Fellow pain sufferers, as well as anyone who likes to learn about the body, I can’t stress enough how learning about anatomy and physiology has helped me.
First of all, it makes such a big difference when you can begin to understand medical terminology. Once you start studying anatomy, you’ll see that medical terminology, with all of its Latin routes, is kind of like a second language. But it’s a fun second language and it’s not as hard as it looks, because many words share the same Latin roots. It really ends up being the roots that you memorize, and the rest comes naturally after that. For example, the suffix -itis indicates inflammation, whether this is tonsilitis (inflammation of the tonsils), tendinitis (inflammation of a tendon), or appendicitis (inflammation of the appendix). So you know any word that ends in -itis refers to some kind of inflammation.
It doesn’t take that much to learn these terms, and once you do you’ll find you can actually hold your medical records in your hands and understand about 50% more than what you previously would have been able to. I’m not saying you have to be your own doctor, but at least for me, understanding these words greatly contributed to my own sense of confidence. Also, a little background knowledge can make little boring things like having a cold slightly more interesting. You can think to yourself, “oh, the white blood cells are doing this…” etc. etc.
Secondly, a basic background in anatomy will help protect you from falling prey to healthcare scams and misinformation. Anyone who’s suffered from chronic illness knows how desperate we can get at times for answers, and this is where a lot of enterprising people try to swoop in and sell you supplements, health counseling, and God knows what else. There are so many ridiculous, snake-oil cures for sale on the Internet, I can’t even bring myself to do a Google search right now.
As I wrote in a previous post, a lot of people with chronic pain believe they have a problem with inflammation. I used to think this too, and I was always reading about all of these New Age cures that could supposedly fix the problem (herbs, special diets, etc.)
When I took an anatomy class, I learned about how the inflammatory response works, and I also learned about the various blood tests doctors can order to check and see if a patient has an inflammation problem. (Examples are sedimentation rate and complete blood count). Then I went home and looked at my medical records and realized my doctor had actually ordered those tests multiple times over the years. My results had been normal every time. Suddenly I realized why she had never seemed to take my concerns about having a problem with inflammation seriously. I mean, it certainly would have been nice if she could have taken the time to explain all of this to me, but I guess after you spend all that time in medical school you forget how foreign those concepts are to someone who’s never heard of them.
In addition, I have found a huge amount of value in developing an understanding of the part of my body that hurts. Pain is basically your body’s alarm system, and it’s there to keep you from doing things that your body thinks is dangerous. Of course this is a totally unconscious process. But I have found that when I can learn more about a part of the body that’s hurting me, and get to a point where I feel I have an accurate and precise mental model of that area, my pain level actually starts to decrease. Nobody likes uncertainty, and the more you can develop a sense of certainty about what’s going on, the better you are likely to feel.
Of course, this is not true in every situation with every injury. I really hate when people take these mind-over-matter theories too far. You can’t use one theory to explain everything that can happen to people. But I’ve been able to reduce the level of pain I feel many times by using this technique.
Lastly, a basic knowledge of anatomy will help you to protect yourself from future injury because you will start to know a little bit more about how the body is supposed to work, and you will be less likely to perform your exercises with bad form.
Now I realize that not everybody is able to just sign up for a high-school or college course. The good news is that there are some ways to get this information on the cheap.
A few suggestions:
- Check out this free, online set of Anatomy and Physiology lectures offered by the University of California, Berkley.
- The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Anatomy and Physiology was pretty good.
- Try auditing a class. It’s cheaper than taking it for credit.
- ExRx.net also has some interesting anatomy information. Check out this list of muscles.
I know I talk a big talk, but the truth is that it was a lot easier to learn all of this stuff when I was enrolled in a class. I had some really great instructors and I was buoyed up by their enthusiasm, as well as that of my classmates. So if you have the opportunity to take a class, I do recommend it. Knowing you have a test coming up is a great way to force yourself to cram this information in, and assuming you have a good teacher, you will probably learn more that way. I always check Ratemyprofessor.com before enrolling in anything.
But if you can’t, then definitely check out the resources I suggested. I definitely think it’s one of the best things you can do for yourself, one that might end up saving you time and money in the end. Good luck!