QS and focusing on pain

For a few months I tracked a number of typical statistics everyday: sleep, mood, weight, injuries, etc.

During this time I ended up having some lower back pain. As part of my daily tracking, I’d always ask myself what my level of back pain was (out of 10) and would focus my mind if it was feeling better or if it still felt screwed up. This continued for many weeks / a couple months. I then decided to give up all of my QS tracking. Not too long after that I no longer had back pain problems.

Part of the reason why I think I recovered after stopping QS was that I was no longer regularly focusing on and assessing my back pain. I feel like focusing on the fact that I had pain just made it worse. By trying to determine the level of pain I feel like I just ended up increasing my body’s sensitivity in that area.

Has anyone else had a similar experience? Was I doing something wrong?

Are there any ways to avoid this problem? I want to go back to doing more QS but maybe I’ll just avoid any questions on pain or injuries and just track straightforward metrics like sleep.


What about the possibility that your back pain went away for other reasons?

During the period when you were measuring your back pain, was it increasing, decreasing, or staying constant?

I find your story very interesting. If so is, that quantifying oneself has downsides, these downsides is something every self tracker should be aware of. No as a warning to stay away from self tracking, but as knowledge to take into consideration when one wants to improve one’s self tracking, for instance to find appropriate variables to measure.

Then back to your question. It is well accepted within the scientific research on pain that pain has both biological and psychological components. I don’t find it unreasonable at all that your measuring of the pain could have affected your perception it. For instance, research has shown that accepting one’s pain can decrease disability (take a look at McCracken 1998, “Learning to live with pain: Acceptance of pain predicts adjustment in persons with chronic pain”).

Due to it’s nature, with both biological and psychological components, pain is a complicated field of research. From the story you tell and from what the research of acceptance of pain shows, it seems to me that you are best of if you discontinue quantifying yourself on this topic, at least unless your measurement is based on evidence proven treatments. Of course, if you stop tracking yourself in an explorative manner, as you seem to be doing today, you will miss the opportunity of useful insights that might be unique to you and that research today has failed to find evidence for. But really, what’s your odds of winning that lottery?

I believe the answer to your question, continue self tracking or not, lies partly in how much pain you are willing to suffer in a quest for new insights, when the low odds of discovering these are taken into consideration.

Wish you good luck.


I’ts definitely possible that the back pain went away for other reasons. If you give someone who comes down with a cold a “magic” bracelet and tell them they will get better in a week, its possible to wrongly attribute getting better to the “magic” bracelet.

In general occurrences of back tend to get better after time. However in this case I think the pain going away was related to stopping measuring just due to the timing. While I was measuring the back pain it was mostly staying constant (I now remember that I had tracked for more than 8 weeks). It would be bad for two weeks, then go away for a couple of days or a week and then come back.


Another similar case occurred when I had arch pain that was most likely due to plantar fasciitis. Because I had read about how people can end up suffering for years with plantar fasciitis and since i didn’t have any important races coming up I decided to be very conservative and stop running until the pain completely went away.

Similarly I kept track of how my arch felt every day. After 3 or 4 weeks my arch was feeling much better. In the evening when doing the tracking I’d take a few steps and pay attention and see if the pain was gone or just at a lower intensity. Eventually I was writing down that “my arch feels weird”. That went on for a number of days and I didn’t go back to run then. Eventually I looked at my shoe and realized that the “weird” feeling I had was just due to part of the fabric on the insole being folded over in a lump. The only reason why I probably even noticed it was I was paying attention to how my arch felt. After I realized that, I stopped focusing on if my foot felt weird, went back to running and had no problems since.

I think it would have been a better outcome if I hadn’t written down about arch, but just said to myself “I guess I’ll give up running for the next 3-4 weeks then revisit, see how I’m feeling and then return to running”. Then after 3-4 weeks I would have said to myself “I don’t remember complaining a lot about arch pain recently, I guess I’ll slowly return to running and see how that works”.

Maybe I’m just a low level hypochondriac and should stay away or be very cautious about doing quantified self stuff.