We all know them and love them, those little pills that make the pain go away and let us go back to our normal lives. I'll leave discussions of the side effects and long term damage to the more informed, but how about the primary, advertised effect? What is pain, why do we have it? It is a signal from your body that something is wrong. If we take pain killers in order to ignore this signal from our body, then we at the least are not fixing what is wrong, and at worse are injuring ourselves.
Now the experts claim that pain killers promote healing, which I might believe is true given equal actions of the patient on pain meds and off of them, but pain medication affects behavior, and behavior affects healing.
For years I was on daily pain medication. I took them like vitamins morning and night. But they never made the source of the pain go away, so I kept needing them, and I kept shrugging off minor injuries until I'd aggravated them for a couple weeks and escalated the severity. Only when I addressed the source of the pain did I get true relief. It took some experimentation and ignoring the advice of my doctor, but I got to the bottom of it and got off the pain meds (and off doctor visits).
Given that experience of ignoring pain on a daily basis until I'd hurt myself, I'm very careful now about how I use pain medication. If I'm in pain, I give myself permission to take it easy and rest, if it's so bad that I have to take pain medication, I command myself to rest until the meds wear off, since my body's communication to my brain about my limits is muted while under the influence.
Last Sunday must have been a blue moon because I took pain meds. Saturday was our first hay day. On hay day, a fellow comes and harvests our hay. He keeps a share for his labor and fuel, and gives us a share. The hay wagons are his, and have to be emptied as soon as possible so he can use them on the next field he's doing today. A small square hay bale weighs about 40-45 lbs, and a hay wagon holds about 100 of them. That's 4000+ lbs of hay that has to be moved by hand. We have a hay conveyor, but there's 20 feet from the hay wagon to the bottom of the conveyor, then the bale has to be lifted four feet in the air to get slammed firmly down on the conveyor spikes, then up top they have to be pulled off the conveyor before they cause a jam or get sucked onto the underside of the machine, and stacked up in the mow. We had a good deal of help, but it was still a lot of work for each person. I probably personally handled about half the bales, so 50 reps of lifting 40 lbs, and some of those had to be carried a short distance, not just lifted.
Needless to say, I was a sore puppy. I made it through Saturday night, but Sunday morning the DOMS set in and I caved enough to go for the pill bottle. I then rested completely. Not even computer time, just napping and reading. Monday morning I was still feeling like my arms were massively overworked. Tuesday the arms were better, but I noticed the leg that had been doing the pushing during the turn-and-slam-hay-on-conveyor move was still not real happy about full extension. Wednesday I did some back stretches when getting up, but was mostly fine. Thursday I noted I was back to waking up before my alarm clock and felt fine. I really don't think I would have recovered so quickly if I'd taken more than the one dose of pain killers. I know in the past that a setback like that would have required a week of painkillers until I could get to the next weekend and take the maximum dose of muscle relaxant (always makes me sleep in so I don't do it on work days) in order to get a good rest and finally heal up.
I did experience foot cramping when I tried to do something else after haying. But my hip and my calf that always used to trouble me were silent. I hope to eventually strengthen my feet so they don't cramp any more, but I'll take a few hours of foot cramping over weeks of perpetual hip pain any day...