How Much Pain Is Too Much?
Written by Laura Witwer (http://www.laurawitwer.com)
A really great question: how much pain is too much? For those of us who fold ourselves in half backwards or hang by one toe for a living, this is definitely a gray area (one of 50 shades of gray, perhaps?). So, how do you tell the difference between “pinchy pain” and “oh-my-gosh-my-ankle-is-being-separated-from-my-body” pain? How much of a masochist do you have to be to succeed in circus?
Pinchy Pain – Circus Hurts
Pinchy Pain is the sensation that accompanies most of the cool stuff in circus – single ankle hangs, toe hangs on trapeze, wrapping your leg around your head four times, etc. It can be intense, but beyond a little bruise or “apparatus hickey”, you shouldn’t be doing significant damage to your body. How do you get past it so you can smile at the audience instead of grimace?
- as you’re transitioning into the pinchy part, BREATHE. It doesn’t get better if you hold your breath, because now you’re suffocating AND getting a bruise. Let’s not compound our pain.
- understand that there’s a point at which the pain doesn’t get any worse, when it becomes tolerable. When you hit that level, lean into it. (**a note for the ladies: your experience of pain intensity will vary week by week during your cycle, so something that feels Too Painful one week may be much more manageable the next)
- RESPECT YOUR LIMITS AND INSIST THAT YOUR COACH RESPECT THEM AS WELL. I cannot overstate this. It’s your body, and if it breaks, you’re the one who has to live in it. So if your coach is pushing too much, you can say something along the lines of, “Wow – that’s intense! I’m going to work up to that!” Then back off to a level you’re comfortable (well, slightly uncomfortable) with.
Eventually, that toe hang that felt like it was severing an artery doesn’t hurt anymore, and you can move on to the next thing. Your coach will likely warn you if something’s gonna hurt, so check with him or her if something is super ouchie and you’re not sure it should be. Circus hurts, but it doesn’t hurt forever.
Damaging Pain – You Didn’t Need That Kidney, Did You?
Damaging Pain is exactly what it sounds like – pain that is warning you of significant damage to your body (sprains, strains, tears, serious bruising, breaks, bad burns, tendonitis, etc). Pain is your body’s way of setting boundaries; it’s kind of like your body’s “safe word” – there’s a warning, then there’s the no-go zone. It goes without saying that you want to avoid Damaging Pain whenever possible – you don’t get a gold star for injuring yourself. A little bruise or callous rip is one thing, chronic tendonitis or bruised kidneys is something very different. It can take some time to discover exactly what those boundaries are for you, so until you’ve got a good sense of it, play it safer.
- You can feel sore in the days after a class (especially early on), but you don’t want to feel broken
- Beware of burning, grinding, sharp, or tearing pain
- When in doubt, BACK OFF. If you take one thing from this post, let it be that.
At the end of the day, you’ve got to find that sweet spot between pushing your boundaries so you can grow, and taking care of the only body you have. You have to KNOW your body, and circus is an amazing place to learn that. Be safe, and I’ll see you in the air!
Love and pull-ups, Laura.