Category Archives: Chronic pain

23Aug/16

Inequalities in pain relief

A brief article in yesterday’s Guardian highlighted one of the inequalities in pain relief. The author, Grace Rahman, focused on the question why black patients are given less pain relief in the light of recent research. With pain being the most common cause of Emergency Room visits, there is plenty of data to analyse. This is likely to be the same in the UK, pain being the primary vehicle that takes people to seek help. As a significant aside, it astounds me that pain is so low on the public health agenda in terms of funding for research as well as overall recognition.

Depression and chronic pain take the first two positions in global health burdens — they cost us the most. Yet where are the campaigns? Where is the TV coverage? They do not exists despite the fact that pain is a universal experience, except in an unlucky few with a rare genetic disorder, which is normal and necessary for survival but so deeply troubling when it persists. Therein lies a major issue contributing to the question penned by the journalist: why are black patients given less pain relief?

Previously, young babies may not have been given pain relief and older people may still not receive adequate pain relief, especially those who are cognitively impaired. The aggression seen in someone suffering dementia may well be due to pain that a simple analgesic would relieve. The misunderstanding of pain underpins all of these contexts, resulting in poor treatment that is based on the wrong thinking. The lack of pain education is incredible when you consider it in this light.

A study quoted by the author highlighted the knowledge gaps of white medical students who rated pain levels to be lower in black people when looking at case studies. Why would this be the case? It was thought to be due to ‘entrenched ideas’ about how people differ biologically and about how they behave in relation to using medication.

Each person is unique with their own personal experiences and narratives of their life to date. This makes an individual’s pain unique, and at any given moment our lived experience that could include pain, is also unique. I have never had this moment before and never will again. So even in the individual, the pain is never the same. We are always changing as we build up prior experiences with every passing moment in time. Understanding this is important and also delivers hope, because when combined with a working knowledge of pain and what we can do to actively steer a desired course within realistic parameters, we actualise change.

Therefore, as clinicians and as a society we must appreciate that each person’s experience of pain is unique and just as they person says it is — listening deeply is vital to gain an understanding with the required compassion. Just spending those moments with the person, allowing them the time and space to describe their experience allows a calming. We must certainly appreciate culture, gender and beliefs as we impart the truth behind someone’s pain, giving them knowledge and skills to overcome their pain and what fuels the sensations. This is the same for every person — whatever the colour of your skin, age or sex. Deep listening, compassionate speech and a focus on what action to take in this moment.

Much suffering comes from how we think about our pain, which is why we feel better when we understand pain and the fear dissolves. When the fear and worry decrease, so the pain eases and we can focus on what we need to do to get better. Fear, worry and depression are based on the contents of our thinking from the past or the future, neither of which exist except in our embodied minds. The only real moment is this one, now. Practicing being present and seeing what is actually in front of you by using the breath for example, allows the person to let go and concentrate on this moment. This is the foundation for moving onward in a chosen direction.

Medication is part of overcoming pain. It can be useful when used wisely within a plan that includes how and when the drugs will be reduced. Of course this is individualised to the person, their condition and their needs. Many people choose not to use pain relief, and certainly the opiate based drugs. Everyone wants relief and this should be a primary aim of any treatment programme, however, the person needs to understand how they themselves via their own thinking, perceptions and actions can change their pain. This is the main bulk of the work for that person as they need to be able to coach themselves at any given moment, each day. The strategies and exercises become healthy habits formed through practice that interweaves into the day. Continuing with normal activities in tolerable chunks maintains a sense of living a life and I often say to people that they can only get only get back to living by getting back to living — doing the things you want to and starting doing the things you have not been doing, bit by bit; thinking ‘can’ instead of ‘cannot’. It is just that you need some ways and means to do so as you build up tolerance by following a programme. A simple analogy is all the background work that an athlete would do in order to perform their sport. The programme is the background work.

Bearing this in mind, there is only one way and this is to consider and treat the unique person as much as the condition. In doing so we learn about their suffering and guide them forwards with treatment that gives the person working knowledge of their pain and skills so that they can coach or mentor themselves forward by thinking and acting in such a way as to take them forwards.

