T. E. Lawrence was of course famous for the physical lengths he could push his body to. There is a scene in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia where Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) shows Corporal William Potter (Harry Fowler) the old trick of extinguishing a match between thumb and forefinger.
Corporal Potter: Ooh! It damn well ‘urts!
T.E. Lawrence: Certainly it hurts.
Corporal Potter: What’s the trick then?
T.E. Lawrence: The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.
Lawrence famously covered a hundred and fifty miles through the desert in forty-nine hours, with only one stop for water and the point I want to make is that often these amazing feats would extract a terrible toll on his body. Now Lawrence was almost certainly a masochist, but what about the rest of us?
I am at the moment rehabilitating some damaged tendons in my shoulders, and my physiotherapist, my surgeon and every paper I have found all advise using pain as the main control factor when stretching and exercising. But pain is such a personal thing and of course the reason my shoulders ended up in the state they did was not because of some single traumatic event, but instead years of over training and continuing to train when slightly injured. In other words, training through the pain. So if my ability to recognise pain and use it to moderate my behaviour in the past has been so poor, how can I reliably trust it now?
I doubt that there is a successful athlete out there who’s success isn’t to some extent due to their ability to keep going when most people would stop. Which raises the question. I suspect there are a lot of athletes out there whose injures are caused by them not being able to recognise when to push themselves and when to back off, so perhaps we should focus less on the symptoms (the injury) and more on the cause (an inability to correctly interpret and act on the messages from one’s own body)?
The dilemma for me is: If I stopped every time an exercise hurts I wouldn’t do any of the rehab exercises I have been given. On the other hand, I’m supposed to stop if it hurts too much! I’ve got another appointment with my physiotherapist and surgeon tomorrow so I’ll let you know what they advise, but this week the pain and range of movement in my shoulders (10 weeks after the last operation) is definitely much worse than it was a month ago. So perhaps I’ve been over doing it again.