Category Archives: chronic back pain

24Jul/17

Improve staff fitness

Improve staff fitness

Call to improve staff fitness by the Chief Executive of Public Health England, Duncan Selbie

To improve staff fitness is a great idea all round. According to The Observer yesterday, the cost of staff sickness is £29 billion a year. Denis Campbell reports upon Duncan Selbie’s call for companies to encourage healthy practices. Imagine freeing up some of that cash for education, including educating the next generation to look after themselves. We may laud ‘great results’ in A*’s and A’s but at what cost? We continue to see the figures for mental health rising in kids? I would rather my kid had a D, had tried his best and was all-round healthy. What use is an A if you are suffering depression?

“To improve staff fitness is a great idea all round”

The main target for this message seems to be small and medium sized businesses. Naturally this draws responses about the costs and limited opportunities within such firms compared to bigger companies. However, this problem can easily be solved by creating guidelines and providing support ~ see below for some ideas. It would be well worth the investment.

We can look at the trend in big businesses of building gyms on-site, having physiotherapy and doctors available, bringing sandwiches to the desk and even a neck massage while your pour over your spreadsheets. However, you could also argue that this merely keeps people at their desk or in the workplace for longer, often in the very environment that is causing most of the problems!

“The skills of wellbeing easily weave into the day”

There are a vast number of different options for healthy practices and skills of wellbeing. Teaching people such practices each day, I am very familiar working with individuals who have decided to create new patterns (habits) to supersede existing patterns that cause pain and suffering. Most people I see have chronic pain together with varying degrees of anxiety, depression and other persisting ills (e.g. migraine, headache, IBS, pelvic pain, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue). Usually this is accompanied by perfectionism (expectations are never met resulting in ‘I am not good enough’ and consequential stress) and self-criticism to a unhealthy degree.

Many people spend their lives in protect mode. Occasionally they experience care-giving mode, but not often. Biologically these people are likely to be ‘inflamed’ much of the time, which explains many of the common complaints in the modern world for which medicine has no answer. The endless search for a medical explanation leads down a slope of decreasing expectations and hope. In essence, like chronic pain, this is not actually a medical problem. Once any sinister pathology has been excluded, the biomedical model offers nothing here as the problem is embedded in society; i.e. it is a public health issue.

To address a public health issue, we need society’s thinking to change. For thinking to change, existing beliefs must be shaken as we update our understanding. Understand Pain is a purpose led enterprise that works to change society’s thinking about pain. In the same way we can build upon the strengths in society with regards to being active. The ‘already active’ can become champions, spreading the right messages about the healthy practices that they have adopted. These people are living examples of the benefit.

“Staff fitness benefits business and society”

Staff fitness

Turning this on its head as I like to do, let’s think about living well and meaningfully. In other words, what can we do and what can we focus on? What positive action can we take as individuals and society? This is not just about small and medium sized businesses creating opportunity for healthy practices. Businesses must collaborate with staff who they themselves need to be motivated to live well. We all have this responsibility to ourselves, our families and society.

There is too much knowledge to sit back now, we all have a role to play, not just the business owners. However, if owners and executives take the right steps and lead from the front, they will inspire action. Do we have good enough leaders to do this and recognise the benefits for the business itself and society as a whole? That’s another question!

What could we do at our place?

Consider how staff will engage with the business and colleagues when the right environment and ethos exists. What are the company values? This is a great opportunity for small and medium sized businesses to engage deeply with its people. Even if this means re-writing the values in an effort to keep growing.

  • Create a space for exercise
  • Create a space for meditation
  • Link with local teachers: yoga, Pilates etc. ~ also an opportunity for staff to bond by doing something together
  • Encourage meetings that are mobile ~ where can we go? Let’s walk and talk
  • Encourage conversation over email/text ~ walk to that person’s desk
  • Compulsory lunch break away from the desk
  • Education programme for the skills of wellbeing

Using your imagination, you will be able to come up with some great ideas for your place. Your people are your greatest resource. Looking after them means looking after your business.


If you would like to know more about healthy practices and skills of wellbeing, please contact us. See what we can do for you as an individual and a business

Individual coaching and workshops ~ t. 07518 445493
13Jun/17

Steps forward at SIP 2017

Positive work done at SIP 2017

There were some important steps forward at SIP 2017 last week when stakeholders got together to discuss the societal issue of pain and agree ways forward. Positive work was done by the collective, consisting of patient representative groups, policy makers, clinicians, scientists and others.