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Pain Coach Programme for persistent and chronic pain | t. 07518 445493

 

18Aug/16
Trauma

Trauma

TraumaAll injuries have a degree of trauma, but some more than others. The moment of injury is just that, a moment. Part of the experience is an urge to do something in a way of protecting the self both in thought (what shall I do here?) and action taken. The thoughts and actions, unified into a lived experience of action-perception, are based on prior knowledge and situations as we try to make some sense of what is happening now. As humans, we have a tendency to flavour the present moment with thoughts of the past or future, neither existing beyond the thought itself. The problem lies in the fact that the thought is embodied, resulting to a greater or lesser degree from the current body state, which we then fully experience with sensations in the body, feelings and emotions; embodied. For example, purposefully thinking about a prior happy occasion usually fills you with the same feelings of joy and pleasure as if you were there again. The same is true for thoughts of an unhappy situation in the past. However, this body state is continually updating and hence we are in a position to steer our change in a desired direction by thinking-acting in a way that aligns with our values and vision of how we want to be. We purposely put ourselves into situations to get better.

Understanding the state of the individual before the trauma and at the time of the trauma provides important insight into the subsequent unfolding of events. A person experiencing persistent pain continues to suffer despite the tissues (body) healing, which they do to the best of the body’s ability, because the systems designed to protect us continue to be vigilant to potential dangers. These potential dangers soon become normal day to day situations, now regarded as posing a threat to the individual’s survival, hence the pain to motivate defensive thoughts and behaviours. The longer these habits persist, the more suffering. But, this is not set in stone and indeed the practice of new, healthy habits steers a new course. We are designed to change and we can decide on the direction, using new habits to get there. Not always a smooth route, it is the one that takes you towards a meaningful life as you overcome the challenges with new understanding of pain and the best course of action. Maintaining this course also relies upon recognising distractions (unhelpful thoughts that affect mood and motivation — old habits) and re-orientating to the desired route.

Healing is not simply about the muscles, bones and other tissues repairing. It is about the person resuming their sense of self — ‘I feel like me’. This is a process of understanding, adapting, gaining insight into the causes of suffering, the practice of new habits and gradually engaging once more in normal activities including socialising. I think about this as getting back to living, by getting back to living instead of waiting for pain to subside before re-engaging. The re-engaging itself has a role in getting better and pain easing. This comprehensive approach, or whole-person approach, is key to success.

A pure focus on tissues means that the person living the experience is neither acknowledge nor addressed. There is the pain, the injury (the two are not well related) and the person’s appraisal of both, which if not validated and considered, means that a huge source of suffering is neglected. This does not mean in-depth psychological assessment, instead recognising that there is an individual with a story that needs guidance towards getting better. We are more than an injured leg or back. Insightful and compassionate clinicians will work in an egoless way as they focus on the person getting better by helping them to understand how they create the conditions for their health — environment, surrounding and influential people, their programme. We often use the phrase ‘I want to go back to how I was’, but of course this is impossible as we cannot go back in time. What we can do is adapt and focus on getting fit and healthy, and in so doing the body, the self, predicts less and less need to protect and hence the pain changes as we get better.

On first seeing a person who has experienced a trauma and on-going suffering from their persistent pain, we must consider prior health, pain experiences and beliefs about how we overcome problems. It is common to have had or to have other sensitivities, sometimes for many years, which exemplify a pre-existing state (or pain vulnerability) that has been primed by painful episodes over the years. This means that a new injury or situation deemed in need of protection will arouse a more vigorous and potentially prolonged set of protective responses, vigilant and fear-based behaviours. Knowing this from the outset means that the new issue can be addressed fully. Examples of common prior conditions include irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, jaw problems, persistent aches and pains (e.g. back pain), pelvic pain or period pain. These sensitivities can have arisen as part of an overall protect state following early traumas in life that have triggered the protect state, which has continued to emerge in many circumstances including normal ones. We learn to avoid and look out for trouble and can see it in the face of day to day activities, resulting in persisting pain and anxiety. However, with change occurring every new moment, we are able to transform this suffering by seeing things for what they are as opposed to being lost in thoughts about the past or future that arouse unpleasant sensations and emotions (in the body — we are embodied).

In discussing emotions and thoughts, this does not mean that we only focus on these dimensions. As stated earlier, we must focus on the person and their unified experience that is constructed by their brain, mind, person, body etc. On shifting a thought purposefully, inferring something different, we immediately feel differently about that situation. ‘How are you choosing to think about this?’, you could ask yourself. ‘Is there another way I can look at this?’. Recall the experience of where you feel emotions. It can only be in the body as thoughts are embodied. They are not ‘out there somewhere’, they are here, in me. My body state determines my thinking as much as my thinking determines my body state. Sit up for a while and notice how your thinking and feeling changes. You can gain insight into how someone is feeling by observing their posturing and manner. Imagine going into a business meeting to find the person you are about to discuss a deal with, sprawled across his chair with his feet up on the table. He has not said anything yet you gain insight into his approach, character and manner. Will you do business with him? Further, force a smile by gripping a pencil longways between your teeth, look in the mirror and notice how your feelings and emotional state change.

