Updated: Jun 11, 2021
You may know that for 4 years I had knee pain that almost drove me to drink. Almost but not quite.
Eventually it got better so one Sunday morning after teaching my regular class at the gym, I decided to stay and do the Zumba class.
I was excited. I love dancing and Zumba had been tempting me with its fun and sexy moves for a long time.
So I’m in the class, doing the warm up, having a good time, smiling, feeling groovy, sometimes struggling to follow the steps but having fun. And gradually my knee starts hurting. Uh ohhhh I’ve fucked it again.
Why was this happening?!
I'd been doing parkour without pain so why was it suddenly hurting now?
My knee had got better after completing the Demartini Method (the mental process designed to help you overcome resentments and frustrations from your symptoms - the same process I now use to help other people) and I felt gratitude for the pain. When it stopped hurting I got straight back into parkour and doing all the movements I hadn't done for ages.
In the zumba class, however, I was putting my knee through movements it hadn't done for years so was not conditioned to do. Because of this it could be considered normal that it might freak out and be like ‘what are we doing?! We’re not used to these movements, at this intensity and for this long'.
That was a failure in my rehab - when the pain went away I didn't feel the need to do any further rehab. Because of this, my brain - the Great Pain Creator - interpreted these unfamiliar movements as "unsafe" and potentially harmful, so in order to protect my knee, it sent a pain signal to my knee. You can read more about that HERE.
And there was one other factor at play...
Several of my yoga students were in the class and I felt a need to show them that I could keep up and move well. When I struggled to keep up with some of the steps I felt a bit inept, especially when most other people were following along perfectly.
I was putting pressure on myself to be amazing at Zumba because of my pride in my movement abilities and my background in dance. I was expecting myself to execute every move fully, with panache despite having never done Zumba before.
Because of my pride, I felt shame at not being instantly brilliant at Zumba and my knee was creating an excuse to legitimise me being a bit rubbish. The pain was a message from my subconscious telling me to calm my ego. I realised that everyone in the class felt a bit silly but nobody cared because we were all there to get fit and have a damn good time in the process. My students had zero expectations of me to be amazing at Zumba; they'd seen me do yoga but never Zumba.
When I recognised this, and chose to take the pressure off myself, let myself be crap and just enjoy the class, the pain went away. By the end of the class my knee was completely fine.
So there we go. If you experience pain when you resume exercise post-injury, it's important not to panic and think you've damaged it. It's surprisingly rare that this actually happens. A more likely explanation is that the previously injured tissue will be more sensitive to new or unfamiliar movements - the brain is on high alert to protect the area by (incorrectly) perceiving a movement as unsafe, and then trigger a pain response in order to protect the tissue from potential damage. The pain therefore, is not an indicator of damage but sensitivity and potential threat. That's the neurophysiological explanation.
It may be useful to ask yourself if there are any other reasons, such as fatigue, fresh injury, or psychological reasons your body is giving you this feedback because there can be unexpected lessons there that your body is trying to teach you.