It is rare that all the stakeholders meet, making this a very special conference. Here is an initial summary.

Societal Impact of Pain

Steps forwards at SIP 2017

The problems

The title of the interest group itself, ‘Societal Impact of Pain’ or SIP, drew me to the 2017 conference. I firmly believe pain to be a societal issue that has enormous consequences for individuals and the world in which we live. Whilst there are many meetings dedicated to pain, most focus on a scientific programme. This is only part of a much bigger picture that includes socioeconomic factors, culture, beliefs, gender, access to healthcare, understanding of pain and lifestyle, to name but a few. SIP, as far as addressing pain as it needs to be addressed is ‘on the money’. And speaking of money….

Chronic pain is a huge economic burden. The cost of pain to the EU each year is up to €441 bn — today that is £387 bn.

Wake up policy makers, yes that is £387 billion.

Back pain alone costs €12 bn per year in Europe although the most staggering figure is the €441 bn think about all the other conditions that hurt) and the source of immeasurable suffering for millions. It is estimated that 100 million people suffer in Europe.

“Pain causes a problem for individuals as well as a challenge for healthcare systems, economies and society (SIP 2017)

Clearly, what we are doing at the moment does not work. There are reasons for this, including the fact that pain is misunderstood in society: healthcare professionals and people (patients). This results in the wrong messages being purported, low expectations and poor outcomes. This must change and the SIP 2017 meeting was a perfect breeding ground for positive work in the right direction. There were some significant steps forward, emerging from the synergy of different groups gathered together.

What was my purpose?

Representing UP | understand pain, I was attending SIP 2017 to gain insight into the current thinking about pain from a societal perspective. In particular I was interested in the language being used, the messages being given about pain, and the plans for positive work to drive change. Listening to the talks, being at the meetings and talking to different stakeholders, I was inspired. My passion has been strengthened by what I heard. I know that UP is absolutely on track and my aim now is to contribute to the on-going work, primarily by changing the way society thinks about pain — see workshops here.

The message that I deliver, and that of UP, is that pain can and does change when it is understood thereby empowering, enabling and inspiring the individual to realise his or her potential. The individual is part of society and hence with so many people suffering, this means society is suffering. Drawing together the necessary people to create the conditions for change was the purpose of SIP 2017. From the outcomes (see below), this is what has been achieved.

See the SIP 2017 Impressions here: videos and photos

Who was there?

One of the features of the meeting was the range of people in attendance. For fruitful discussion and action it is essential that stakeholders from the different sectors get together. This is exactly what SIP 2017 created. In no particular order, there were clinicians, academics, scientists, policy makers, MEPs, patient groups and organisations, patient representatives and others who have an interest in the advancement of how society thinks about and addresses pain.

Understand pain to change pain

The right language

The focus was upon the person and their individual experiences of pain within the context of modern society. We all need to understand pain for different reasons, although we are all potential patients!

  • People suffering need to understand pain so that they can realise their potential for change and live a purposeful life
  • Clinicians need to understand pain so that they can deliver the treatments and coaching to people in need
  • Policy makers need to understand pain so that they can create platforms that enable best care

I was pleased to hear and see recommendations for coaching, although the term was not defined. Having used a coaching model for some years, I have seen this bring results, as it is always a means to getting the very best out of the individual ~ see The Pain Coach Programme.

Within the biomedical model, which does not work for persistent pain, the person is reliant upon the clinician providing treatment. We know that this approach is ineffective and in turn, ineffective treatments result in greater costs as the loop of suffering continues. Giving the person the skills, knowledge and know-how enables and inspires people to make the decision to commit to the practices that free them from this loop. People do not need to be dependent upon healthcare to get better. With a clear vision of success and a way to go about it, people can get results and live a meaningful life. This is the philosophy of UP and I was delighted to hear these messages at the meeting.

An issue raised by many was the measurement of pain. The way that pain improvements are captured and the desired outcomes differed between people (patients) and policy makers. The Numerical Rating Score (NRS) is often used, but what does this tell us about the lived experience of the person? Pain is not a score and a person is not a number. If I rate my pain 6/10 right now, that is a mere snapshot. It could be different 10 minutes later and was probably different 10 minutes before. The chosen number tells the clinician nothing about the suffering or the impact. It is when the impact lessens, when suffering eases does the person acknowledge change. No-one would naturally be telling themselves that they have a score for pain unless they have been told to keep a tally. We need to understand what is meaningful for the person, for example, going to work, playing with the kids, going to the shop.