We are complex, predicting what needs to be experienced in any given context based on what we know. There are a huge number of variables that we cannot account for as we are only aware of a very thin slice of what is going on in any given moment — what we are conscious of, making many assumptions from prior learning. In terms of persistent pain, the intensity, the impacting nature of the experience usually far outweighs any signs of ‘damage’ or injury. Often there is evidence of natural degeneration that slowly evolves, quietly informing body systems which predict the meaning of the information, eventually reaching a point of conscious protection when it hurts. This is a slow burner with a point in time when pain is noted. 

In trauma, there is an obvious incident, which is embossed upon the person at that moment in time. The reverberating effects from there on depend upon that person: what they have experienced before, how their body systems predict the causes of the sensory barrage, urges manifesting as behaviours and actions taken, thoughts about the situation (meaning, attribution of causes etc.), emotions that emerge and the onward unfolding of these experiences unified as the story. Naturally the time frames vary according to the conscious awareness of the person, wherein a head injury would impact on memory of the event. In an emergency situation, clearly there are priorities for the medical team to protect the person and maximise the chances of survival and sets the scene for recovery and healing.

From the earliest possible time point, the right messages about what has happened and what needs to be addressed should be purported. The person needs to understand their pain and problems so that they can focus on the right action to get better. This is day to day, moment to moment as the advice and education are taken, internalised and become second nature as new healthy habits are practiced. The notion of the Pain Coach emerged from this thinking, blended with a strengths-based approach. Strengths-based coaching focuses upon developing a person’s existing strengths and managing their weaknesses. On the basis that we are seeking to focus and perform to the best of our ability, the strengths coaching method offers an effective modus operandi stretching across recovery from injury to sports and business performance. Strengths are many, and can include perseverance, attention to detail and compassion. People often realise that they use these strengths in other areas of their life but not in relation to getting well again.

Experiencing trauma in life presents the person with a challenge in many different ways. It also presents a challenge to those around them including family and friends as we are not in isolation to others or the environment in which we reside. There may be a region of the body that has been injured or affected, however, it is always the person who has to deal with the situation and recover. This is a key point that can often be missed, particularly when the injury is complex and multiple parties are involved in the treatment planning. Whilst we discuss the incident, the injuries, the symptoms and the impact upon that person’s life, they are living that life and only they know what that experience is like. This is the reason why deep listening is so important from the outset. It is the person who heals and recovers. It is the person who gets better, and hence it is the person we must know and treat as much, if not more, than the condition because each of us will experience our life events in our own unique way.

The Pain Coach Programme to overcome persistent and complex pain | t. 07518 445493 

15Aug/16
get the most out of your exercises

Get the most out of your exercises

get the most out of your exercisesIt is highly likely that when you visit a physiotherapist you will be given exercises and hence here is a brief guide to how you can get the most out of your exercises. The training is important, setting the scene for a desired change, but in order to be successful, we need to think about how we will be doing the exercises. In the Pain Coach Programme, we look at this in the necessary detail so that the individual can achieve the best outcome. Usually the exercises themselves are very straightforward, with the most complicated piece of equipment being the person, followed by a mirror. That’s it. We need to set the scene, focus, attend to what is happening now, practice, put in maximum effort, perform and learn. Sounds easy!

1. Create the right environment

Where do you do your exercises? How does that environment affect you? Are you doing some of the exercises at home, at work or outside. Notice where you can concentrate with ease and where makes you feel good about what you are doing. We are not separate from the environment in which we find ourselves and hence it can work for us well in creating the conditions to get better. It should be light, spaceous enough to move freely and as calming as possoble without stimuli that trigger survive responses. This includes phones, computers etc that can grab your attention and make you think about something else.

2. Take a moment to be present

To truly concentrate you must be present and aware of what you are feeling, thinking and doing. From there you are able to learn by gathering insights into what you are doing versus what you want to do, making corrections to movements for example. Mindful presence means you are present and aware, rather than being lost in thoughts about the past or the future that are embodied. In other words, our thinking is affected by our body state and vice versa as there is no separation. As an experiment recall a happy time: where you were, who you were with and what you were doing. This is a thought, but how do you feel in your body? So, how to be present? Simply take a breath and notice the in-breath and then notice your out-breath. We can only breathe now so gently concentrating on the breath is a simple way of being both mindful and present. Anytime you notice your attention drifting away, kindly bring it back by noticing your breath.

