All posts by richmondstace

26Apr/16

Why tendons get better or not…

Why tendons get betterWhy tendons get better or not… was the question posed. Six of us were lined up to look at potential answers, the areas including isometrics, movement, injections, brain and pain. I was asked to consider brain and pain. Here are my thoughts.

To feel, to think, we need a brain but we are not just a brain. We are of course much, much more. We are a whole person and hence the brain is not the answer to the question why tendons get better, or worse. My main clinical focus is upon those that have not got better, looking at why (the back story, the primers and vulnerabilities) and then what thinking and action is needed now to change course. So most people I see are those who have got worse and in fact, we need to know as much about getting better as we do getting worse. Both are complex but then I argue, we have a greater opportunity to intervene.

The emphasis in my 10-minute talk, a format that is increasingly popular, was upon the fact that it is the person who gets better and not the tendon. What is getting better? What does this mean? I asked myself this question some time ago and followed up with asking ‘who gets better?’ for a talk at a CRPS conference. It has to be the person because it is the person who is conscious and ‘rating’ themselves as being better. The tendon cannot do this — a tendon does not know if it is better or not. Semantics you may think, but important I would say on the basis that we ‘treat’ a person.

A sense of being better results in a person being able to fully engage in their lives as they wish — meaningful living. However, much of our day to day existence is unremarkable, punctuated by situations we remember unreliably. However, we tell ourselves a story about ourselves over and over, with the ‘self’ as the main part in the film. It is strongly argued that the ‘self’ is an illusion: ask yourself where your ‘self’ exists? When you have finished pondering on that small questions, consider again getting better — ‘I’ must rate myself as getting better, meaning that I am able to focus on the task at hand and not be regularly drawn to unpleasant sensations in the space where my tendon (and other tissues) lie or be thinking about the implications of the pain — I can’t do this or I can’t do that etc. So, I concluded that the person gets better when they judge it so and hence the person being more than a brain, but certainly needs a brain, then we have to think wider.

On brain, I also briefly cleared up the seeming confusion between talking about the brain and central sensitisation. Because I argue that we need to address the person (a brain, a body, a context, an environment — unified) to address pain, and that this includes the brain, this does not mean we are saying it is central sensitisation. Without a thought that I have a tendon pain, there is no tendon pain, and hence we must address the top down processing (e.g. thoughts that are underpinned by beliefs, because of what we have been told or learned) because they impact upon the prediction as to what the sensory information means in this moment; the brain’s best guess, which is what you and I are feeling right now. Changing this prediction by minimising the prediction error by taking action is most likely how we are going about getting better.

In terms of pain, this is usually the driver that takes the person to seek help. The pain is stopping the person performing and motivating or compelling action because it hurts. The pain itself is flavoured by thoughts, sensations, thoughts about sensations as a unified experience involving many body systems that have a role in protecting us. Pain is about protection yet is part of the way we protect ourselves with other adaptations including changes in sense of self via altered body sense, altered movement, altered thinking and perception of the environment. With these adaptations occurring over and over, adapting to adaptations and onward, we need a programme that matches pain as a lived experience. What do I think and do now in this moment? The person needs to become their own coach to think and act in a way that takes them towards their vision of getting better, over and over. This means creating new habits, and that is the training programme aspect.

There is much more that can be said on this area, which has many common features with other persistent pain states. We can summarise by agreeing, as we did on the night, that there is no single answer but instead we must draw upon different areas of science and philosophy to ask the right questions and create the wisest programme that addresses pain as the unified experience that it is — physical, cognitive and emotional — but in that person with their story.

 

 

11Apr/16

Hands-on treatment for pain

Hands-on treatment for pain should form part of the therapy programme for painful conditions including chronic or persisting pain. A line of thought exists that the hands-off approach for chronic pain is best yet there are some clear ways that clinicians can use their hands with great effect. It is also expected when a person goes to see a physiotherapist that they will receive manual treatments as a way to feel better, and indeed people often do feel better when such therapies are used wisely.

There is no certainty as to why hands-on treatment works but it is safe to assume that touch has an effect that is likely to be underpinned by a change in the interpretation of sensory input from the body. Modern concepts of brain function suggest that what we experience is the brain’s best guess about what the sensory information in that moment means, based on prior experience. This based upon probability that the sensory information infers something, i.e. something pleasant and hence the touch feels good, comforting, soothing etc., or something unpleasant and therefore the touch can feel painful or uncomfortable.

Touch is deemed important for healthy development and is certainly an act that is used commonly to communicate. In the same way then, touch can be used to communicate in the therapeutic setting as well as create an opportunity to change pain and sensitivity. We are changing constantly with each moment being fresh and new — in fact, this is one of only a few definites in life, is that we change. We are designed to change and hence the feeling we are feeling now is only temporary. The sense of ourselves, ‘me’, is something that we feel is constant yet it changes as time passes and we gather new experiences, learning and developing.

It is worth pointing out that the mention of brain does not mean that we are only a brain. I am a whole person made of my body, brain, mind and environment, none of which is any more important as it is the sum that makes me and who I feel I am at any given moment. The false division of mind and body certainly does not hold up. My mind is not in my head or my brain, I ma my mind, which is why when I think I use my body and my brain together as ‘me’ within a particular context (environment) in a particular moment (that has just passed). This may seem like play with words, yet it is fundamental to successfully addressing pain because this understanding gives both hope and a practical way forward as we use this knowledge to create a programme of treatment, training and movement to overcome pain so that it does not dominate but instead has its place as a survival mechanism. Briefly, pain is a motivator to take action on the basis that I am predicting the need for protection against a perceived threat. More threat, more protection, more pain — not more pain = more damage as was traditionally thought. Hence, the reduction of threat is our aim.

