateau. If you’ve been scheduling your sessions every two weeks, for example, try adding an extra session in between, to see if the extra treatment will build on your regular sessions and help your body shift forward.
• Schedule a co-treatment. Receiving a treatment with two therapists can be a great way to draw out the connections in your body and make an exponential shift in your healing.
The healing process can take us on some unexpected turns, and we can occasionally feel like we’ve taken a step backwards and are seeing old symptoms coming back. Sometimes, this is actually a sign of our progress, that we’ve peeled back the layers of restriction and bracing far enough to get down to what produced those original issues in our tissues. At these times, trying something a little bit different can help nudge us further along in the process, moving the needle out of the well-worn groove and getting us to a whole new track.