3. Connecting it all together

We must be fully aware of our mind and our body as a unified experience. How can you learn about your body and how it moves if you are thinking about a meeting yesterday or dinner tonight? You can bring your attention to your breath, saying to yourself ‘I am breathing in’ as you breathe in and ‘I am breathing out’ as I breathe out. Notice how you become aware of this moment, which is the creation of the right conditions for recovery and for learning. You can then expand your attention out to your whole body, thereby connecting it all together in a nourishing way. This only takes a few moments, but without the right attention, the exercise will have a limited effect as you will not realise what you have done.

4. Write a learning diary

‘What we focus upon we have more of’, is a useful way of being. When we notice our positive emotions, which can be subtle, and purposefully attend to them, our thinking broadens. There has been a good amount of research looking at this effect. Keeping a diary is a way of documenting the way we feel and what we have achieved so that when we look back and read what we wrote, we have an accurate view of what was happening at that time. Our memory of what happens is poor, but we do convince ourselves that certain things happened or we felt a particular way. Whether or not it happened like that becomes irrelevant as it is the memory we think we remember that counts. On this basis, writing down each day something that we have learned from our practices of training is a useful insight that motivates further learning as we focus on our achievements and strengths. This is encouraged by positive psychologists as well as featuring in mindfulness practices and strengths based coaching, and for good reason — focus on your strengths and manage your weaknesses, but you have to know what they are first!

5. Accepting where you are now as a stepping stone towards a desired outcome

To accept that I am here in this moment allows you to focus on what needs to be done right now that is in alignment with your desired outcome. Being really great at all the things that you need to do now will naturally allow you to move to the next step as you continue to transform. We are changing all the time and hence need to ensure that our change is in a desired direction. For this we need a vision of where we are going; a vision of a successful outcome that we visit often to ask the question to ourselves: ‘is this taking me towards my desired outcome or am I being distracted by thoughts of the past or future?’. Acceptance does not mean giving up, instead just saying ‘here I am right now’ and ‘this is what I need to think and do to keep myslf going in the right direction’.

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

09Aug/16
sea

Refresh and renew

seaRefresh and renew is one of the most important strategies that I teach individuals who have been suffering persistent pain. Within the refresh and renew there are a range of techniques that can be used dependent upon place, time and context, all of which are important ingredients making a whole. We are in no way separate from where we are, what we are thinking, what we are doing and what we are feeling. These are merely the conscious elements and of course there are the vast subconscious elements including our biology in the dark.

Being in pain is exhausting, usually added to by feelings of anxiety and concern. There can often be a cycle of pain and sleep disruption, one begetting the other as time moves on. It seems more and more probable that sleep is fundamental for our health, which is why creating the conditions for a consistent daily rhythm of activity and rest is vital. Most people know what it is like to ‘survive’ after a bad night’s sleep, but imagine the effect when this is on-going.

Refresh and renew is needed throughout the day by everyone. Every 90 minutes we may feel an urge to do something: move, take a few breaths (4-5 is good), have a healthy snack or a glass of water. This is certainly the case when one’s health is below par as we need to create the conditions for our biology in the dark to switch into health mode rather than survive mode. The person suffering persistent pain spends much of their time in survive mode as they are both consciously and subconsciously protecting themselves from perceived threats. Consider the person with back pain who walks into a room to survey for the closet chair, whether it is likely to be comfortable or if they will be able to have a conversation because their pain maybe too distracting. The thought processes, predictions, anticipations and expectations that are embodied, will prime the coming experiences. The good news is that creating new habits can change this routine for the better, beginning with being aware that this is what you are doing.

All the extra monitoring and thinking is tiring as you use your resources, along with imprecise and guarded movements that require more energy than normal. Too much muscle activity for example, has a huge energy consequence, which is why refresh and renew is so important through the day. Setting reminders and alarms can be effective in the beginning, but as the new habits take hold and the internal messages become second nature, you increasingly make the choices that orientate you to getting better; your desired outcome.

Pain Coach Programme to overcome persistent pain | t. 07518 445493

05Aug/16
Facial pain

Facial pain

Facial painYesterday I spent the day in Leicester and Northampton seeing several people suffering facial pain with a colleague who has been working in the field. All pains are unique to the person, however, I feel that there are some particular features of facial pain, which are similar to those of facial dystonia. Identifying these shared characteristics has guided treatment and training techniques that aim to improve sensorimotor function as part of adapting and restoring a sense of self.