Understand pain to change pain

Valletta panorama, Malta

Steps forward

SIP have issued this press release following the symposium:

‘MARTIN SEYCHELL, DEPUTY DIRECTOR GENERAL DG SANTE, FORMALLY ANNOUNCES LAUNCH OF PAIN EXPERT AND STAKEHOLDER GROUP ON THE EU HEALTH POLICY PLATFORM AT THE SOCIETAL IMPACT OF PAIN SYMPOSIUM’

Mr Seychell gave an excellent talk, absolutely nailing down the key issues and a way forward. This has been followed by with positive action. The SIP statement reads:

‘The European Commission is following SIP’s lead and has launched the EU Health Policy Platform to build a bridge between health systems and policy makers. Among other health policy areas, the societal impact of pain is included as well and will have a dedicated expert group.’

From the workshops the following recommendations emerged:

  1. Establish an EU platform on the societal impact of pain
  2. Develop instruments to assess the societal impact of pain
  3. Initiate policies addressing the impact of pain on employment
  4. Prioritise pain within education for health care professionals, patients and the general public
  5. Increase investment in research on the Societal Impact of Pain

A further success has been the classification of pain

Building momentum

Following this inspiring meeting where so much positive work was done, we now need to take action individually and collectively to get results. I see no reason why we cannot achieve the aims by continuing to drive the right messages about pain. This is a very exciting time from the perspective of EU policy but also in terms of our understanding of pain. The pinnacle of that knowledge must filter down through society, which is the purpose of UP.

To do this we (UP) are very open to creating partnerships with stakeholders who share our desire for change. UP provides the knowledge and the know-how that is needed for results, because without understanding pain, there can be no success. Conversely, understanding pain means that we can create a vision of a healthier society that we enable with simple practices available for all. Society can work together to ease the enormous suffering that currently exists. We all have a stake in that and a responsibility to drive change in that direction.

~ A huge thanks to the organisers and Norbert van Rooij


Please do get in touch if you would like to organise a meeting or a workshop: +447518445493 or email [email protected]

 

23Mar/16

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
21Sep/15

Andy Murray wins despite back pain

karlnorling | https://flic.kr/p/d5cPyA

karlnorling
| https://flic.kr/p/d5cPyA

Andy Murray wins despite back pain, a classic example of how the meaning and situation flavours the lived experience. Simon Briggs of The Telegraph said: “Not many players are capable of winning three points in a Davis Cup semi-final, as Andy Murray did to put Great Britain into the trophy match against Belgium in late November. But to do so with a bad back – an issue that Murray revealed only once the combat had finished – was a different story again: a quite exceptional feat of courage and stamina”. Pain is not well related to the state of the body tissues (joints, discs etc) but instead the perception of threat detected by body systems that protect us: nervous system, immune system, autonomic nervous system, endocrine system, sensorimotor system — one only has to consider phantom limb pain to realise this fact. One of the biggest reasons why persisting pain is feared is the belief that the severity equates to more damage or something more serious. You may also consider that some cancers remain painless and this is certainly serious. Pain is a protective device that motivates thinking and action to reduce the threat and restore normal physiological activity (homeostasis); it is a need state lived by the whole person — with ‘back pain’, it is the person who is in pain, not their back.

In Murray’s case, he was quite capable of focusing on the game, his body allowing this due to the context and the significance. There are many stories of sportsmen and women sustaining injuries and only knowing when the game is finished. We also had the scenario a few years ago when Messi collided with the keeper and experienced such pain that he thought his career was over. It was a bruise and he played the next weekend. The pain was still severe at the time though, reflecting the situation and the need as deemed by his body systems that protect. It works both ways.

Between games Murray may well have felt some stiffness, but he was able to re-focus. A few simple movements to nudge fluids around, ease off the muscular tension that is initiated and executed by the brain sending signals down via the spinal cord, perhaps a few reflexive messages contributing alongside the immune and autonomic activity. Context remained king though, as it was wholly more important to put all his attention on what was required to win than to start worrying about his back. That could be dealt with later, and indeed this is what happened as Murray did what he knew he needed to do to be victorious. All those top down signals, cultivated and delivered from a neuroimmune system, which countered those danger signals coming from his back (not pain signals — there are no pain signals or pain centres) — top down signals generated from his beliefs, expectations, mastery of focus and attention, as he hit flow, that state of being utterly in the moment. That’s a wonderful place to be and not a room where pain can enter.

