Pain and Pills by Matt Barlow

March 11, 2016

There seems to be an accepted premise that if you feel pain then you take pain medication. If you indulge me I would like to share my personal story with pain medication and how the after affects I am still feeling 10 years later and will most likely affect me for the rest of my life.  As you don’t know me I will have to state that I am an athlete and have been an athlete for most of my life, I will cover this topic in future blogs. 

This particular story started in my late teenage years as I joined a premiership rugby club and was given several really bad pieces of advice. The worst one was to regularly take pain killers to eliminate joint and general pain. My potential rugby career ended under a surgeons knife and then a year of self reflection. This reflection ended with a realization I wanted to be in the military. 

I joined Royal Marines Commando training over a decade ago, very shortly after starting training I started to get thoracic back pain. This is where the athlete mentality and pain medication coupled together can produce life long negative effects. I reverted back to my knowledge I was given as an aspiring professional athlete and I started to self medicate pain medication and push through my weakness. This is where things snowballed fast, before I had finished the 62 weeks of officer training I had experienced several episodes where I lost the feeling in both my arms on long marches. The pain medication and athletes mind set would not let me face my reality and I passed out from training 1cm shorter than I had joined. 

My world was forever changed when 3 days after I had finished training I found myself in Afghanistan in charge of a troop of Royal Marines on the frontline for 4.5 months straight. The pain I was in started to escalate as the equipment was heavier and my deficiencies hadn’t been addressed. The military doctors on the ground did the only thing they could do and started to give me stronger and stronger medication. Honestly when you think your life is a culmination of the next few minutes and hours the life long effects of what you are doing just gets pushed aside. 

After returning from active duty I realized I was in trouble. I couldn't even get out of bed without being in serious pain even whilst taking every, over the counter, medicine I could buy. I started to get stomach pain with the amount of medication I was taking and decided I needed to change. I woke up one day and said to myself this isn't worth it and on the spot stopped popping the pills and sought professional advice. 

My hunt to rid myself of back pain has lasted over a decade, I have read many books, saw physiotherapists, chiropractors, osteopaths and doctors. Qualified myself in physical training, sports massage and a multitude of sports and movement qualifications. Finally a podcast, from Barbell Shrugged, and a flight over the ocean brought me to Strongfit in Torrance. 

 

“Success depends upon previous preparation, and without preparation there is sure to be failure.”

- Confucius 

 

The first thing I needed to accept was I had two problems: an athlete’s mentality and a movement deficiency. They do not work cooperatively together, they drive you into the ground if accompanied with the wrong guidance. I did my first session with Julien in September last year, it was what I had been searching for in that 10 year period. I was maxed out, flopping around on the floor like a fish out of water and loved it, but what was different was I wasn't in pain. My joints felt fine and I was sold, in the following two days I did three more sessions, I would have done more if I could have manipulated Julien’s time. My athlete’s brain had been satisfied yet I had respected my body and faced my weaknesses. 

Yesterday we posted a video on the Strongfit website of me doing an outward viking sloth press. I am here to say that this is me facing my problems and I am starting my pain free guided journey. I am starting to do things I never could have without sever pain before, I listen to my body and make adjustments as required according to what it says. I don't go easy on myself as I mentally can’t, I enjoy pushing and the burn, but pain is something I now listen to and learn from.  

In hind sight self medication helped me pass Royal Marines Officer training and supported a 10 year career, financial the sacrifice makes sense as I was uneducated at the time and didn't know any better. Anyone who is self medicating pain killers and dulling down their senses now however I am here to say that there is a better way. 

The signals your body gives you when things are good or bad are all lessons and taking pain medication dulls this sense. If you couple that with an athletes mindset you are just setting yourself up for a life of pain and misery. Face your weaknesses, stop chasing the clock and the numbers and start listening your body, you will become better than you ever thought possible. The knowledge is out there so when you are told its normal to take anti-inflammatories or pain medication you can respond with: “It is accepted but it isn't normal.”