Now back to touch: how we can use it and how it plays a role in reducing pain. Preparing the recipient of the hands-on treatment is important, priming them with an explanation and positive expectations. This can be done by simply describing why it is useful, saying that it is usually a pleasant experience to ease symptoms whilst dropping in calming, soothing words into the conversation. Addressing concerns, especially if they have had a painful treatment beforehand, is also part of the preamble, in essence ploughing the field before sewing the seeds. Then the contact begins.

The clinician can do a few things to prepare him or herself so that the first contact is felt to be compassionate and soothing from the outset. This is of course the aim — to be soothing and to create calm, changing the way that the recipient’s brain is predicting what the sensory information means, i.e. it means safety. And safety in turn means less, or no need for protection, and no protection = no pain.

  • Prepare clean, warm hands
  • Take a breath or two and let muscles relax on the out-breath (we are not always aware of how much tension we are holding, especially if we have been using manual therapy often through the day)
  • Let go of any distracting thoughts and be entirely focused on the touch and responses of the person; again, the out-breath is good for focusing on the present moment

On starting the hands-on part of the session, having prepared the recipient and being present oneself, the first touch allows the therapist to note how guarded and protective the person is in respect of the body. The image of pushing a cork in a barrel of water is a useful visualisation of how to ease into, and respond to the person. It is worth considering that it is the person experiencing the touch and not the body part itself. It is the person who is conscious and gives meaning to the touch, and hence it is the person to keep in mind as you lay hands on. The treatment then becomes a dance or an art form as the hands and the body form an alliance that aims to transform sensory signals into the experience of relief; soothing, calming and peaceful. This would be the same whether the technique more soft tissue (the many forms of massage) or mobilising a joint.

  • Prepare the person
  • Prepare yourself
  • Apply the treatment
  • Conclude the treatment, making it obvious with the hands before uttering a few soothing words (consider tone, volume etc) that allows the person to realise the completion
  • Give a few moments for orientation and shift of state before inviting them to sit up or change position

Of course, hands-on forms only part of the programme with the other facets addressing the different dimensions of pain in an integrated manner: addressing the whole person. However, a key point made here is that in order to be as effective as we can, recognising our role as individual clinicians with our own characteristics and style, we must pay attention to the person, ourselves and the context in equal measure.

***

  • Pain Coach Programme — complete care for persistent pain
  • 1:1 Pain Coach — mentoring for clinicians
  • t. 07518 445493

 

03Apr/16

Knowing about your condition

Knowing about your condition can be a double edged sword, as illustrated by Ian Jack in @guardian yesterday — read here. Jack describes his experience of anosmia, the loss of the sense of smell. However, he goes on to describe how reading an article about anosmia made him consider ‘that I was in fact a member of a disabled and neglected group’, which he was ‘happier not to think about’.

The piece raises a number of important issues. Firstly that losing one of our five senses has an impact on our ability to predict the world and hence our lived experience, secondly that this impact can be underestimated by the individual in some cases and by society looking in, and thirdly that knowledge about a problem does not always help per se. Everyday people are learning that they have a condition, generally more accurately from a diagnostician and more precariously via the Internet. The latter is of course quite able to ‘diagnose’ in response to a list of words (symptoms) but the danger is that the list of possibilities still require adjudication, and it is the same person choosing an answer. It is a little like your doctor giving you a list of conditions to choose from when you tell him your symptoms, and you then choose the most sinister. Oh yes, and the computer, device, phone etc. does not examine you or try to understand you as an individual.

I write and speak regularly on the fact that people need to understand their pain in order to know that they can overcome their pain, with an emphasis on both the quality of the explanation (teaching – learning scenario) and the context in which the information is delivered. Reading an article as did Ian Jack, or finding some information online, or someone else sharing their experiences must all be put into context. These are other people’s stories and not yours is the first point, so extrapolating to your unique story has its dangers unless you have someone to clarify and provide perspective — that’s my job. Spending time giving meaning to the person’s story is important, identifying the key points and explaining what can happen in order to arrive at the present moment. Nothing happens in isolation because we have had a prior experience to flavour this one. Looking back, however, can be done in an objective way, recognising the limits of the reliability of our memory, yet it is the question ‘what do I think and do now?’ that is important.

A common scenario in modern healthcare is the interpretation of the scan result for musculoskeletal pain. Back pain for example, frequently leads to an MRI scan to look for a structure to explain the pain. Yet pain cannot be seen. You can see the state of the discs and joints according to a picture taken in a moment (a snapshot), but what does this tell you about the person’s lived experience of pain? One is objective (a picture) and one is subjective (pain). But how often is the disc or joint used to explain pain as the healthcare professional shows the person (patient) the picture, pointing to the culprit on a screen? Now that the person has ‘seen’ the picture, it becomes part of the story with the solution becoming the need to do something to that disc or joint. They have new information that is now influencing their outcome, yet they will not be thinking this as it is all part of the subconscious processing that shapes our thinking and experiences. However, when a scan result is used within the context of modern pain science, we can use the information to sculpt a positive outlook but this relies upon time with the person to fully explain and answer questions as opposed to finding an article online or in the media when thoughts arise with no-one to qualify or ask. Thoughts interpreted as threatening have protective consequences from pain to feelings of stress and anxiety.