Now that the game has finished, familiar aches and pains will flood Murray’s consciousness. There maybe additional and new feelings that evoke new thoughts and a need for re-assessment for the next best steps. These steps will need to include consideration of how Murray’s neuroimmune system and other systems that protect have learned to react (priming or kindling), the possibility of sub-conscious and environmental cues, expectations and of course an assessment of tissue health and function. From thereon in, a comprehensive treatment, training and coachng programme can address movement, body sense, neuroimmune-sympathetic-sensorimotor interactions to name but a few. It is worth pointing out here that such a programme is not unique to elite sports people, but a modern approach to pain and injury that should be accessible to all.

Richmond is the co-founder of a pain awareness campaign called UP | Understand Pain. Together with Georgie, they are using music and song to deliver the right messages about pain, particularly chronic and persisting pain; which are:

  • Pain can and does change
  • You can overcome pain and lead a meaningful life when you really understand it and know what you can do

** Pain Coach Programme for chronic pain, complex pain, persistent pain — t. 07518 445493

 

20Jul/15

Gillian’s story | back pain and mindfulness

vintage typewriter by philhearing | https://flic.kr/p/9pRzps

vintage typewriter by philhearing | https://flic.kr/p/9pRzps

Many thanks for Gillian’s story | back pain and mindfulness

MY PAIN STORY – GILLIAN WESTON

I am always a busy person; I play short mat bowls several times a week and have represented my County and England, I run a Junior session for bowls, I love to swim and I am a member of Horsham Rock Choir. I use a computer as the main part of my job of Practice Manager for a charity.

My problems began in 2010 when I slipped on some ice and inadvertently tried to break my fall with my left arm. I had restricted movement and upper arm nerve pain but after some physio my situation improved.

In Dec 2012 I developed pain in both arms after lifting a heavy object at work. I was referred for physio in Jan 2013 when I was diagnosed with tennis elbow in my right arm and shoulder impingement/tennis elbow in the left. After some exercises my right arm improved but I had further physio in the following months for my left arm. During this time the worst aspect was the nerve pain from my elbow to my hand – no painkillers relieved it, and I was in constant pain with or without movement, even scratching my face or lifting a kettle were agony!

In September 2013 when I was still in a lot of pain and had a further condition added – ulnar nerve entrapment – I was given 2 steroid injections. There was an improvement but of course the underlying problems were still there and in January 2014 there was a return of my intense pain. A further course of steroids followed, but the actual injection was excruciatingly painful and I was left with numbness in my ring finger. I was pain free until Nov 2014 when I moved a pot in the garden and experienced a twinge in my elbow, the problem was exacerbated when I used a simple screwdriver in Dec at work and I ended up in the worst pain I had had for some time.

By Jan 2015 I was at the end of my tether and rather than go the NHS route saw a physio who I knew privately. She felt that my neck was also the cause of my problem plus bad posture. Her approach was more holistic and she gave me some acupressure to try and calm me down from my very distressed state. She even suggested counselling as she was concerned about my mental health as a direct result. I was at various times loaned a TENS machine, given ultrasound and massaged. She helped me address by posture and gave discussed calming techniques. She discussed with me how my mental state was affecting my pain but I was sceptical about this at the time and more or less dismissed it. There was a degree of improvement in my condition over the following month thanks to the new physiotherapist but I was still struggling day to day.

During all these periods in and out of pain I have had to stop playing bowls and going swimming, use my right hand more – particularly with the mouse at work, been unable to sleep on my left side, been restricted doing the dance moves at choir, and not been able to do many day to day things that I used to take for granted.

In March 2015 I attended Heathrow Airport with Horsham Rock Choir where Georgie Standage my choir leader and Richmond Stace were hosting an event for UP. I took one of the flyers and did my research via the UP website. I found the videos very interesting – in particular the one explaining how “all pain comes from the brain” (Lorimer Moseley). I took particular interest too in the mindfulness videos. But I also found the written information really useful too. Over the following weeks I used mindfulness apps and also ‘talked’ myself out of pain. When I felt pain I closed my eyes and tried to focus on other parts of my body; if I hit my weakened elbow (as I do frequently!) I told myself that it was fine, it would hurt for a while and then I’d be OK. I used Mindfulness to keep me calm and I found that my nerve pain lessened in the weeks that followed.