The loss of the sense of self is a significant part of suffering in my view. People describe how the pain or dystonia impacts upon their lived experiences and their choices, narrowing both. This means that they are not doing what they wish to and hence do not feel themselves as they feel they should. A shift has occurred, part of which is constructed via the ‘physical’ sense of the body. Of course we have a unified experience of ‘me’ including the sense of the body, a sense of a past, a projected future and the inner dialogue that strings it together.

We literally face the world with our face and hence anything that affects our perception of how we are doing this will impact on how I feel, think, the actions I take and perceptions I perceive. There is a spectrum: a red spot through to jaw dystonia — something visible to others that makes us second guess what they may or may not be thinking. Quite easily this can mean we avoid going out or seeing people. The isolation that ensues then gathers momentum, affecting us on many levels including genetically.

In cases of facial pain there may be no clear and consistent visible signs such as the involuntary movements of facial dystonia, however there are often habitual posture and facial expressions — tension, attempts to relax by opening the mouth, rubbing, speech impediments. When we are in pain, our body sense can be different, the perception of the environment can be different, the way we plan changes and our emotional state is one of protection, as is that of our underlying biology. Whilst this is vital for survival when there is an actual threat (an injury or pathology), in most cases of persistent facial pain and other pains, there is no significant injury. The pain is a habitual response to perceived threats that increase in number with time via learned responses and expectations. Things that would not normally pose as a threat now do, including the way we think about ourselves and the world. With a sensory system detecting changes internally and externally, in survive mode we can be jumpy and very responsive.

Facing the world with a painful face is challenging. Understanding pain is the first step to steering change in a desirable direction — how do you want to be? When the person understands that pain can and does change, and that they are the drivers of that change, then new habits can be formed — new habits of thought and action that are practiced over and over to create the right conditions. Likewise in dystonia, the practice of new habits to change the way in which the sensorimotor system is working but integrated with training that addresses the influences upon this system — e.g./ the environment, thinking, emotion. Learning to recognise and let go of unhelpful and distracting inner dialogue, focusing on what you can do, noticing positive emotions and how you evoke them, re-training sensorimotor function, gradually doing more normal and desired activities are all part of a comprehensive programme based upon the neuroscience of pain and using your strengths to be successful.

18Jun/16
Pain now

Biology of pelvic pain

Pain nowMost of the biology of pelvic pain does not exist in the pelvis. The same is true for any pain — back pain, knee pain, neck pain etc. Much like the screen turning blank in the cinema, the problem itself is not the screen but instead the projector or the power source. In other words, to think about pain requires us to go well beyond the place where it is experienced.

Pain is of course lived and whilst it must have a location, the relationship between pain and injury is unreliable. With a huge number of factors influencing the chances of feeling pain in any given circumstance, there is a requirement for a perception of threat that is salient and exceeds other predictions in terms of a hierarchy. Once felt, pain compels action much like thirst and hunger. Again, like thirst and hunger, context and meaning we give to the sensations influence that very experience, which clarifies to a greater extent the difference between on-going (chronic) pain and that of labour.

To feel pain we need a concept of the body, which itself is constructed elsewhere as the sensory information flowing from the body systems is predicted to mean something based upon what is already known and has been experienced, we need a nervous system, an immune system, a sensorimotor system, a sense of self and consciousness to name but a few. Where in the pelvis do these reside?

This is not to ignore where we may feel pain as this is an ‘access’ to the pain experience that should be used in terms of movement and touch. However, it is the person who is in pain and not the body part. My pelvis is not in pain, I am. My pelvis does not go and seek help, I do. My pelvis does not ease its pain, I do. So when ‘treating’ a person, we must go beyond the place where the pain is felt to be successful. And it is vital that the person is considered a whole; there is no separation of mind-body. The notion of physiological, body, psychological division etc. etc., just does not fit with the lived experience; I think, and I do so with my whole person — embodied cognition.

Locally one will usually find evidence of protection and guarding, which themselves manifest as the tightness, spasm, painful responses to touch and movement. This is all manifest of an overall state of protection, co-ordinated largely unconsciously accompanied by a range of behaviours and thinking that quickly become habitual — they are certainly learned from priors, our reference point. This is simply why delving gently into the story is important, as we can identify vulnerabilities to persisting pain such as previous experiences of pain, functional pain syndromes, stressful episodes in life; all those things that put us on alert when the range of cues and triggers gradually expand so now I am vigilant and responding to all sorts of normal situations with fear.