In summary, we need to be judicious about the information we expose ourselves to and use rational thinking to determine the relevance to ourselves. We are all utterly unique with our own stories and lived experiences, so when you pick up an article, bear this in mind. You would also be wise to write down any concerns or questions and ask a trusted adviser to put perspective on those thoughts so that they form part of how you overcome your problem.

Pain Coach Programme for overcoming pain | t. 07518 445493

02Apr/16

Repetitive strain injury

Repetitive strain injury — it’s not just about the arms

Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is a blight on the working world affecting the individual’s ability to perform. Personally RSI can cause great suffering on a number of levels and financially there can be significant cost to both the individual and the business. For all of these reasons it is important that the understanding of RSI evolves. Similar to other persistent pains, when society realises that pain can change when you understand it and know what to do, there will be a vast shift. The shift will mean less suffering as people learn how to overcome their pain.

RSI often begins with mild symptoms that include pain, soreness, stiffness and altered sensation that build up over time. There is usually a point when the pain motivates the person to seek help or deterioration in performance enforces action when they are unable to do their work as needed. In the early stages, typically there is a search for an actual injury or evidence for inflammation with varying results. In other words, some people will discover that there is an injury but most will not. The reason for this is simply that pain does not accurately reflect tissue injury. So what is pain?

This is the ultimate question that needs answering and like most problems, to solve them we must ask the right question to create an opportunity for understanding. What is pain? Pain is all about protection. The amount of pain we experience in that moment (we can only experience pain in the present moment, the rest being a memory or an anticipation that something will hurt, both of which impact on what is happening now; i.e./ remembering a painful time can evoke pain now, and thinking that something will hurt causes us to experience more pain) is dependent upon the level of perception of threat. More threat predicted results in more pain experienced regardless of tissue damage. This is why a soldier can suffer great injury without experiencing pain because escape from danger is more important, hence feeling no pain allows for such escape to a safe place.

Pain that is attributed to RSI then, is all about the perception of threat to the arms and hands (sometimes as far up as shoulders, neck and upper back). In fact, it is a threat to the person that is pertinent enough for the brain (we are our brain of course, so this is just for convenient description) to predict that the self needs protecting in its entirety. I say entirety because we are a whole person, experienced moment to moment as the ‘self’, which is the brain, the mind, the body and the context (environment) blended and unified into this single experience now. It is this that takes the problem of RSI or any other pain emergent in the body beyond just where the pain is actually felt. Pain in the arm or hand is more than just the feeling, the sensation, the lived experience; it equally involves what we think about the pain (cognition), how we feel about the pain (emotion) and the meaning that we attribute. All of these dimensions create the experience we call pain. So, even from this brief insight into the modern blend of neuroscience and philosophy to help us ask the right questions to which we can discover answers.

The right questions also include posing those that allow the person to tell their story. Creating the environment for this is the vital first step in understanding the person’s lived experience, listening to their words and the way in which they express them. This picture that is drawn allows the clinician to decide how together they can form a partnership that forms the basis of the person overcoming their pain.

As the narrative emerges, the clinician is able to validate and give meaning to events and moments that have shaped the current context (many of which will not be realised). From thereon in, a comprehensive programme is created to address all dimensions of the problem in an interrelated manner. Pain being a lived experience moment to moment, the person needs to know what to think and what to do at any given moment. In effect they need to become their own coach, which is the Pain Coach concept — the Pain Coach coaches the person to become their own coach so that they successfully coach themselves to overcome their pain. We are change with every new moment that passes as our biology updates, and similar to a sports coach, we aim to optimise that change in the direction of health: the healthy vision of me.

The main areas that a comprehensive programme focuses upon are the person’s understanding of the problem (their working knowledge), addressing fears and worries to put these resources into developing the ‘healthy me’, normalising movement and body sense, and creating the conditions for a healthy existence. There are many different strategies and techniques to use alongside treatment that also creates the conditions for health (hands-on, movement and other desensitising ways). Overall though, the programme gives you the know-how to overcome pain and resume a meaningful life.

In summary, RSI similar to other persisting pain problems involves much more than the area that hurts. Pain involves the person, the whole person and hence to address pain comprehensively, the programme must also be whole person. In other words it must reflect the fact that we are thinking, feeling and moving as an expression of who we are, the self that we ‘feel’, emerging from the unification of these dimensions. The programme thereby creates a way forward.

Part 2 will look at what happens in RSI

Pain Coach Programme for persistent pain problems: t. 07518 445493

23Mar/16
Women in pain

Women in pain

Women in painI see more women in pain than men in pain. Naturally, it depends upon the individual as to whether they seek help or not, yet as a general observation it appears that women in pain are more likely to take some action.

The most common presentation is a female aged between 30 and 55 years, who has suffered pain for some time, months or even years, which is now impacting upon her life in a number of ways. Typically the pain is affecting homelife, particulalrly looking after young children,  and worklife, or both in some cases as the pain pervades out into every nook and cranny. Sometimes this happens over a few months but often it is a slow-burner that is suddenly realised. When we have a conversation about the pain, cafe style*, it becomes apparent that there have been painful incidents punctuating a consistent level of sensitivity, building or kindling. The pains emerging in the person include back pain, neck pain, wrist pain, knee pain, foot pain — any joint pain — muscular pain; and can be accompanied by a range of pains known as functional pain syndromes: pelvic pain (dysmennorhoea, period pain, endometriosis, vulvodynia), irritable bowel syndrome, migraine, headache, fibromyalgia, jaw pain. The person, whilst unique and has a unique story to tell, is often hard on themselves by nature, a perfectionist, anxious and a worrier.

