A few years ago I began to experience increasing pain in my left knee, with accumulation of fluid in the synovial space. When non-prescription, oral anti-inflammatory medication proved ineffective, I saw an orthopedist, who discovered that my knee showed considerable damage and osteoarthritis. I had never sustained a notable injury to that knee, but apparently the minor, repetitive trauma sustained during years of walking, jumping, lifting logs, moving dirt, and so on had accumulated.
Surgical removal of torn cartilage and injections of various compounds into the knee resulted in some improvement, but there were considerable periods where I just sat in a chair and kept my knee immobilized in order to minimize the pain. I also limped a good deal, in order to minimize pain. Before long, the pain had spread to the other knee and hip.
A physical and postural therapist explained that my limping and immobility had caused muscles and tendons to shrink on my right side, leading to motion problems, inflammation, and even more pain. He showed me how to do some exercises that would stretch tissues that had not been properly used in some time. As I began the regimen, I moaned. "Ow, that really hurts."
"Yeah," he said, "it's supposed to. In order to get you moving normally, we have to stretch the tissues that have contracted, which will hurt. You have to stretch through the pain, not avoid the pain." He also added that we wouldn't stretch to the point of causing unnecessary misery.
I found it remarkable that the avoidance of pain can actually cause long-term pain, and that treatment involved facing the pain head-on. I persisted in doing the exercises, and my pain has improved considerably.
Similarly, almost all of us avoid activities that might result in emotional pain—being wrong, telling the truth about ourselves, and more—but in the process we create the wounds of feeling alone, misunderstood, and unloved. We can grow only as we stretch through the pain.
We have to tell the truth about ourselves, admit when we're wrong, and face situations and relationships where we become afraid. If we act only to reduce pain, we guarantee that it will continue.