I have lived a very active life. Looking back, I realize how incredibly fortunate I have been to avoid major injuries and illnesses through all the adventures. Granted, I have spent the majority of my life conditioning my body to be able to perform any task I chose to tackle. Yet conditioning is not a guarantee you will remain injury free. Sometimes stuff happens, and no matter how prepared your body is, it can only withstand so much. The important thing is not to panic and realize that your body is doing the best it can in that moment. Here is an example:
I was recently at home, sitting in my favorite chair, working on my laptop reviewing some videos of exercises to improve visual ability. I decided to attempt some of the exercises which involved making rapid eye movements. I imagined following an object around the room as it traced the letters of the alphabet in a grand fashion. As my eyes ricocheted all around, I could feel how my nervous system was beginning to get agitated. I ignored the agitation and sped up my eye movement a little bit longer before I stopped. These exercises, when done with the proper intensity and in the right amount, can be very beneficial to the nervous system and the rest of the body. However, performed at too high of an intensity, or too much volume, it can place the nervous system in a fight or flight response.
It would appear that I received the latter effect. It was only a few minutes after stopping the eye exercises that I began to feel my right knee become uncomfortable. I have never had right knee issues. I had not done anything to it, nor had I strained it earlier in the day. It just began to get stiff and sore. I tried moving it around and crossing my legs, but it just kept getting worse. Eventually, it forced me out of my chair, and I attempted to walk it off. Within a few more minutes, I could barely place weight on my right leg, and the pain in my knee had become excruciating. I tried getting to the floor and lying on my back to take weight off my knee, but that just made matters worse. There seemed to be no position that would alleviate the pain. I limped into my bedroom and struggled to get on the bed. That is when my body temperature began to drop, and the chills set in. I pulled the covers up and proceeded to sweat as if I had a fever.
My family witnessed my descent and were concerned something was really wrong. Some suggested I go see a doctor or head to the emergency room. I told them that I was going to just continue to observe what happened next. If the pain got worse, I might take them up on their offer. For the moment, I was going to just work through it. I was sure I had the tools I needed to get out of this situation. After all, the problem was not my knee. I had done nothing to my knee. It didn’t get wrenched or hit, and I hadn’t felt it until stopping the eye exercises. It was my nervous system trying to protect me. I needed to let my brain know that everything was okay.
I got out of bed and began to explore what my knee was able to do. Once I found some pain-free movements, I began to add more movements to it. My body temperature began returning to normal, and I was able to place more weight on my right leg. I continued to explore basic movements while loading and unloading weight on my right leg, until I was able to walk around without pain. Throughout the rest of that night and on into the next day, I continued to gain proper movement back into my body. My knee pain was gone within a couple of days, but the experience of how my body adapted will stay with me a long time.
It was the craziest thing to know that nothing was wrong as the pain increased. It was equally strange to be an objective observer of my own body as it went through such an experience. The urge to panic grew as the pain grew. Yet, I consciously kept reassuring myself that it would be okay, and I could get out of what I got myself into.
This is not to say that joint pain is always the result of the nervous system surging into a protective state. Joint pain can occur for a variety of reasons. However, it does make me wonder how often we experience pain, not because of injury but because the brain is trying to find a way to deal with what the body experiences. Then, instead of thoroughly exploring the “whys,” we just automatically default to medication, bed rest, and doctor visits.
There were many lessons I learned from this weird event. The first being that the nervous system is nothing you should play around with. It is very powerful and should be given the respect it deserves. The other lesson is that we have many tools to help our own bodies get out of trouble. There is always a position the body can be in that is pain-free. We just need to be able to find it.