The start point is always developing the person’s working knowledge of their pain, which also validates their story. So many people still report that they feel that they have not been believed, which I find incredible. How can someone work in healthCARE and not believe what a person says? Baffling. Once the working knowledge is being utilised and is generating a new backstory, new reference points emerge. We create opportunities for good experiences over and over, moment to moment, day after day, in line with their desired outcome, the healthy ‘me’ that is envisioned from word go. This strong foundation that opens choices once more then permits exploration of normal and desired activities supported by sensorimotor training and other nourishing movements, alongside techniques in focus, relisience and motivation. Realising and actualising change in a desired direction must be acknowledged as the person lives this change knowing that they can.

Pain can and does change when you understand it, know where you want to go and how to get there, quickly getting back to wise, healthy action when distracted (i.e./ flare ups, mood variance, loss of focus etc). The biology of the pain is one aspect, hidden in the dark within us, and the lived experience is another. The two are drawn together to give meaning and to develop an understanding of the thinking and action that sculpt a new perception of self and pain, resuming the sense of who I am, as only known and lived by that person.

09Jun/16
Pain and injury

Pain and injury

Pain and injuryPain and injury are poorly related. Unfortunately most of society continues to believe in a stimulus-response relationship between these factors, but in reality it does not exist. This was raised by Pat Wall in his classic 1979 article entitled ‘On the relation of injury to pain’.

Since then we have learned an enormous amount about pain; what it is and the purpose it serves. Why should the relationship between pain and injury be so unreliable? The answer is because pain is contextual, motivating appropriate action for that moment depending upon a range of factors. These include the injury itself and what it means, prior experience, beliefs about pain, the environment, who is there, how one is feeling before and at the point of injury and what is going on at the time. Here are some examples:

* a carpenter hitting his thumb with a hammer — despite the fact it will hurt, this is not unexpected, an occupational hazard if you will, and soon dismissed.

* an electrician electrocuting himself — similar to the carpenter; the context is key

* spraining an ankle in a cup final — there are many reports of injuries being sustained whilst playing sport that are not painful at the time, because playing on is more important

* battle hospital reports — severe injuries but no pain initially; the same in many accident and emergency reports

* a concert violinist who cuts his left index finger the day before his most important gig — what do you think this experience could be like versus a chef?

These examples demonstrate the variability in lived experience despite the biology of healing being similar (effectiveness may vary depending upon existing and prior health) — the two lives, that of our biology and that of our lived experience. The clinician’s role is to marry the two for the person so that they understand the hows and whys before focusing on what needs to be done to get better.

When my knee hurts, or any other body area, the vast majority of the biology that is involved resides elsewhere. Pain is located to my knee, although I can’t possibly know from where exactly; where is the stimulus? Yet to feel pain in my knee I need the systems that protect me to detect certain sensory activity, predict that the causes are threatening and then translate this to a sensation that is pain; i.e./ the biology becomes ‘conscious’. Whilst there are signals from the knee to the spinal cord and onwards, this is not necessary for us to feel pain. Think about phantom limb pain.

There are many levels whereby signals and predictions are modulated until the most credible prediction emerges as a lived experience. This is why prior experience, beliefs, emotional state and our thinking play such a role in pain as all can modulate the meaning and level of perception of threat.

An analogy is watching a film at the cinema. The film is on the screen yet for this to happen and be experienced, there must be a projector, electricity into the projector, and this electricity comes from the grid. Most of the necessary elements are not where you watch the film. The same can be said of pain, when it is made up of many non-pain factors that come together to create that lived experience. The point there is that when we address these in a comprehensive treatment and training programme, we can change pain and get better. But to do this we must think beyond the structure (the cinema screen) and consider the person, their beliefs, their thinking, their lived experience, the phenomena of their life, in order to be successful, which we can.

Pain is not related well to injury, but instead to the level of predicted threat.

Pain Coach Programme for persistent pain | t. 07518 445493

 

08Jun/16
Space

Space

SpaceThere are things that we know are good for us: sleep, water and space. Of course then we need quality sleep, water and space. I’m interested in space, and not the kind that is out there, but rather the space we choose to place ourselves day to day and how this impacts upon us consciously and subconsciously. In particular I am keen to understand how we associate with certain environments and in fact how our brains predict the meaning of a given environment and the experiences that emerge.

Here are a couple of classic examples that I hear about:

1. RSI — repetitive strain injury: I am using this term for ease, although I have issue with it, but that’s for another time. I refer to pain and other symptoms that people attribute to repeated use such as typing, clicking a mouse and texting. In the vast majority of people I see with this burdensome condition, we can evoke their symptoms by just thinking about certain environments! Their desk at work for example. When we close our eyes and think about a place, we are in essence there and it feels like it. When a place or space becomes associated with a threat value because of a link that has been established, then it makes sense to feel a warning when we think about it. However, when this persists, this becomes an increasing problem due to the behavioural aspects — altered movement, restricted use and guarding, all of which perpetuate the threat value and hence the on-going pain. Thankfully, this cycle can be broken with the right understanding and training.