There are many, many women suffering a number of these problems that appear to be unrelated, but this is not usually the case. Upstream changes, or biological adaptations, play a role in the symptoms emerging, yet of course the way a condition manifests is dependent upon the individual themselves, with the uniqueness of each person, their tale, beliefs and life experiences.

Nothing happens in isolation. In other words, there is a point in time when we experience a sensation that we label and communicate, but this is not in isolation to what has been before. The story that the person tells me is vital because it reveals both the unfolding of how the individual comes to be sat in the room and allows me to begin giving some meaning to the experience; i.e. helping the person understand their pain and how it sits within their lifestyle and their reality. I say within because pain should not define who we are, yet it often appears to and hence needs to be put into perspective; the first step to overcoming the problem.

So, there are priming events that often begin much earlier in life than the pain that eventually brings the person along to the clinic. These priming events are biological responses to injuries, infections and other situations that are also learning situations. Learning how to respond at time point A then ‘primes’ for time point B as a response kicks in based on how our brains predict the best hypothesis for what ‘this all means’–what we are experiencing now is the brain’s best guess about what all the sensory information means based upon what has happened before, probability playing a role. One of the reasons for a good conversation is to identify the pattern of pain over the years, how it has gradually become more intrusive as the episodes intensify and become more frequent. The pattern can then be explained, given meaning and then provide a platform to create a way forward.

We are designed to change and each moment is unique. This gives us unending opportunities to steer ourselves towards a healthier existence and leading a meaningful life. To get there though, we must have a belief that we ‘can’ and be able to hold that vision. This vision of the healthy me is one that allows us to ask ourselves the question ‘am I heading towards the healthy me with these thoughts and actions, or not?’. If we are not heading in that direction, then we are being distracted and need to resume the healthy course, actively choosing to do so. How are you choosing to feel today? This is an interesting question to ask oneself.

We still have a certain amount of energy each day and a need for sleep and recuperation. Exceeding our capacity means that we are not meeting our basic needs — security, nutrition, hydration, rest. There is only a certain amount of time that we can keep drawing on our energy before we must refresh. Failing to attend to the basic needs leeds to on-going stress responses that are meant only for short bursts. Prolonged activation begins to play havoc in our body systems as we are in survive mode, not thrive mode. In particular, systems that slow down include the digestive system and the reproductive system. Many, many of the women I see have issues with both — e.g./ poor digestion, bloating, sensitivity, intolerances, fertility problems. The biology that underpins behaviours of protection (fright or flight) are preparing you to fight or run away. Having a meal or trying to conceive are low on the biological agenda when you are surviving.

Too much to do, too little time. Modern day living urges us to be busy being busy. Demands flying in from all quarters, yet it is the way we perceive a situation, the way we think about it that triggers the way we respond, not the situation itself. This gives us a very handy buffer. By gaining insight into the way we automatically think and perceive, this being learned over years (i.e. habits), we can become increasingly skilled at choosing different ways of thinking, letting thoughts go, and focusing on what enables us to grow. This very quickly changes our reality, our body, our environment and the sum of all, which is the lived experience.

With on-going pain we develop habits of thought and action, including the way we move that is integral to the way we sense our bodies. Our body sense and sense of self changes in pain, as does our perception of the environment (things can look further away when we have chronic pain or steeper when we are tired), all of which add up to provide evidence that we are under threat. More threat = more pain because the amount of pain we suffer is down to the level of perception of threat and not the amount of tissue damage. We have known this for years, yet mainstream healthcare and thinking remains steadfastly into structures and pathology. It is no mystery then, as to why chronic pain is one of the main global health burdens when the thinking is wrong! So what can we do?

If you are a woman suffering widespread aches and pains, tiredness and frequent bouts of anxiety, there is good news! As I said earlier, we are designed to change, and change is happening all the time. We need to decide which way we wish to change and then follow a plan, or programme, that takes you towards your vision of the healthy you. Pain is a lived experience and hence the programme must fit your life and unique needs as the techniques, strategies of thought and action interweave your life, moment to moment, taking every opportunity to create the right conditions. The blend of movements, gradually building exercises, mindful practice, sensorimotor training, recuperation, resilience, focus, motivation and more, together form a healthy bunch of habits that are all about you getting healthy again, which is the best way to get rid of this pain. No threat, no pain.

* the cafe style conversation is my chosen way of unfolding the person’s story. How do we chat in a cafe? It is relaxed and open, allowing for the full flow of conversation.

  • Pain Coach Programme t. 07518 445493
  • Pain Coach 1:1 Mentoring for clinicians and therapists t. 07518 445493
14Mar/16

Physiotherapy Dystonia Network Meeting

Last week was the Physiotherapy Dystonia Network Meeting in Birmingham, attended by physiotherapists who work with people suffering dystonia who wish to engage in conversations to further our understanding and impact upon this condition. Chaired by Dr Marie-Helene Marion, it was a day of engaging conversations, led by pertinent, short talks that shared knowledge and experience. One aim is to develop the network, which would further the awareness of dystonia and create opportunities for clinicians to build their skills and knowledge together.

I was asked to talk about my approach to cervical dystonia (see my slides here: http://www.slideshare.net/RichmondStaceMCSPMSc/physiotherapy-dystonia-network-meeting-11th-march-2016). Similar to the way in which I approach persistent pain, the programme is neuroscience-based coaching and treatment for cervical dystonia.

