Category Archives: Chronic pain in sport

16Jul/17
Andy Murray hip pain

Andy Murray’s hip

Wimbledon 2017 ~ the growing injury list

Andy Murray hip pain

The Wimbledon Championship has featured a significant number of injuries this year. On the same day we lost Djokovic and Andy Murray, the former retiring through injury, the latter struggling with hip pain. Sadly for British fans and tennis fans, the intensity of the pain prevented him from progressing. Murray was obviously struggling to move normally as his body shifted into a state of protect.

Why do players breakdown at the tournament?

There are several reasons. The game has become increasingly physical together with the pressure to perform in tournament after tournament. Everybody needs recovery time, and some players may simply have figured in too little within their schedule. It is not just the game time that requires subsequent recovery, but also the training: on court, strength and conditioning etc.

One must ask about the pressures to play, both financially and to achieve a ranking. To earn money, and this is a job that pays the bills, and to be ranked, players need to play. They are also driven to be the best that they can be, which means pushing oneself. The cultural meme in sport ‘no pain no pain’ exists and anyone involved in any kind of physical activity knows that intense play hurts. So when is it normal and when is it a problem?

It is somewhat easier to make that judgement in amateur sport when the stakes are not so high. Your career does not depend on playing that extra game. In professional sport, understanding pain is absolutely key in making this all.

This week a commentator pointed out that all players have some kind of injury and that no-one is 100% fit. What is 100% fit anyway? This will mean different things to different people. Do players feel aches and pains everyday? Yes, everybody does to a greater or lesser degree. Life hurts! But in many cases, the pains come and go, and do not impact upon life or performance. If a pain repeatedly occurs and does have an impact upon performance and life, this is something that does need to be addressed.

Acute injury vs persistent injury vs persistent pain

It is interesting that most of the injuries we have seen this year have not been acute. In other words, the players knew about the problem beforehand as it has been rumbling on for some time. Murray reported that his hip has been something he has been dealing with for years.

This is with the exception of Bethanie Mattek-Sands when her knee injury happened there and then, taking everyone by surprise. This is one of the reasons it was so shocking, because no one expected it, least of all Bethanie herself.

There is a difference between an injury moment and a pain moment. Pain and injury are not the same. Pain is part of the way we are alerted to being in a state of protect, a great motivator compelling action, and an injury is when there is a disruption to our body. An injury can often hurt but it does not have to, and the extent of the pain varies enormously depending upon a number of factors.

Andy Murray's hip

Pain and injury are not the same – read here

The terms pain and injury are often used interchangeably and this is not correct. Persistent or chronic pain and chronic injury are not the same. A chronic injury would mean that the healing process has not completed, taking longer than would be expected. Persistent or chronic pain is not well related to the tissue state, instead being a reflection of an on-going state of protect. There are a number of reasons why the state of protect persists and these are a main focus for the treatment and coaching programme to overcome the problem.

Murray’s hip pain

Whether Andy Murray has an injury or a pain problem we do not know. I hope he knows because this will determine the treatment and the training needed. Undoubtedly when a player is training and playing as often as Murray, there needs to be down time. Has he had this time? Federer took time off and appears to have benefited.

No-one can keep going at a high pace in life without recharging. We all must figure in refresh and renew points through each day, learning how to switch to ‘care-giving’ mode. In this state, our body systems are doing all the vital things for long-term health and well-being. Without this we burnout: chronic pain, poor sleep, low mood, depression, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, fertility issues etc etc, many of the common, modern day ills.

A person who presents with a long term hip pain needs to tell their complete story. From there the key points and ‘primers’ are identified. In essence the person does not feel themselves and the aim is for them to be able to say, ‘I feel myself’. In fact, when we feel ourselves and get what we expect, we are in flow and do not really think too much about how we are doing things. They just happen. We do not normally think about walking, but if my hip hurts I will scrutinise every step, the pavement, others walking towards me, hills, steps etc. The world looks different and I feel different. Normalising these is key.

Let’s hope that the nature of the problem can be truly established and then dealt with effectively and with long-term results in mind. Hips, like any body area, are not in isolation to the whole, and typically relate closely to the back and pelvis. Murray has had back issues before, a very common problem in both athletes and the general population, so I am sure this will be considered as part of the bigger picture.

What is your picture of success?

We all have our picture of success and should know what that looks like. This vision becomes a reference point and an orientation as we follow the necessary training programme and learn along the way. One can check in and ask: ‘Am I heading in my desired direction or am I being distracted?’. For Andy Murray, I would imagine his picture involves him consistently playing his best tennis. The key is to focus on what we want rather than what we don’t want. When I ask patients ‘what do you want?’, they often reply at first, ‘I don’t want this pain’.

