Ending the “BOOM – BUST” pain cycle

by | Oct 17, 2016 | New this month, Yoga, Yoga Therapy

Are you familiar with a “boom – bust” pain cycle?

I bet you are.

Let me explain.

For most of us living with persistent pain goes like this: on the days that we feel good we “give ‘er”; and then we pay for “giving ‘er” for hours, days, and sometimes even weeks afterwards.

Once in a grip of a full on flare up we’ll do whatever – desperate times, desperate measures, right? – to feel better. I cannot tell you how much time, money, and nervous energy I spent on trying to fix flare up after flare up after flare up…

Then what?

The acute flare up is over, yet we remain frozen and scared to move, almost scared to breathe – what if I hurt myself again? This can become our mode of operation – maybe forever, or maybe until the pain has lessened and the flare up been forgotten – that’s when the “boom – bust” cycle is repeated all over again.

Sounds familiar?

So how do you break from the “boom – bust” pain cycle and begin moving forward with confidence?

Luckily, students enrolled in Satori yoga classes have an opportunity to examine their “boom – bust” habits in the safety of a yoga mat. This week we are honing on the merits of appropriate pacing, and the conversation is waaaay too important to be contained to a yoga room.

Let’s talk about learning to pace; treating our bodies with kindness instead of contempt; challenging ourselves mindfully, rather than recklessly; and moving forward with confidence, not fear.


Movement is essential for the health of all body systems and progresses. All body tissues – and especially the muscles, joints, skin and nerves – love activity. But if you are in pain, and especially if you have been in pain for a long time, you might know that you need to move, but you also might feel “trapped” by pain.

You have to be clever here – mindful activities are required!

Step 1: 

[clickToTweet tweet=”1. Find your baseline.” quote=”Find your baseline.”]

A baseline is that amount of activity that you can do and know that the pain won’t flare up. A flare up is that increase in pain, often sudden, that leaves you debilitated for hours, feeling really desperate and doing desperate things. For some people flare up happens the next day or even later.

For example, I encourage Satori students to run this type of internal dialog:

I’d really like to try yoga – I hear it helps with pain.
I wonder if a beginner class would be good for me?
No, I think I’ll pay for it after.

What if I tried a therapeutic movement class?
I haven’t moved my body in a while, so I’ll probably still pay for it.

What about Pain Care class?
I probably could, but depends on what we do.

Pain Care class and I pick and choose what I can and can’t do during the class?

You can go through this process for any activity or a combination of activities. Remember, going out to a party or a function is an activity also. So is going to parent teacher interview or driving your kids around.

Step 2:

[clickToTweet tweet=”Find your progression.” quote=”Find your progression.”]Be gentle on yourself and plan to increase the amount of activity very slightly, but consistently. Taking the example above, you can try adding some movements that you’ve previously avoided or doing a more challenging movement modification. Plan ahead on how you are going to progress, and stick to the plan – do not be tempted to break the plan and push on. This will lead you right into the boom-bust trap. One step at a time – be patient.

Step 3:

[clickToTweet tweet=”Don’t flare up, but don’t freak out if you do!” quote=”Don’t flare up, but don’t freak out if you do!”] Because the nervous system alarms are so sensitive it is nearly impossible to completely avoid flare ups. If you do flare up – do not give yourself hard time and stress out. Remember what a flare up is – your nervous system trying to protect you. When you flare up, it can be tempting to give up, forget the plan, forget what you know about pain and seek some radical quick fix treatment. Don’t give up – be persistent.

Step 4:

[clickToTweet tweet=”It’s a lifestyle thing.” quote=”It’s a lifestyle thing.”] In the short term you will have to plan your life a little more. Plan to seek out “happy activities” because they have known physiological effect on your pain and nervous system alarm. Challenge some feared activities when you become more confident. It is difficult to do this on your own – seek out a like-minded community that can offer you support on your journey.

I know this might sound overly simplistic. The truth is this process is doing some pretty complex things to your brain and nervous system. It has been proven again and again that if you stick with these simple principles you will gradually be able to overcome the pain. Let’s aim there!

Resources: “Explain Pain” by David Butler and Lorimer Moseley

Hey, my name is Julia

Living with chronic pain has taught me to look for solutions in unlikely places –  places where most people see only problems.

Over the years I’ve gotten to be pretty good at this problem-solving and silver-lining finding thing.

So good that I felt compelled to share what I’ve learned and help others to find their sea legs while navigating, living, and winning their battle with chronic pain.