Beginning with how Dr Marion and I met, and how we shared stories of chronic pain and dystonia before realising that there was significant overlap in the characteristics and hence approach that could be taken, I then provided some background as to why I do what I do with people suffering cervical dystonia. I emphasised the over-arching need to consider the whole-person, their story and how their narrative fits within their life as a lived experience.

Cervical dystonia is a condition that sits at the root of the sense of self. We face the world with our bodies and the way in which we move, posture and gesture communicates with others. Yet this moving and posturing is affected by the way we feel, where we are, who we are with, what we have been doing, what we may do in the future moments (and we may not be aware of what that will be in any given environment), and hence the final product of movement is the brain’s best guess as to what we should be doing in the light of the current evidence, based on past experience. And the brain does not always get it right! Of course we are not separate from our brain; we are our brain, our body, our mind and our reality as created by the sum of these within a particular environment.

Despite this seeming complexity and perhaps departure from the classic model of mind-body separation, a moment’s thought and we soon realise with some simple examples that embodied cognition is a useful way of thinking about the way we exist. Where do you feel anxious? Usually in your abdomen or chest although anxiety would be considered a ‘mental’ experience. Trying to separate body and mind does no justice to our lived experience and reduces the impact of any treatment programme.

Having briefly covered this, I described some of the training methods that include motor imagery, visualisation, sensory discrimination training, proprioception and motor training. None of these are discreet but instead are moulded together in the form of a comprehensive programme to create new learning experiences towards a more normally functioning sensorimotor system, but remembering that this ‘system’ works closely with emotional, attentional and motivational areas of the brain, that is of course part of the whole person, residing within their reality and perception of life to date. Nothing happens in isolation. We seek to restore a sense of self; who we feel we should be.

My talk was brief and hence only able to scrath the surface of some important considerations, especially the need to set the scene for training by helping the person develop their thinking and self-coaching skills. The aim now is to expand this talk into a day long learning experience that looks at each area and how they tie together into an approach. Keep an eye on the website and twitter for updates (@painphysio). There will also be a series of blogs, considering some of the key issues in cervical dystonia to follow.

If you would like any further information, please do get in touch: 07518 445493

Useful links:

The British Neurotoxin Network

The Dystonia Society

 

24Feb/16
Dystonia

Chronic fatigue syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndromeAn excellent article by Jo Marchant addressing chronic fatigue syndrome recently appeared in The Observer. Interestingly, the following question was posed, “Is it physical or mental – or a combination of the two?”, highlighting the on-going dichotomy that is seen to exist in both society and in healthcare.

I spend a fair amount of time helping people to understand their perceptions and experiences, usually involving pain and suffering. This is about giving a meaning to their pain, validating their lived experience before looking at the ways in which they can change direction towards a healthy and meaningful existence. Importantly, a vital part of this working knowledge is understanding that there is no body-mind separation. There is a general shift towards people’s acceptance of this fact, yet there is still some way to go before this could be seen as mainstream thinking across society. However, this is certainly not alternative thinking, as we have a significant amount of scientific and philosophical literature that is dedicated to this very question.

To answer the question quoted at the start of my blog, chronic fatigue syndrome is not physical, it is not mental and it is not a combination of both. Chronic fatigue sydrome is a whole person experience, much like pain, when the symptoms emerge in the person, in a location or in locations felt and described anatomically for convenience. Yet the biology of both CFS and pain exist well beyond where the feelings are felt. Similar to the notion of mind that does not only exist in the head, or the brain or behind the eyes as can be thought. There are no controllers pulling knobs and turning dials behind our eyes, although there can be the sense that we ‘see’ the world, the perceived world, through these eyes, creating the illusion that the thinker is in the cranium. Fascinating.

However, my mind exists in me, the whole person. I think and I am my whole body and my whole body is the thinker, hence there being no separation. As a simple example, anxiety is usually viewed as a psychological state of mind, yet where do we feel anxious? The stomach, the gut, the chest perhaps. Not in my head, that’s for sure. Same for pain — it is not in the head!!! I am sure many readers have either heard this about pain, either as a patient or a patient tells you that is what they have been told because no ’tissue’ or structure has been found to explain their pain. This is actually because structures do not explain pain as many now know.

Accepting the notion of a whole person opens a range of avenues for therapeutic purposes as we seek to give the person suffering symptoms the knowledge and skills to resume a meaningful and healthy life. The key principle and underlying thinking (with my whole person as the clinician or therapist) is that the individual in front of you is complete and the sum of parts that only exist as a whole — e.g./ as we are conversing or exploring movements (also known as tests, assessments etc.), seeing how the that person moves and experiences movement or expresses themselves with certain words and gestures that illustrate the meaning that they wish to convey.

The aim of a health-giving programme is to provide the individual with the knowledge and skills he or she need to overcome their problem and steer their change (we are designed to change; it is one of the very few definites) to a meaningful life. There maybe treatment within this programme, but in essence it is about giving the person the independence with regard to thought and action, which they understand are emergent from themselves as a whole person, enabling and empowering decisions that lead to action that is congruent with health. Understanding this means that the individual knows which levels they can use, combining movement and thought for best outcomes. This would include working knowledge of symptoms allowing for wise thought and selecting best action, specific techniques and strategies that promote the meeting of basic needs (i.e./ nutritional intake, fluid intake, security, movement, rest), movement and exercise for health and building tolerance for activity, resilience and motivation, and skills to deal with unhelpful and distracting thoughts (e.g./ practical mindfulness). These are some of the key elements of the Pain Coach Programme, when you become your own coach, conceptualised as a compass that one can use to determine current direction and motivate a shift in direction when needed, moment to moment. Essentially, with chronic fatigue and pain as lived experiences, it is the moment to moment thinking and actions that are vital in heading towards the healthy you.

