Hip Pain, culture, words and fragility


Last week I wrote a post about exercise after 50, which was inspired by a poor article by Reader’s Digest about how not to exercise and their correction. This week an article was published in Runner’s World about hip pain which also was disturbing and full of many myths.

This post was inspired by Ellie Somers. She is a PT in Seattle, who specializes in working with female athletes. I had the fortune to meet her last year at the San Diego Pain Summit. She wrote a great response to the article. I was disturbed by the article before I saw Ellie’s letter and had started writing in my head then saw it, but decided to write anyway. But here’s her letter.

I wanted to write about it because it is important for people to understand the myths that culture, health media, and even our medical system are spreading. Its also important to understand how words can affect us and our thoughts and beliefs about our bodies and our health. The old adage “sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you” isn’t really true. There now is a body of research that shows that what we hear, see, and believe actually can affect us…A lot. We may fear doing things or trying things we love because a doctor tells us its harmful. If we have an injury or feel pain, we may worry over it and wonder if we really should be doing it. When we constantly hear messages in the culture or from medical professionals that we have to be careful, or if we do it wrong we will get injured, it changes our view of our body and what we should or should not be doing.

With the internet we have more access to information than ever before. But, we need to know what we are hearing is true. This is made harder because even among medical professionals information on pain and injury is outdated and sometimes biased. Its still common to hear that running is bad for your knees, structural changes from “normal” are always harmful or will eventually cause problems, you shouldn’t do x sport after a certain age, and many other messages. Many health providers and the media don’t even understand the power of these words on people, and many don’t even understand that the information is incorrect in the first place.

The basic message I took away from the article is because women have become more active they are hurting themselves. The reason for increased hip pain and surgery is exercise and sport. I think this is incorrect and a terrible message. We know that exercise is beneficial for health and wellness in untold numbers of ways physically, psychologically, and socially. To have a message that they might be hurting themselves is harmful. Exercise should be promoting fitness and strength. Not weakness and fragility. Sport should be a symbol of resilience and achievement, not fear.

Some reasons behind increased hip pain and surgery may be harder to deal with. Improvements in technology are allowing us to find structural “defects” that we didn’t know about previously. People have invented surgical techniques to deal with these “defects”. I am all for surgery that can help people. But the research now coming out on many of these imaging results and surgeries show they are not what we originally thought. Many “defects” are actually prevalent in people without problems. Outcomes on these repairs are not fantastic in many cases. Knowledge of “defects” even if they are common again begin to change our thoughts and beliefs about our body and may affect how we experience pain. People want quick fixes, and our system rewards those who offer them.

Pain is complex. People are complicated. The more we learn, sometimes the less we know. Deciding how to handle pain and injuries can be very complex. There aren’t always easy answers. But we need to ask the questions with every person. But we do know bodies heal really well. People are strong, resilient, and amazing. No matter what “they” say.


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