Pain-free living: Lessons from the coronavirus – broken bones to a multi-trillion wipeout

Pain treatments today are usually focused on trying to “fixed” you.

Chiropractors try to correct the “misalignment” in your spine with adjustments. Physiotherapists try to correct your “tight muscles” with stretching.

Here’s the thing: Research tells us chiropractic adjustments don’t give pain relief the way stretching doesn’t lengthen a tight muscle!

This is what Dr Nuzzo published in Sports Medicine just last a couple of months ago:

“Retirement of flexibility as a major component of physical fitness will simplify fitness batteries; save time and resources dedicated to flexibility instruction, measurement, and evaluation; and prevent erroneous conclusions about fitness status when interpreting flexibility scores. De-emphasis of stretching in exercise prescriptions will ensure stretching does not negatively impact other exercise and does not take away from time that could be allocated to training activities that have more robust health and performance benefits.”

Here is my question: What if you are not feeling better (i.e. pain-free) because you are barking up the wrong tree?

The case of NOVID-19

It is important to understand that reality is “the state of things as they actually exist”.

Our perception of what reality is, as obvious as this may sound, is really just our perception.

Take for example the COVID-19 “superspreader” lady in Korea. She refused to get tested – twice – because she was convinced she was not infected. Her reason? She had not travelled abroad.

Reality? She tested positive for the corona virus and had infected at least 37 other people.

Singaporean in London attacked in a coronavius racially-motivated assault. Source: Jonathan Mok, Facebook

In the mean time, in other parts of the world:

It is fair for us to be afraid. But to what extend?

The mortality rate of COVID-19 is estimated to be under 1% by New England Journal of Medicine (28 Feb 2020), which is considerably lower than SARS – 9% or MERS – a whopping 36%.

People overreact as there are those who under-react.

You see, reality doesn’t change because of our perception.

However, our response and experience could differ because of our unique thoughts and perceptions about a given situation.

You can experience real pain, with real brain activity in a fake acupuncture session

We don’t have a complete understanding of why your pain hurts. Sure, we have a few working models but none of them are complete. That surprises many people but the reality is that there are many things we do not have a good understanding of. For example:

rubber band illusion, pain free, acupuncture
The all-famous rubber hand illusion experiment setup. Acupuncture is applied to the rubber hand. Even though the participant has full awareness the needle is inserted into the rubber band, they can still feel the ‘DeQi’ pain.

In a completely mind-blowing experiment, researchers stuck needles into a rubber hand in front of test subjects. They wanted to see what happens in the brain as well as what would these individuals experience.

Believe it or not, the study found that a patient watching a rubber hand being acupuncture needled in front of them can illicit the same ‘DeQi’ pain response AND the same brain activation comparable to the real deal. In a study of 17 participants, no stimulation was applied to the subjects’ real hands but their functional MRI show brain activity as if there was.

In short, fake acupuncture (i.e. needles in a rubber hand) can produce the comparable pain response and brain activity as if it was real.

Amazing, huh?

What you feel is not what you get

It’s common for people with back pain to feel that their pelvis is “out of place”.

As much as that is a familiar narrative for most of us, research has shown that there is minimal to no movement that occurs at your sacroiliac joints. Narratives such as “unstable pelvis” and “weak core” are NOT recommended for use in clinical practice (Palsson et al, 2019).

Interestingly enough, patients with pain tend to draw their vertebrae to be “out of place” towards that side despite having NO deviations in their spine.

Like I was sharing earlier, perception of what is going on doesn’t necessarily reflect reality as it actually is.

We often consider ourselves to be experiencing reality when what we indeed experience is our thinking.

Transforming starts from within

Health transformation occurs when there is a pervasive shift in our understanding and our behaviours towards our physical, mental, and social well-being.

It’s about shifting away from unhelpful reactions to healthy, constructive responses in a given situation.

This is why the top 1 recommendation across musculoskeletal care (muscle, joints issues) is exercise and education.

Part of the education involves advice to keep active AND reassurance that it is most likely going to be okay. Over 90% of lower back pain happen in the absence of a structural/pathology cause. So much so that the preferred diagnostic label for your daily back pain is non-specific low back pain (Lancet, 2017).

Our perception of what reality is often, as obvious as this may sound, just our interpretation of what is truly happening.

Take for example COVID-19. We have responses from the Korean lady who refused testing twice to panic buying and panic selling (US stocks). While what is happening in reality is all the same, how we respond to it differs because we innately look at things differently from each other.

So, in your case, as real as your pain is, what you choose to do about it and how you respond to it matter.

You can start now

Whether you know it or not, (I believe) your recovery has already started. There must be a reason you are reading this.

Perhaps you are trying to help some one living with pain.

For most of you, it’s because you are looking for a solution for yourself. The fact that you are looking would mean that you are aware of a problem and that you need help. Congratulations!

Here is what I recommend:

1. Educate yourself with the legit stuff about pain. A good starting point would be Julia Gover’s TEDx talk – Pain & The Brain (YouTube).

2. Learn to manage and fine-tune your perception of your bodily symptom experience to what is helpful for your own recovery. I wrote about it in seven lessons to ‘zhng’ your new decade, point #2.

3. Start getting active. Even if that means taking an additional 10-minute walk or choosing to climb those stairs over the elevator. It will help.

Hopefully this has been helpful for you.

To clarify, I believe your pain to be genuinely real.

What I also believe is that we could change our reactions to our daily symptoms to one that is healthy and meaningful for our well-being.

Be transformed; observe first, respond second.


Frustrated by the lack of results-driven and ethical chiropractic clinics in Singapore, Chiropractor Jesse Cai found Square One Active Recovery to deliver meaningful and sustainable pain solutions.

Our goal? To make our own services redundant to you.

*We do not offer temporary pain relief such as chiropractic adjustments, dry needling, or any form of soft tissue therapy.