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Contact us on 07518 445493 | Pain Coach Programme for Health & Living

 

 

13Feb/16
40+60 Feet | Bark |https://flic.kr/p/7rvmbB

Tendon pain

40+60 Feet | Bark |https://flic.kr/p/7rvmbB

40+60 Feet | Bark |https://flic.kr/p/7rvmbB

Tendon pain has been a big topic for some years. The problem is seen commonly in the clinic and frequently poses a challenge because so often tendon pain persists. Local factors and nociception are typically blamed, yet when treatment is focused at the tissue level, the limitations are exposed. As an aside, tissue based strategies are cited, yet there is really no such thing as a tissue based treatment simply because the tissues are not separate from the person. They are the person, and of course the person knows that something is being done to them and hence emotions and thoughts are at play, affecting the outcome — consider the person who observes your hands whilst you mobilise or massage whilst remaining calm and curious versus the person who is anxious, guarded with their hand poised and ready to grasp your hand as you start treatment; the latter person demonstrating why it is vital that the threat value be diminished before starting any intervention.

Pete’s excellent blog about tendon pain acknowledges the person, perhaps for the first time in tendon literature, which is music to my ears. Having been heavily influenced by Oliver Sacks, my philosophy has always been to consider the person as much, if not more than the condition as it explains how a particular issue manifests uniquely in that person. Certainly in my mind, the ‘initial assessment’ for me is about getting to know the person, which then rolls into their own experience of pain.

I first started looking with interest at tendon pain some ten years ago as an example of a persistent condition in sport. With an interest in chronic pain, it appeared that the discussions about tendon pain remained within the boundaries of where the pain emerged, yet our understanding of pain had advanced to the higher centres and many body systems involved in the experience of pain. Even nociception was discovered as being an incomplete picture as this biological process can be afoot with or without pain. Detection of threat does not mean it has to hurt, and indeed nociception itself is not something we actually feel. However, when the brain (which is of course part of the person and not separate, although our language does sometimes suggest this) predicts the need for protection, pain emerges in the person in a location deemed under threat or potential threat. This complex activity, which includes consciousness and the mind (these are both small subjects……..), is a whole person experience that is lived moment to moment and hence a focus on what happens in the tendon is only part of the picture. There is still very little acknowledgement elsewhere within the hierarchy, so here are a few thoughts I would like to share.

Previously I have expressed the view that we treat, advise and educate a person; a whole person. The approach that I favour is one that delivers the (working) knowledge and skills for the individual so that they can overcome their pain problem and resume a meaningful life as defined by themselves. Fragmenting for convenience is common, breaking down a whole into parts, yet this can never give a full picture. Medicine and healthcare typically specialise and whilst this has value, in the case of a persisting pain that often means that people fall between the cracks. For example, a female with fibromyalgia, IBS, migraines and pelvic pain may be seeing a rheumatologist, a gastroenterologist, a neurologist and a gynaecologist, and whilst elimination of anything pathological is important, there is an understood common upstream biology. Interestingly, many of these cases also have tender tendons that can be a surprise to the person when the tendons are pressed, especially considering that they are not the primary reason for seeking help.

Nothing happens in isolation (is one of my favourite phrases), and hence the biological expressions in and around a tendon are not separate from the mechanisms that underpin how pain arises in our consciousness. We cannot explain how this happens — how do chemical reactions in our body become a lived experience? Despite the lack of an answer, it clearly involves more than the tissue or structure alone.

This is not to say that the brain and the mind alone are responsible. Where is the mind? Where is the seat of the mind? Again, we do not know. Yet surely the mind is not just in the brain, an argument put forward by supporters of embodied cognition. It is me that thinks, not my brain or my mind, but me. And I think with my whole person because I am a whole person, and indeed when I feel pain, it is me that feels pain and not the body part where I feel it. Because I am more than that body part, the experience of pain must involve the whole person in that moment in that context. It is also true to say that to be in pain, we must be thinking that we are in pain as much as experiencing the sensory qualities of pain. Thinking draws our attention to the said experience, otherwise it is subconscious and hence not occurring to me.

For tendon pain, practically speaking, we must of course consider the health of the tendon itself and surrounding tissues, but also the person’s general state (who are they, how are they), prior experiences relevant to the problem (e.g./ tendon pain, pain, general health), beliefs, expectations, vulnerabilities to developing persistent pain, their story of how the pain emerged, their movement patterns (and why they are moving in such a way; both at the planning stages of movement and actual movement), body sense and sense of self at the very minimum. This information is gathered within the first conversation, setting the scene as trust and rapport develops naturally from exploration of their story that validates and empathises.

This is a mere and brief overview of my thinking about tendon pain, which poses a significant clinical problem, often persisting for longer than is expected. Whilst the focus remains on the tendon and nociception, there will be limited results in my view as this only tells a part of the story of the person in pain. This is true for any pain, and not just tendon pain. Pain emerges in the person and all that that person means and embodies, hence we must address the person as much, if not more than the condition. As Oliver Sacks wrote on his father, a GP: ‘He knew the human, the inward side of his patients no less than their bodies and felt he could not treat one without the other’. So true and this has always been my abiding principle.