* This is not unique to RSI, but any pain problem is contextual and becomes associated with certain places, positions, movements, activities etc etc. A significant part of overcoming persistent pain is by creating new habits.

2. A place in nature: a pleasant image comes to mind, unified with feelings of comfort in the body to make it an overall calming and soothing experience. This is why visualisation is so effective as we can choose to shift into our resource state whenever we need: when anxious, stressed or in pain for example. This is a technique that I blend with others to create the necessary calm we need to refresh and renew, particularly if we are suffering pain or tiredness.

Placing ourselves in an environment has enormous effects upon us as we become part of that very environment. In fact, what you experience as that environment you are creating using at least your brain, your mind and your body, and importantly how they unify. Using a film analogy, you are the film maker, the script writer, the star and the audience all rolled into one. Wow! How do we explain that? Using the very same unified processes to explain themselves! So, in becoming part of threat environment, the importance of choosing the right space is vital. Each day we should absorb ourselves in a nourishing place such as a park, by a river, in a forest or at least in a space where there is plenty of exactly that, space! And if you can’t do this on a particular day, then you can use imagery and visualisation and feel the resulting great feelings.

On a moment to moment basis, where we spend a lot of time, perhaps home and office, these spaces need to be nourishing and promote the feelings we want to feel — e.g./ at work to concentrate, focus, think, write, communicate; at home to feel comfortable, warm, safe etc. This may take some thought and some re-organising but it will be worth it — see here, a professional organiser: Cory Cook. Remember that the environment you choose to put yourself in impacts upon you enormously: the way you feel, the way you think, the way you interact. Something similar could be said for the people you spend time with.

So, when you are at work, at home, choosing a new job or accommodation, think carefully about the environment in which you will be living moment to moment experiences, because they will be shaped somewhat by that very environment. Get out into a big open space and move around in it, see it, smell it, feel it, using all your senses. And if you can’t, then take a deep breath, slowly let it go, do it again, close your eyes and take yourself to a space where you will feel great.

Pain Coach Programme for persistent pain | t. 07518 445493

07Jun/16
Pain, loneliness, poverty and health

Depression and inflammation

Depression and inflammationFor some years there has been thinking about depression and inflammation being related in as much as when we are in the throes of inflammation, our mood changes. Think about when you feel unwell and how your mood drops, which is part of the well known sickness response. In some people, probably a large number, these sickness responses are the norm. In other words, they endure a level of this sickness response consistently that is underpinned to an extent by on-going inflammation.

Reports today about a study at Kings College London describe how inflammatory markers in the blood could identify a ‘type’ that would benefit from a certain antidepressant drug — read here. This would make the prescription specific for the person, so rather than trialing a drug, we would know which would be most likely to be effective for that person by identifying the blood markers.

Many people I see with persistent pain are low in mood and some have been diagnosed as being depressed. In my mind, it is entirely understandable why someone suffering on-going pain, who cannot see a way out, would be in such a state. In simple terms, the person with chronic pain may well be chronically inflamed. We know that people who perceive themselves to be under chronic stress will be inflamed as the body continues to protect itself via the immune system and other systems that have such a role. Typically and understandably, someone in a chronic pain state is stressed by their very circumstance and hence can be inflamed.

It is very common to suffer an enduring pain state and generally feel unwell; a sickness response. We all know what a sickness response feels like — we don’t feel ourselves, aches and pains, loss of appetite, irritability, emotional, sleepy, tiredness, poor concentration etc. This is underpinned by inflammation and how this drives a range of experiences and behaviours, all designed to create the conditions for recovery. In the short term this is adaptive but if prolonged, the symptoms are enormously impacting and potentially maintaining a cycle of stress and anxiety.

Like any problem, understanding its nature is the start point so that problem solving can be effective; i.e. think about it in the right way and take the right action, congruent with recovery and the desired outcome. Realising the links between health state, depression and inflammation helps to distance oneself from the lived experience, being less embroiled with that particular ‘film’, instead focusing on what needs to be done to overcome the problem.

A loss of the senses of self is often a part of a persisting condition such as chronic pain or dystonia. The overarching aim of a followed programme is for the individual to resume living their life with a sense of self worth which they can identify: I feel myself again. This self feels normal to that person, and only that person knows how that experience is lived. As best they can, I ask them to describe that experience, and this forms the desired outcome. The sense of self is at least a unification of body sense, interoception, exteroception, the inner dialogue and our past experiences. Improving body sense with exercises, some general and some specific, is a simple way of stepping towards that outcome. And of course there are all the other benefits of exercise to consider.

