It’s a subject that always comes up during Beginners classes and I touched on the topic in a recent Insta post – Will pole ever stop hurting like a b*tch and will I ever be able to bare my legs in a dress again? 

Well, the good news is – yes and yes! But the bad news is that it will take a bit of time. So what’s the science behind this and is there anything you can do to accelerate the process?

Bodies Are Clever

You’ll hear a number of theories regarding the way the pain and bruising from pole (and other sports such as martial arts) seem to reduce over time:

-Your skin ‘toughens up’

-You just stop noticing it

-You kill the nerves in the skin

I’ve always found it fascinating, so was really interested to read a brilliant post from @cirque_physio relating to the subject. Please go away and read the full thing yourself! But in an attempt to summarise quickly; once the stimulus (ie the pole) has been felt in the same area a number of times, our conscious brain tells the nervous system to stop perceiving the pain. Why? The body has realised it doesn’t need to panic and no longer needs to initiate an injury response (bruising) or tell you to ‘STOP DOING THAT!’ by ensuring you feel a nasty sting or pinch. The name of the process is Peripheral Desensitisation.

What does this mean for us?

It means that the area of the body that has been feeling the (sometimes unbearable!) pain becomes ‘conditioned’ to it and we can comfortably perform moves using this part of our skin – yay! Our feet can tolerate climbs, the backs of our knees stop bruising from front hooks and our thighs stop screaming so loudly about those godawful seats.

The problems?

-If we take a long break from pole, we have to go through the process all over again *quietly weeps*

When we learn a new move that uses a slightly different grip point, the process begins afresh because that area of skin hasn’t been through the Peripheral Desensitisation process yet

-If you only train one side (which will be none of you please and thank you!), anything on your ‘bad side’ will feel impossible, not just from not training the muscles, but from failing to condition the skin. Just imagine you injure your ‘good’ shoulder and need to call in some favours from the ‘bad side’ – it’s going to punish you for neglecting it all that time, believe me, mwahaha!

Avoiding the Ouch

Unfortunately, we generally just need to keep jumping on the pole whilst grinning and bearing it – soz! However here are a few tips:

-Don’t buy footguards. They are helpful for the pole cleaners at pole competitions who (even with the most conditioned skin) will rip their feet to shreds climbing poles for 8 hours. However for a pole student, they will only prevent the desensitisation process from occurring and the moment you try and climb without them, you’ll find you’re back to square one!

-DON’T MOISTURISE! Not only is it dangerous for you and whoever uses the pole later on, but because of the lack of grip it results in, it also causes you to sliiiiide down the pole. Sliding = skin friction = ouch

-Breathe. Simple but effective. It makes sense that this would be handy for dealing with an ouchey pole move, seeming it can be helpful for all manner of other things from getting to sleep, to dealing with anxiety to birthing babies!

-Don’t overthink it. If you prolong your entry into the move, the chances are you will lose the perfect grip spot and slide into a position that’s less comfortable. Try and commit to the move (this is easier said than done sometimes, I know).

-Keep a regular training schedule. If you attend your classes every week (even better, more than once a week) it shouldn’t take too long for the desensitisation process to take place and therefore for the pain and bruising to be gone (and stay gone!)

-Be patient. Over time, you will find that you can effortlessly get yourself into the ‘sweet spot’ for all your familiar moves. Your body knows where it needs to put itself for the move not to hurt and it can make the adjustments it needs to get it just right without you even having to think about it – ideal! Repetition is key for this and it’s a good example of why it’s so important to constantly revisit previously learnt moves and different grips and to always train both sides!

-Celebrate – when you realise a move isn’t hurting anymore, acknowledge it and celebrate! You kept going even when it was tough and now here you are, enjoying the moves without the pinch and looking fabulous– you absolute star!

Which move do you think is the biggest offender when it comes to skin abuse and how long was it before it stopped hurting?

Tell me in the comments!

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