Pain Coach Programme | t. 07518 445493

08Feb/16
Pain Coach Programme

Hip replacement

Having seen Eamonn Homes on Twitter up and about on crutches after a hip replacement (good work), I thought I would share a few tips that I give to people undergoing orthopaedic surgery. Hip replacements and knee replacements are common nowadays but there is always a person going through the procedure with his or her hopes, dreams, fears and past experiences. As one of my greatest influence’s, Oliver Sacks, would always say, it is as much the person as the condition. Each person’s experience is unique to them and necessitates validation and respect.

  • Pre-operatively, understand your pain so that you have a working knowledge to enable you to deal with it effectively. The pain is normal, not to be feared, instead to be overcome with the right actions post-operatively. In many, many cases the operation results in pain relief and a much improved quality of life.
  • Post-operatively the pain needs to be well controlled. Conversely, a predictor of on-going pain is poorly controlled pain at the outset, so keep talking to your doctors and nurses and inform them if you are suffering. On another level, the pain can dissuade you from that early movement and mobilisation that is important for recovery.
  • Relaxing and calming techniques help your body to focus on healing. If you are unnecessarily stressed, anxious or fearful, important resources are diverted to protection and survival rather than healing. Common methods that I teach people are to use their working knowledge of their pain to reduce the threat and choose the right healthy action, mindfulness, visualisation, sensory exercises and breathing.
  • Using motor imagery activates and exercises the areas of the brain that plan and execute movement. When movement is limited, these are great exercises to keep the higher centres working for you. The quality and precision of the way we move depends upon these representations and they need to be accurate. Some of this accuracy is lost when we are in pain or not moving normally. Imagine moving your hip, knee, foot and walking; all these are simple and you can do them as often as you like. Visualisations are also a great way of creating calm and motivating you to take the right action. Remember, when you think about something, your brain and mind are very active but with your body — our minds are embodied, in other words an extension of, and part of our thinking (embodied cognition).
  • If you are anticipating that a movement will hurt, visualise the end position (e.g. standing up) and then imagine the act of standing up over and over (10-15 reps) and then do it.

Pain Coach ProgrammeThere are many other sensorimotor execises and techniques that a person can use over and above the standard movements and post-operative exercises (and pre-operatively), to get the best outcome. In essence, it is about creating the right conditions for healing and recovery, holding a vision of how you want to be and then work towards that vision (dealing with distractions on the way — e.g. fears, worries, negative messages) of health and a meaningful life.

This is the way of the Pain Coach Programme | t. 07518 445493

08Feb/16
CRPS

CRPS Research

CRPSKeep up to date with some of the recent CRPS research papers. You can click on the title link for the full text version. My comments are posted ‘RS’ in italics.

Pain exposure physical therapy (PEPT) compared to conventional treatment in complex regional pain syndrome type 1: a randomised controlled trial

abstract

To compare the effectiveness of pain exposure physical therapy (PEPT) with conventional treatment in patients with complex regional pain syndrome type 1 (CRPS-1) in a randomised controlled trial with a blinded assessor.

The study was conducted at a level 1 trauma centre in the Netherlands.

56 adult patients with CRPS-1 participated. Three patients were lost to follow-up

Patients received either PEPT in a maximum of five treatment sessions, or conventional treatment following the Dutch multidisciplinary guideline.

Outcomes were assessed at baseline and at 3, 6 and 9 months after randomisation. The primary outcome measure was the Impairment level Sum Score—Restricted Version (ISS-RV), consisting of visual analogue scale for pain (VAS-pain), McGill Pain Questionnaire, active range of motion (AROM) and skin temperature. Secondary outcome measures included Pain Disability Index (PDI); muscle strength; Short Form 36 (SF-36); disability of arm, shoulder and hand; Lower Limb Tasks Questionnaire (LLTQ); 10 m walk test; timed up-and-go test (TUG) and EuroQol-5D.

The intention-to-treat analysis showed a clinically relevant decrease in ISS-RV (6.7 points for PEPT and 6.2 points for conventional treatment), but the between-group difference was not significant (0.96, 95% CI −1.56 to 3.48). Participants allocated to PEPT experienced a greater improvement in AROM (between-group difference 0.51, 95% CI 0.07 to 0.94; p=0.02). The per protocol analysis showed larger and significant between-group effects on ISS-RV, VAS-pain, AROM, PDI, SF-36, LLTQ and TUG.

We cannot conclude that PEPT is superior to conventional treatment for patients with CRPS-1. Further high-quality research on the effects of PEPT is warranted given the potential effects as indicated by the per protocol analysis.

