You did not “do something wrong”! This line of thinking leads us to believe that all pain is preventable if we only don’t move a certain way, exercise a certain muscle, etc. It leads to an illusion that we can control our pain by our movement. This is a dangerous belief. I know one person who had a back problem some years ago and has not exercised seriously since, leading to many worse consequences to her health than back pain.
Your body is designed to move freely. If you have a back problem, a bulging disc, or a sore muscle, your body will produce pain signals that help you to avoid overuse of the area. The body is protective in that way. So there is no need to blame yourself for feeling pain by telling yourself that you did something wrong, or to believe if only you hadn’t moved a certain way, your body would be perfectly pain free. Just listen to the signals your body provides, and you will move freely in ways conducive to healing. This does not mean it’s ok to lift 100 lbs if you have bulging discs. It does mean that if you feel some pain while taking a walk, it’s probably your body adjusting to whatever the difficulty is, and then you can discuss the area of pain with your physician. It often doesn’t mean you should stop walking. You can–and should–check with your doctor to make sure!
This “I did something wrong” belief is a cousin of the belief that rest cures everything, our old unhelpful friend, the acute illness/pain belief. Rest helps an overused or acutely injured/ill body, not one in chronic pain. These cousins work together to keep risk and activity level low, which allows muscles to degenerate, energy levels to be sapped, and depressive and anxious thoughts to work their way in. Conversely, chronic pain management can lead us to moderate exercise and activity–pacing periods of rest and activity–which lead to increased energy levels and increased abilities to cope.
The “I did something wrong” belief is most harmful in its attribution of control and responsibility in the psyche of the patient. While we are responsible for taking care of our bodies, for our nutrition, our exercise, our health and wellness habits and behaviors, we are not always in control of outcomes, or to blame for them! If a patient struggling with cancer eats, exercises well, prays, meditates and is helpful to family, and she gets an aggressive bout of cancer, it is neither helpful nor healing to say that she has “done something wrong”. We only have so much control over our destiny–rather, we have control only over our behavior. Not taking enough responsibility for our health and not managing our own healthcare is one side of the equation, blaming ourselves for outcomes not under our purview is another. Both are unhealthy and unproductive ways to look at the situation. Overly blaming ourselves leads to depression, which is a correlate of generally poor health.
Recovery from depression, a general correlate of illness and an increase in pain, requires a sense of hope. Hope requires that we believe that positive outcomes can happen, and that we may be a part of them. Hope necessitates a balanced view of how and why things happen. A worldview that is either too deterministic or too laissez-faire does not allow the combination of responsibility for self and letting go of outcomes that promotes hope. So the famous “Serenity Prayer” is correct, we must have “the wisdom to know the difference”.
Unfortunately, some of us do everything right, and still suffer immense pain and illness. These are things we cannot control, only our thoughts. To you and those suffering, we extend compassion. Most likely, you have done things the best you could!