It will undoubtedly be very useful to identify who will benefit from which antidepressant drug, yet we must still consider each (whole) person. A comprehensive programme of treatment for pain for example, includes developing working knowledge of pain so that the person can independently make effective choices as well as eradicate fears, specific training, general activities, gradual progression of activity, and mindfulness to name but a few. However, it is not just the exercises that are important. The person also needs to be motivated, resilient and focused, all strengths that they have likely used before in other arenas but now need to employ here and now with their health — this is the strengths based coaching aspect of the Pain Coach Programme. In cases of depression, the chosen drug maybe more specific and hence more efficacious, yet there are other actions that are also important such as understanding the links as explained and consistent physical activity. Great work in the aforementioned study; it will be interesting to watch how this progresses.

Pain Coach Programme | t. 07518 445493

26May/16
UP | Understanding Pain

Children, pain and school

UP | Understanding PainPeople are usually shocked to hear how many children suffer persisting pain, and quite naturally there is an impact upon school as much as the school environment plays a part in the pain experience. The education system needs to acknowledge this fact and institute a change of thinking that of course begins with understanding pain. Pain is a societal issue not a medical issue in isolation. Maintaining pain in the medical realm is one of the reasons that it is such a big problem. Looking at pain through but one lens means that the bigger and truer picture is missed and the natural opportunities for change are minimised when reliant upon limited options.

Children, pain and schools

Maybe 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 children suffer persistent pain. That is an awful lot of kids struggling along with their families. If there was greater understanding then the right thinking and actions could help these individuals to improve their lives by overcoming pain — not just managing or coping.

The current education systems place an enormous and continual strain upon children. Many rise early, spend all day at school and then come home to do homework. Hours and hours. Then there is the pressure, the unspoken pressure to achieve the best marks and anti thing else is failure. The greatest demands are usually placed upon oneself but this thinking emerges via the system and the culture. We should be doing the best we can and putting in effort of course but not just into schoolwork. Carrots are good for you, but would you eat them all day, every day? The internet is useful but is it healthy to be doing this every day, all day? The continued strain shifts the child into protect and survive mode so no wonder we are seeing the following list of ailments and issues: tummy pain, IBS, headaches, migraines, painful periods at the onset of this development, widespread musculoskeletal pain, anxiety, sleep disruption, low self-esteem, altered body sense and image…..just to name a few. Will we look back and ask ‘what were we thinking?’

So as we hit revision time and kids are preparing for exams, we need to make sure they are being nourished — meet the basic needs: food, drink, rest, sleep, exercise, movement, belief in themselves…you are good enough!!!! We want good marks, you may say. Of course you do. But you also want a child who believes in themselves, feels good enough and is not scared of getting things wrong. This can only be fostered within society.

Going to school is normal and healthy. School offers a context for learning how to be you — communicating, laughing, playing, problem solving, thinking clearly, changing state, how to be healthy, how to be a good citizen in a community, insight into the way I think etc etc. Wow, what a wonderful time and opportunity. So when pain is a problem (and it almost always comes hand in hand with more anxiety than is helpful — some anxiety is of course normal and a motivator to take action), missing school becomes part of the issue. The school environment can become a threat when the thought of returning to the busy corridors, the demands, sometimes unsympathetic staff, is enough to trigger pain and anxiety. However, this can be overcome with a comprehensive approach and indeed gradually building up time at school is part of the way that the child gets better. Much like an adult returning to work; this is part of getting better instead of waiting to get better to go back to work. The thinking needs to change with understanding of why it is important. It is important because we want normal; the resumption of normal ‘self’ and this self is the one who goes to school and become part of that environment.

To enact this needs understanding and communication between the child, caregivers, the school and parents. There is no reason why this cannot happen. Gradually building time whilst working on a programme that is making the child feel better and better — this includes working knowledge of pain to create a sense of safety, movement, exercises, mindfulness, relaxation, but the child becomes their own coach, knowing what they need to do at any given moment. Their confidence builds, they feel better and head towards their desired outcome.

We all know that our world is fast changing and the life that a child leads now is very different to ours when we were growing up. But there are still the same biological needs and these are being impacted upon by connectivity on social media, the devices themselves, the demands from society and their thinking that is being mounded by all of the aforementioned. In relation to the problem of pain and children and schools, we can start by helping all those to understand pain. It should be part of their education as we all feel pain at some point and our understanding of it and what it means frames how we behave and react. That would be a great start.