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The Difference Between Pain vs. Discomfort

Updated: Sep 19, 2022

That hurts!” We’ve likely all have had expressed some experience of pain or discomfort when having a Massage, Chiropractic, dental work, Physio, and even Reflexology Sessions. As most practitioners really do not want their clients to experience any kind of pain. However, oftentimes, clients struggle to communicate the difference between pain and discomfort or just bite their tongue grin and bear it. Just a note that while “no pain, no gain” is a fitness phrase I really believe that this phrase needs to go away. Granted as we work hard towards building strength it's is not always comfortable. Communicating with your practitioner is so important during and after the appointment. As Practitioners, we too have the ability to improve our communication with clients so that we can better understand when there is potential for agonizing pain, and or when our clients are simply being challenged.

The difference between pain and discomfort

Discomfort, by definition, can be the experience of something annoying or feeling uneasy. It is considered a slight, or mild “pain”. Pain, however, when interpreted as a signal of something being wrong, is generally more pronounced, defined by suffering, distress, and injury or illness.

Discomfort is natural when the practitioner is focusing on an area of the body that is not used to being poked at or paid attention to. Pain, however, is usually a signal from the nervous system that something is wrong in an effort of the body to protect itself from further injury.

Pain is often localized, felt intensely, and sometimes suddenly, depending on the source. Discomfort can feel like a general challenge, like burning in the muscles, fatigue, or heaviness.

Similarly, delayed onset muscle soreness can be perceived as pain at times. In this case, it can be helpful to understand the difference between good sore and bad sore. Bad sore might be painful, while a good sore is uncomfortable.

As Practitioners, we want to challenge our clients to help them grow. Depending on their goals, we want to help them build awareness, which means they will likely be uncomfortable at times. But we never want our clients to push through pain.

When pain is sitting in the tissue and as a practitioner uncovers and creates an awareness about the soreness you are experiencing think about the emotion that is underlying in the tissue. As an example could you be struggling with your hips? No matter all the tests your put under and still the Doctor's can't seem to find a thing. Keep in mind it could be an underlying emotion, for example, such as worry and anxiety that could spill into the hips from the heart chakra. You an intuitive being and can tap into that knowing.

Communicating well

Knowing that we shouldn’t push through pain, when you as a client claims something hurts or is painful, practitioner's will want to clarify what that means to them. We’ll also want to consider their injury history and their abilities, factoring where they are at with their health .

A part of differentiating between pain and discomfort is asking the right questions. Here are a few questions Practitioner's will ask clients to better understand the sensation they are experiencing:

What does it feel like?

Pain will provide a clear signal and it is fairly easy to verbalize. Words like sharp or shooting, throbbing or radiating, can indicate that pain is present. Discomfort may be more difficult to articulate as it can be a more nebulous experience. It may feel like a challenge, a burning sensation in the muscles, but is usually something you can handle—you may want to stop. Pain on the other hand triggers an innate impulse to stop immediately; it cannot, and should not, be ignored.

Where do you feel it?

Pain, especially in the instance of acute injury, is often felt in a specific location on the body. Though pain can be generalized, clients should be able to communicate clearly where it is felt.

Communication through any session is KEY

Communication with your Practitioner is more effective when you trust them.

As a client you should feel comfortable expressing what you need during any session. Paying attention to your body, you know your body better and only you can interpret the pain signals you receive.

Know when to stop

When pain is present, it is not the practitioner to diagnose the client. If you believe there is an underlying issue or a potential injury beyond normal soreness, you should consult a medical professional.

There may be a fine line between pain and discomfort and, ultimately, it’s better to stop and listen to the body’s signals than to ignore them and push through. While you as the client, your confidence grows as you grow stronger and listen to your body intuitively , it becomes empowering.

Asking questions and communicating between a client and a Practitioner about the difference between pain and discomfort can improve their own communication with their bodies and empower them to really pay attention.

Enjoy self-care for your wellbeing!

Article modified from NFPT - Trainers

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