By May I was able to resume my bowls for short periods to use my mouse at work left handed, do my Rock Choir moves without pain and return to swimming. Significantly I can sleep for periods on my left side without pain – which I haven’t done for a long time!

It is now July 2015 and I have been pain free for just over 3 months–other than the odd elbow bash! I do get the occasional twinge, and very interestingly if I am stressed about anything I get a bit of nerve pain in my arm! Looking back some of the worst pain ties in with significant stressful times in my life. I am still wary and careful about exacerbating things, but importantly I feel that “yes I do have pain sometimes, but pain doesn’t have me”. I am indebted to UP for giving me my life back, and I continue to use the techniques I have learnt – in particular the Mindfulness Breathing – to keep me calm and in control.

13Jul/15

Pain and society

By Tess Watson | https://flic.kr/p/8W6Gkm

By Tess Watson | https://flic.kr/p/8W6Gkm

Pain and society — Pain is an issue in society, and for society. Why pain has become the number one global health burden is a question that we must consider and answer using on-going study of what pain really is, how it influences us, how we influence pain, how pain emerges from individuals who form society and how society views pain. No mean task, however we must envision where we want to be as a society and focus on getting there.

One of the biggest problems with pain is that it is misunderstood. The predominent thinking remains in the pathological and body structure camp as an explanation for pain. This thinking needs to develop across the whole of society, in fact begining in schools where I believe children should be taught about pain.

Fear is a huge factor in pain — what does this mean? Will it get better? Will this pain ever go away? Etc etc. Of course those who understand pain will know that these very thoughts are ample to fuel further protection and hence pain. We need people to understand that pain emerges in them as an individual, very much flavoured the situation in which the pain is noted, influenced by past experiences, beliefs about pain and immediate thoughts and emotions. There are reams of papers examining these factors. The early messages are vital when someone has injured themeselves or suffre an acute episode of pain. The right thinking from the outset creates a way forward with effective behaviours and actions to allow the body systems to co-ordinate healing and recovery. Unnecessary fear and worry simply divert resources away from these processes and hence affect the outcomes. We do not need to fear pain but rather, take action and deal with pain.

When someone has more persisting pain, and this is likely due to certain vulnerabilities that we are understanding more and more, again the mesages must be clear and accurate. The notions of management and coping are just not good enough. We can deliver much better care, advice, coaching and treatment than ‘management’ implies. This is beneficial for the individual, the funder and hence society as a whole. Society needs to be purporting the right messages about pain and therefore we need to develop thinking on a large scale.

When I studies the Pain MSc at Kings College London under Dr Mick Thacker, I used to wonder why it was called ‘Pain: science and society’. Whilst I do not know the exact reasons for KCL’s entitling of the course, now it is obvious to me that we have a huge societal problem that needs urgent attention. There is a responsibility for all of us to come together and develop so that change occurs in the wake of new thinking based on the huge amount of research into pain. We need the support of the policy makers, businesses and individuals. Why policy makers and business? Because we can change what is happening now including the vast cost of chronic pain — this huge pot of money could become available for many other areas of life. So let’s move forward together.

If you are a policy maker or a business recognising the effects of chronic pain on society or upon your business, contact me for information on shifting and devloping thinking to take big action. t 07518 445493

Pain and society by Richmond Stace

11Jun/15

Stiff low back. Why?

Have you got a stiff low back? Stiffness is often part of the picture of low back pain. Why is this?

Stiffness is a conscious experience–a feeling that we sense, interpret and then label as ‘stiff’, usually describing difficulty moving a body part. And just like any other conscious experience, there are the embodied dimensions as well as cognitive and emotional elements: how does it feel? What does it mean for me? Hence to think about stiffness is to think about the body-body systems that create the feeling and meaning.

Stiff low back: there are three common types of stiffness that are addressed in different ways.

  1. Stiffness from actual shortening of the muscles and their compounding tissues
  2. Stiffness from muscles being told to be ‘on’
  3. Stiffness from changes at the joint

Stiffness from actual shortening occurs due to sustained positions or repeated positions being held so that the tissues change in their length. In so doing, there is less freedom of movement at the joints. This tends to gradually worsen as time progresses, with less and less movement at the joint causing further shortening. Regular movement, nudging into the limitation is key in overcoming this aspect of stiffness along with manual treatment that gives you the experience of movement into that part of the range. The manual treatment must sit alongside your understanding of what is happening and why this therapy is being applied, otherwise ‘top-down’ influences can interfere with success (see next section).

