Category Archives: Chronic pain

26Apr/16

Why tendons get better or not…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

11Apr/16

Hands-on treatment for pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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02Apr/16

Repetitive strain injury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 2 will look at what happens in RSI

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23Mar/16
Women in pain

Women in pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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24Feb/16
Dystonia

Chronic fatigue syndrome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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08Feb/16
CRPS

CRPS Research

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

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

abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

abstract

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

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

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

abstract

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

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

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Fear and reward circuit alterations in padeiatric CRPS

abstract

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

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

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08Feb/16
mindfulness by swampland | https://flic.kr/p/k3t1k

Practical mindfulness

mindfulness by swampland | https://flic.kr/p/k3t1k

mindfulness by swampland | https://flic.kr/p/k3t1k

Practical mindfulness is for everyone. It is for everyone who wants to develop insight into their own mind, and in so doing will relieve an amount of suffering that is significantly impacting upon their life in a number of ways: pain, anxiety, ill health.

It is important to point out at this juncture that the mind does not exist purely in our heads but rather we are our mind, and our bodies are an extension of our minds as they reach out to both sample and create the world that we perceive. We think with our whole self. And if you are befuddled by this, just for a moment consider where you feel hungry or thirsty? Is it in your head? Does your mouth go off for a drink? Or do you feel thirsty and you go and get a drink to quench your thirst?

Practical mindfulness, for me, is about creating the conditions for health. We have everything we need to be healthy, yet life seems to get in the way. Consider: too busy to exercise or move? I want that cake because I am hungry and fancy a snack. I feel stressed because of what that person has said to me. I am anxious about _______ (fill in the gap).

Mindfulness is about being aware of what is happening in this moment, noticing the temporary nature of things and letting go (are you still thinking about what that person said? Who is left holding the burning coal?) in a non-judgmental way. This flies in the face of how we have been brought up in our society: judge! Blame! Dwell on the past and re-play that tape of that event you think that you remember — except you don’t well at all you just think you do! Crave! Want! No awareness runs through these common choices of thought or action. How are you choosing to think right now? Is there a better choice that would make you feel better? If you are aware of your habits of thought, then you can make a better choice to shift your perception and hence your conscious experience of what is happening right now.

Being present does not mean that you do not recall memories but rather that you do it with skill, noticing how it makes you feel and living the full richness without suffering, whilst letting go of unhelful thoughts. Being present does not mean that you do not plan, but instead means that you plan the future (that never comes because there is only this moment) in the present moment and therefore do not suffer the anxiety of an undesirable future. How often do you tell yourself that it will not work out? Or that you will fail or that you are not good enough? Is it true or are you just telling yourself that story. It is just a story, or a train of thoughts that you embody, live and enact and so it goes on. But it does not have to keep going on like this as we are all changing, all of the time. It is the direction we must choose: shall I keep on listening to that inner voice or let it go and be mindful? That is your choice.

Mindfulness does not require one to become spiritual or religious. It does not require any equipment. The principles are straight forward. It is only when someone keeps telling themselves that it is hard, is it hard. Why not choose to say to yourself that you will, or that you can rather than you can’t or you won’t?

There are two main practical practices: the moment to moment taking a breath to become aware, developing a sense of what is happening now and the sitting or lying practice for a period of time (usually 5-10 minutes initially) several times a day. In the regular practice you are putting down the heavy bags of past and future, and the suffering from living out the thoughts that keep passing through, especially those that you hold onto and resist. Resistence causes tension and other protective predictions that zap our energy and bring on aches and pains that are so common — migraine, headache, irritable bowel syndrome, back pain, neck pain — as our bodies try to keep up with the wandering mind. Taming the mind by gathering insight and cultivating curiosity makes way for calm times to plug-in, refresh and renew as you create the conditions for a healthy, performing, engaging you amidst the multitude of continuous stimuli in the world around. By the way, it is our embodied minds that are creating that reality, so there’s another reason to look after it, just like you do your body. You get fit in the gym, clean your body, groom your body, clothe your body. What do you do for your mind that gives you the sense of everything including that body?

Practical mindfulness is part of the Pain Coach programme for persisting and chronic pain, stress and anxiety. t. 07518 445493

 

07Feb/16
Lego Family by the great 8 | https://flic.kr/p/9z3rus

Family and friends

Lego Family by the great 8 | https://flic.kr/p/9z3rus

Lego Family by the great 8 | https://flic.kr/p/9z3rus

Family and friends are vitally important in a person’s overcoming of their pain. For this reason, I have outlined some of the key reasons before moving onto the common advice that I give to individuals and their loved ones.

We are each enormously influenced by the people we grow up with and spend time with, as they have a role in shaping our beliefs about ourselves and the world in which we live. This includes of course, our thinking about health and pain that drive our choices of behaviour and on-going thinking. And therein lies an important notion, that of the choice we have to develop our thinking and take on a different perspective, thereby creating new perceptions and realities.

The influence referred to above can, if used wisely, be of immense value in overcoming pain. Wise use relies upon all parties both truly understanding pain and how it emerges in the individual, in other words a working knowledge that can be used practically to inform best action that is congruent with health.

The individual bears their pain, suffering the lived experience moment to moment, yet those around the person also suffer in different ways and for different reasons. In this sense, the fact that we are not existing in isolation, when the person gets better, so do those around them. It is a potent realisation that when we choose to take healthy action, the people around us appear to change, as do the world and our overall reality. This is exemplified by the character played by Bill Murray in the film Groundhog Day.

