Saturday, August 6, 2016

On Pain

I'm not certain now when I first heard the phrase, "Are you hurt, or are you injured?" Probably in some otherwise mostly forgettable football movie since this caliber of dialogue is pretty non-standard IRL. Or, maybe, this sort of question is more a reflection on just how non-standard my life has mostly been. Something to that last bit, regardless.

In any case, a practicing student of martial arts should be familiar with the distinction between the two conditions. And if this doesn't describe you yet, keep showing up.

Pain is how our bodies tell us we're doing something in a less-than-optimal way. In martial arts, feeling pain makes it frequently necessary for us to make a quick self-diagnosis between hurt and injury. The primary distinction I make between the two conditions is, does this pain require invasive (surgical) or restrictive (plaster of paris cast or neck brace for example) intervention by a medical professional for me to continue? If so, I'm injured.

Much of the time though, I'm "only" hurt. Hurt is a condition that a brief-ish period of recovery will alleviate sufficiently for me to continue with the practice/bout/game/etc. Allow me to illustrate by recounting a recent incident from HEMA practice.

We were practicing the basics of falls and rolls. Following a simple leg sweep (or trip), we were to fall into a rolling break-fall. I managed to land on the top of my shoulder in a very unglamorous pile of OUCH! instead. Due to my several-years-long relationship with my physical therapist (and there's a non-standard friendship for you), I am aware of the structure of the shoulder - I am, in fact, in the process of relieving an impingement (her word) of the ACL in the same shoulder (of course) - and discovered I still had basic joint integrity while I was un-piling onto my back by the simple expedient of using the same arm to move with. She, at least, will not be shocked by my choice of diagnostic technique.

The point being that it was immediately apparent to me that I was "only hurt" and not injured.

In our study of the historical treatises, it is just basic good sense to also make a study of the current best understanding of our own human anatomy (and never mind what the cutting edge thinking on matters medical was "back in the day"). Knowing how a wrist joint is structured, or the bones in the hand, would probably apply fairly directly to at least half of all HEMA-related injuries - and is pretty critical knowledge to making a self-diagnosis that won't get you sued for malpractice later.

By its very nature, HEMA involves experiencing pain - the hopefully modest pain of physical exertion, if nothing else. Having a conscious mechanism whereby we can categorize the nature and degree of the pain we will undergo seems a useful capability for us to develop.