Stiffness from muscles instructed to be ‘on’ by the brain is part of the way that the body protects. Otherwise called guarding, the body-brain’s continual planning, expectation, anticipation and desire are embodied, responding to the environment and the context of the situation at that moment. Within our consciousness, different experiences seemingly appear and then fade away as others emerge. Stiffness and pain are no different in this respect, however they may emerge repeatedly in response to normal situations that pose no actual threat. But, due to the sensitive state and vigilance to the environment, non- or low threat stimuli are now interpreted as potentially dangerous and therefore the body responds. The first we know about this is the pain or tightening — the stiff low back. The pain and stiffness are motivators for us to take action, both in thought and behaviour. These thoughts and behaviours seek to reduce the threat and therefore reduce the pain (pain emerges in the person as a result of a perceived threat) and how the body is responding with it’s natural armour, the muscular system. As the need for defence diminishes, so the muscle tension eases and movement improves.

What reduces the threat and muscle tension?

  • Relaxation–this is a skill to learn
  • Mindfulness
  • Understanding pain and knowing that you are ‘safe’
  • Motor imagery

Changes at the joints can, but not always, affect the quality of movement. It is not a given that if your joints show arthritic change, movement will be problematic. Many people have arthritis but suffer no pain or stiffness. Whether you feel pain and stiffness or not is determined by many inter-related factors: e.g./ genetics, gender, past experience, beliefs, expectations, the environment; also known as pain vulnerabilities that all have an underpinning neurobiology that is becoming increasingly understood.

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09Jun/15

Do you have persisting low back pain?

Persisting low back pain is common. It is the number one global health burden (Vos et al. 2012) and hence is the cause of much suffering,  and personal and societal cost. We need a re-think, because the misunderstanding of pain is at the root of this vast problem, especially when it comes to chronic low back pain: persisting or recurring.

I see people every day with chronic low back pain. It is one of the main vehicles that brings patients to my clinic. In many cases, chronic low back pain is part of the presentation with other complaints and problems including widespread pain, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, migraines, pelvic pain, disturbed sleep, poor concentration and performance at work, relationship disharmony and fertility issues. Is there a connection between these seemingly disparate issues? Yes. And by focusing on the whole-person, as suggested by the latest thinking in pain neuroscience, neuroscience and philosophy, we can create a tangible way forward.

So what can we think about? Here are some ideas with examples:

1. What is pain all about in this person?

  • Protection

2. How is the persisting back pain emerging in the individual?

  • Where in the body is the protection emerging?
  • Which (protective) body systems are interacting?
  • What is the context for the pain?
  • What features of the individual’s narrative suggest a vulnerability to persisting pain?
  • What habits of thought and action (the two being utterly entwined) exist?

3. What are the person’s beliefs about pain?

  • Pain = damage?

4. Why is the pain persisting?

  • Vulnerabilities to chronic pain
  • Is there a good reason for the pain to persist? Is it useful somehow, indicating a need for more action?

5. What needs to be done?

  • Understanding — the right thinking, pain can change
  • Create the opportunity for change
  • What action is required on a moment to moment basis?
  • Development of motivational skills and resilience
  • Persistence, courage, focus, determination

This is merely an insight, and conveniently broken into sections. There is no prescription, just facts about pain that we must work with and employ within a whole-person centred approach to overcoming persisting low back pain and other persisting pain problems.

For further information about treatment and coaching programmes to overcome pain, call now: 07518 445493

* Specialist Pain Physio Clinics: Harley Street | Chelsea | New Malden

 

11May/15

The language of back pain

The language we use when we talk about back pain is revealing and worthy of noting. This is both the language of the back pain sufferer and the clinician or therapist. Why? Because it highlights the beliefs held about back pain. Why is this important? Because the beliefs underpin the thoughts and action taken in response to the back pain.

Common descriptions that patients use when I ask them to narrate include the ‘slipped disc’, ‘wear and tear’, ‘disc bulge’, ‘worn out joints’, ‘weak spine’, ‘weak muscles’, ‘weak core’, ‘worn out spine’ and let’s not forget the range of expletives that can be attached the the above as well, ‘my ****** spine’, ‘it’s ********’, ‘when he looked at my x-ray, he told me I was ******’ — and I am not joking when I state these are just a few of the things I hear. Do bear in mind that I spend my days listening to people’s stories, making sense of their experience so that we can create a way to move forward.