In short, an individual’s pain experience is flavoured somewhat by the attitudes, behaviours and actions of those around, and indeed those around are influenced by the way that the pain of an individual emerges. For this reason, a treatment programme should embrace these dynamics, which could be studied and described in far more detail than I have here, and lever effect for the benefit of all.

How? There are some simple steps and practices that can be taken, which I have outlined below:

  • Both the individual in pain and his/her family and friends have a working knowledge of the pain emerging in that person, noting the individualistic nature of their pain. A working knowledge permits clear and wise thinking in any given moment, continuing to choose a direction congruent with overcoming pain. Family and friends realise the changeable nature of pain, recognising the influences upon pain and how the intensity and suffering fluctuate moment to moment.
  • With a plan in place, encouragement, support and motivation can be provided by family and friends, using the right language, gestures and actions. The plan points toward the vision, giving direction and a steer to recognise whether the person is being distracted or heading towards health. The plan is devised with the clinician who advises upon day to day, moment to moment strategies and exercises.
  • Family and friends can play an active role in a selection of the treatments, including sensory work, touch based therapies, mindfulness and simply providing company whilst the exercises are performed little and often through the day.
  • Learning when to help and when to promote independence is an evolving skill that blends the practical with an understanding of the person.

People often ask whether family and friends should be involved in their recovery. I would suggest that it is not a case of whether, but rather how they can be involved.

 

06Jan/16
UP | understand pain

Onwards in 2016

UP | understand painOnwards in 2016 is my thinking. This is not a New Year’s resolution, but instead a commitment to developing the work thus far, upon raising awareness of the vast problem of pain across the globe. Whilst many organisations, governments and charities are focusing on particular conditions, and fine work many are doing, there is an overarching problem that needs addressing — the problem of pain: what it is? What it means to the individual? What is the impact? What can we do to overcome pain? This leads on to simple questions that we must answer swiftly: why am I in pain? What can I do? What are others going to do? How long will it take?

Pain appears in injury, in stress, in anxiety, in cancer, in heart disease, in diabetes, inUP | understand pain schools, in homes, in workplaces, on the playing field, in men, in women, in children, in the existence of disease, in the absence of disease, it comes in a moment and passes in a moment. Pain is everywhere, and whilst it plays a necessary role in our learning and survival, in many cases the pain is prolonged, amplified and causing on-going suffering when it need not. We have an obligation to change this situation because we can. We have the knowledge, we have the skills and we have know-how and it needs to be used across the board. This is a societal problem that we can tackle together, starting with understanding pain.

The UP campaign that we started last year has gathered great momentum, capturing our imagination and those who were touched by the events at T5 Heathrow, and creating a platform for our plans in 2016 and beyond. This year we will gain charity status and be taking our message as far and as wide as we can — each new person who knows about UP and that pain can change will be a messenger, and this way we can reach out across society. The facts that I give people each day, the knowledge and skills that we work upon together to create the conditions for change in a direction that the person desires, steers them towards sustained health and a life well lived. We are changing all the time, every moment is new and an opportunity, so we can learn to embrace this and keep moving onward!

Onward for me is continuing to develop the blend of pain sciences, philosophy and coaching to get the best out of each and every individual. We all have great potential that is to be realised, and this includes people overcoming their pain. There are too many negative messages given, wrong messages given and subsequent self-talk that predicts poor outcomes. This is not necessary at all and needs to be reversed. Let us talk of health and feeling good as much as we can! There are always challenging times, yet we can view these as difficult or as an opportunity to learn. We will not always be happy, but we can learn how to recognise thought viruses and old beliefs that we can update and change perspective upon in order to view things differently and hence feel differently as our embodied mind evolves.

So, with great gusto, onwards and UP!

07Dec/15
Important Message by Patrick Denker | https://flic.kr/p/a9iUAG

Central sensitisation and higher centres

Important Message by Patrick Denker | https://flic.kr/p/a9iUAG

Important Message by Patrick Denker | https://flic.kr/p/a9iUAG

There is a difference between central sensitisation and higher centres. In recent months I have seen people confuse the two, so I thought it best to differentiate in brief.

Central sensitisation is actually a laboratory based phenomenon that describes changes in the nervous system that result in modulation of the signals from the periphery. In addition, the inhibitory processes are dulled with consequential increases in sensitivity. This can mean that things that hurt will hurt more, and things that would not normally hurt now do. This can be transient but in some people with these mechanisms at play, they experience on-going pain as there is a predicted on-going perception of threat.

The role of the higher centres in pain include interpresting the meaning of the signals from the body (all body tissues and systems) and the brain makes a best guess. This best guess is our perception of reality at any given moment. What translates biological activity within hierarhical systems (networks, processes etc) into what we perceive, we do not understand–this is consciousness. We need the higher centres to convert biology to a lived experience, and the two are different, much like a scan does not tell us about pain. The scan is obective, pain is subjective. It is the person who brign spain to life and flavours it with their experience that is made of bodily sensations, thoughts and feelings culminating in what is.

So, whilst there may not be central sensitisation at play in all cases of chronic tendon pain, if you are feeling pain in that location, the higher centres are doing a protective job that is your lived experience; it hurts in the area where the tendon occupies — we have established that pain occupies a space and not a tisse; e.g. phantom limb pain. And because any pain experience requires higher centre activity, we must address this as much as the health of the body, the tissues, the person.

Pain Coach Programme for persisting and chronic pain. t. 07518 445493

Science | Compassion | Sense