***

High-frequency repetitive sensory stimulation as intervention to improve sensory loss in patients with CRPS type 1

abstract

Achieving perceptual gains in healthy individuals or facilitating rehabilitation in patients is generally considered to require intense training to engage neuronal plasticity mechanisms. Recent work, however, suggested that beneficial outcome similar to training can be effectively acquired by a complementary approach in which the learning occurs in response to mere exposure to repetitive sensory stimulation (rSS). For example, high-frequency repetitive sensory stimulation (HF-rSS) enhances tactile performance and induces cortical reorganization in healthy subjects and patients after stroke. Patients with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) show impaired tactile performance associated with shrinkage of cortical maps. We here investigated the feasibility and efficacy of HF-rSS, and low-frequency rSS (LF-rSS) to enhance tactile performance and reduce pain intensity in 20 patients with CRPS type I. Intermittent high- or low-frequency electrical stimuli were applied for 45 min/day to all fingertips of the affected hand for 5 days. Main outcome measures were spatial two-point-discrimination thresholds and mechanical detection thresholds measured on the tip of the index finger bilaterally. Secondary endpoint was current pain intensity. All measures were assessed before and on day 5 after the last stimulation session. HF-rSS applied in 16 patients improved tactile discrimination on the affected hand significantly without changes contralaterally. Current pain intensity remained unchanged on average, but decreased in four patients by ≥30%. This limited pain relief might be due to the short stimulation period of 5 days only. In contrast, after LF-rSS, tactile discrimination was impaired in all four patients, while detection thresholds and pain were not affected. Our data suggest that HF-rSS could be used as a novel approach in CRPS treatment to improve sensory loss. Longer treatment periods might be required to induce consistent pain relief.

RS: This is an interesting finding. Stimulation that brings about changes in the cortical maps is not a new notion, and indeed is part of normal learning. We stimulate with movement and/or touch under day to day circumstances, and in fact that is what we need to employ moment to moment at home to overcome CRPS and other painful conditions. Most people will not have access to equipment but are able to use simple touch, two point discrimination and movement, all of which form a vital part of the training and self-coaching programme. Pain is a lived experience and the programme must become part of life and hence be as simple as possible, which it can.

***

Motor imagery and its effect on complex regional pain syndrome: an integrative review

abstract

The motor imagery (MI) has been proposed as a treatment in the complex regional pain syndrome type 1 (CRPS-1), since it seems to promote a brain reorganization effect on sensory-motor areas of pain perception. The aim of this paper is to investigate, through an integrative critical review, the influence of MI on the CRPS-1, correlating their evidence to clinical practice. Research in PEDro, Medline, Bireme and Google Scholar databases was conducted. Nine randomized controlled trials (level 2), 1 non-controlled clinical study (level 3), 1 case study (level 4), 1 systematic review (level 1), 2 review articles and 1 comment (level 5) were found. We can conclude that MI has shown effect in reducing pain and functionality that remains after 6 months of treatment. However, the difference between the MI strategies for CRPS-1 is unknown as well as the intensity of mental stress influences the painful response or effect of MI or other peripheral neuropathies.

RS: motor imagery does have an impact on our ability to move, and often rapidly so after a few repetitions. Using imagery and visualisation to assess mental representations, body sense and integrity alongside other simple tests gives an insight into the different hierarchical levels of contribution to the brain’s best guess about this moment for the individual. What we are experiencing now is our brain’s prediction (or best guess) when it has chosen from a number of hypotheses. Using imagery and visualisation, we can impact on the predictions as well as our own expecations that feed such predictions and our own conscious sense of what is to come. Pain is worse when we expect something to hurt, so what if we do not expect this and indeed anticipate something different, new and healthy?

***

Fear and reward circuit alterations in padeiatric CRPS

abstract

In chronic pain, a number of brain regions involved in emotion (e.g., amygdala, hippocampus, nucleus accumbens, insula, anterior cingulate, and prefrontal cortex) show significant functional and morphometric changes. One phenotypic manifestation of these changes is pain-related fear (PRF). PRF is associated with profoundly altered behavioral adaptations to chronic pain. For example, patients with a neuropathic pain condition known as complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) often avoid use of and may even neglect the affected body area(s), thus maintaining and likely enhancing PRF. These changes form part of an overall maladaptation to chronic pain. To examine fear-related brain circuit alterations in humans, 20 pediatric patients with CRPS and 20 sex- and age-matched healthy controls underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in response to a well-established fearful faces paradigm. Despite no significant differences on self-reported emotional valence and arousal between the two groups, CRPS patients displayed a diminished response to fearful faces in regions associated with emotional processing compared to healthy controls. Additionally, increased PRF levels were associated with decreased activity in a number of brain regions including the right amygdala, insula, putamen, and caudate. Blunted activation in patients suggests that (a) individuals with chronic pain may have deficits in cognitive-affective brain circuits that may represent an underlying vulnerability or consequence to the chronic pain state; and (b) fear of pain may contribute and/or maintain these brain alterations. Our results shed new light on altered affective circuits in patients with chronic pain and identify PRF as a potentially important treatment target.

Pain Coach ProgrammeRS: we know that fear provokes on-going and more protection as we are perceiving a threat. Pain is also about perceived threat that is being predicted by our brain’s best guess about a particular situation or context base on what has happened before. This is one of the reasons why pain can be so specifically associated with a particular movement, a place or a thought. Many are puzzled by the changeable nature of pain and how it can exists one minute and not the next. Understanding pain allows people to realise that this is exactly the lived experience, especially in youngsters who can appear to be moving normally and then be in agony. Their brains have predicted a need for protection and hence they are in pain. The perceived threat passes and the new prediction is ‘no threat’ and hence no pain. This is how it works and unfortunately many people are not believed as a consequence and a really important reason why society needs to understand pain. Fear of pain being eradicated results in positive change and is a key step towards overcoming pain, starting with a working knowledge. I use UBER-M as a self-coaching tool that I give to individuals: U (understand pain; working knowledge), B (breathing & mindfulness), E (exercises – specific and general), R (re-charge energy to engage); M (movement for health and expression); the question to ask is this: ‘Are these thoughts and actions taking me towards my vision of a healthy me?’

Pain Coach Programme to overcome CRPS and chronic pain | t. 07518 445493

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