And where do people obtain such language? They have been told that this is the case, they have read it on the net or heard from well-meaning significant and not so significant others. Sadly, these terms are not useful in any shape or form and in most cases create the wrong image, construct the wrong beliefs, leading to the wrong action and on-going threat and hence protection and pain (pain is about protection as regular readers appreciate).

Clinicians need to watch their language as they are in a position to deliver the right messages at key moments. This creates understanding, which emerges as behaviours and actions that are healthy and groove a way forward to overcome pain. The clinician will have a set of beliefs about pain, and perhaps suffers chronic pain himself/herself. Sticking to the facts about pain, being honest about what we don’t know, avoiding extrapolating a research finding to the populous when it has only been validated in a small number of people and focusing on the ‘cans’ rather than the limitations are just a few notable strategies. I am not going to tell you how to treat or deal with back pain here, merely highlight some observations that I have made over the years.

Back pain is a huge problem the world over and we need to think about it in a different way; a whole-person way, just like any other pain. Considering what we say, how we say it and when we say it is vital. The potency of language and communication should not be underestimated. The words we use will form an internal dialogue in the back pain sufferer’s mind, flavouring their pain perception. Let’s get it right.

Pain Coach ProgrammePain Coach Programmes for chronic and persisting low back pain — coaching you to overcome pain.

Call us on 07518 445493

 

16Apr/15

George Clooney’s back pain

George Clooney’s back pain — Back pain can affect anyone, and does affect most at some point in a lifetime. In fact, it is probably more unusual not to suffer back pain!

George Clooney has been suffering persisting back pain since 2005 when he sustained an injury whilst filming. Reports described a torn dura that can result in severe pain, and certainly did for Clooney. With so many nerve endings, an injury will trigger excitement locally. Danger signals are transmitted from the area to the spinal cord and then to the brain–note that there are no pain signals, but rather danger signals.

It is the normal inflammatory response (the release of inflammatory chemicals) that causes increasing excitement (sensitivity) in nociceptors, reducing their threshold for firing. This means that it becomes easier to stimulate the nerves to fire the danger signals. The bombardment of danger signals causes (plastic) changes in the spinal cord that in effect operates as a volume switch.

So if all these responses are normal, how does pain persist and become chronic? This is the BIG question. The answers are complex as is a pain response, but I would argue that within this complexity lie opportunities to change pain and overcome the problems.

Pain is not a structure, it is a response to a perceived threat — very different! Pain is a response that is influenced by context, environment, beliefs, prior experiences, the state of protective systems at the time of injury, gender, intentions to move, fatigue, emotional state and more. Pain is not a disc or a joint or a dura. Pain does not come from a disc, a joint or a dura. Yes, that is where you may feel it, in that part of your body, but those structures do not have the properties of pain. Your nose does not have the properties of a common cold, yet it will stream. There is an upstream biology that involves many body systems that are designed to protect. This biology is a complex blend of all the influences I have mentioned, interpreting a situation as being threatening and hence protecting: pain, altered movement, altered thinking, altered emotions–if you suffer on-going pain, how rational are you when in pain? Can you think clearly? We lose precision.

We lose precision of movement, sense of the body, where a stimulus is being presented to the body, where we feel pain (does yours move or grow?), as well as precision of thought and emotion. Our discrete ability to plan and execute thoughts and actions is marred, ‘smudged’, blurry.

So, to the way we can overcome pain and in particular chronic pain. It has to start with thinking differently, and changing our relationship with pain. On doing so, the way that pain is experienced changes. This, alongside strategies and training the develop precision of thought, movement and sense all reduce the perceived threat. Reduce the perception of threat, reduce the pain — you are answering the demands of your body. The caveat of course is that we are not separate in body and mind. There is no separateness to pain as it is part of you, part of every cell. To overcome pain then, you must become aware of what you are currently thinking and doing (habits) and then consciously change until it becomes unconscious and normal.

Pain Coach ProgrammeThis is an insight into the Pain Coach Programme that addresses the whole person as we must to overcome chronic pain. We are constantly changing and those who suffer chronic pain have been changing towards more and more protection in response to normal activities–how many normal activities now hurt? They shouldn’t!

It is time to take the science of pain and translate it into action to change your pain. Call us to start your programme for chronic back pain or chronic pain. 07518 445493