We see patients in pain every day, and most of these people are coming to physical therapy for the sole reason of eliminating pain. For some it is easier than others, but often I will talk with patients about “getting back to normal.” Or sometimes a patient asks me: “Is this normal?” or “What is normal?”
We all know that “normal” is a relative term. What is normal for me, may not be normal for someone else, but since “normal” is subjective, especially as related to what we feel, I think there are some common experiences that we all normally share. More often than not, I find that patients, especially those who have been in pain for a long time, have difficulty describing what normal feels like. Usually, when they do attempt to describe normal I hear things like:
“I don’t have pain.”
“I don’t feel anything.”
“It doesn’t hurt to move.”
All of these answers are not really right.
Most people are shocked when I say that, but they are flawed because they failed to answer the question I asked. The question is, “What does normal feel like.” The responses above do not answer this question, but instead answer the question, “What does pain NOT feel like.” It is a subtle difference, but an important one. Imagine I asked, “What do cherries taste like?” Would you respond, “They don’t taste bitter,” or “They don’t taste like strawberries,” or “They don’t taste bad.” No. None of these responses tell me what cherries taste like. Just like the above responses don’t tell me what normal feels like. In other words:
Normal is not merely the absence of pain or dysfunction. Normal consists of an array of sensations and experiences that are entirely unique.
So what does normal feel like? I am will post this question to social media, and encourage you to post your responses. Next week I will post some of my own thoughts, and we will see how many different answers we come up with.