Whilst this is an understandable response, the pain is actually what you do not want rather than what you do. This may sound all rather semantic, however there is an important practical difference. What we focus upon, we get more of. Think about what you actually want, crystallising the image and doing your utter best to get there.

“Don’t think of red elephants

Andy Murray, like all sports people, has a coach. His coach will work together with him to tap into his ‘greatest self’ so that Murray can achieve his best results. It is no different with overcoming pain. The person suffering chronic (on-going) pain is coached to be their greatest self. They are coached to become their own coach. In other words, because the person is with themselves consistently, they need to know independently how to orientate their thinking and what actions to take to get the best results. On the strong foundation of understanding paincoaching provides a structured way onwards, carving out a fulfilling life.


Pain Coach Programme to live a fulfilling life ~ t. 07518 445493 mailto:[email protected]
09Jul/17
Andy Murray's hip

Pain and injury at Wimbledon

Why is there so much pain and injury at Wimbledon this year?

Pain and injury at Wimbledon

Seven retirements and a very painful injury on-court yesterday at Wimbledon have given the tournament a different feel. Pain and injury are part of sport, but many people have been surprised by the turn of events. Federer has called for a review of the system and several players have complained about the state of the courts. All are factors of course. The game is simply made up of the synergy of players, court and tournament. When all are ticking, we see great tennis.

The very painful moment

Bethanie Mattek-Sands was screaming out in pain this week after her knee appeared to give way. One report suggested that she could have sustained a knee cap dislocation. This can be extremely painful until relocated. Seeing the dislocation can add to the trauma. When our body does not appear as we expect, the sight can trigger feelings of aversion.

Why so much pain?

Pain is a part of the way we protect ourselves. There are many other things going on when we are in state of protect: change in movement, change in sense, altered thinking and emotion, change in perception. In other words, the world looks different and feels different as we take action in the name of survival. This is a normal shift of state in the face of a perceived threat. Pain is a lived experience when there is a perceived threat. Pain is not well related to injury. This is the common misunderstanding. Just because it hurts a lot, it does not mean that the injury is more severe. We have known this for a long time ~ see here: pain in sport, 3 key points.

When thinking about the reasons for the pain response, the context is key. In other words the situation plays a significant part in the pain experience. As well as potential tissue injury, where that possible injury occurs and what is happening is highly relevant — it always has to happen somewhere! The full picture perceived creates a learning opportunity. If this is possibly dangerous, I need to remember what happened and where so that next time I can react differently.

All of this information is processed together with sensory information from the body, based upon what is already known about injury and the situation. In essence we make a best guess about the possible causes of the sensory information on a background of our previous experiences. In effect, we weigh up the evidence: new information vs what we know, which then suggests a scenario. If this is a potentially dangerous situation, pain can then form part of the experience. The more danger perceived, the more intense the pain.

How much danger did Bethanie perceive when her knee gave way at the biggest tennis championship in the world, in front of a big crowd, when each game is career shaping?

Whatever the outcome for Bethanie, I wish her well.

Messi’s knee

In 2012 Lionel Messi was running into the box when he brushed the keeper as he came out to meet him at speed. Messi managed to get a shot away (he missed) before he hit the ground clutching his knee. He was quoted as saying that he thought his career was over because of the pain.

How dangerous was the situation to Messi? Consider: the perceived injury (he did not know about the extent of the damage at that point), the game, the crowd silent, the body part involved, how knee injuries are thought of in the culture of football, the immediate thoughts about injury and what it means and much more.

Messi was taken off the field on a cart and whisked to hospital where he was scanned. What was the injury? A bruise.

Pain and injury are not the same. The terms are often used synonymously, but this is not correct usage. A further example is phantom limb pain. The person suffers pain in a limb that no longer exists.

Pain and injury

Why have there been so many injuries?

We have seen multiple retirements during games at Wimbledon this year. Whilst some people have been frustrated, we must also consider that these players have to make choices. These are based on the culture of the sport, the system, their career, their income and their understanding of pain.

There will be a weighing up of the pros and cons, and each individual will consider different factors before deciding. We do not know what those factors are in each case, so we cannot make any specific assumptions or criticise. In life, how many assumptions are made when someone is being critical of another without knowing the full picture?

“aches and pains are part of sport

In sport, the day to day aches and pains are a well known part of the deal. Simple measures are taken to address theses responses so that the athlete can continue to perform: e.g./ physiotherapy treatment, massage, ice baths, stretching, periodisation. However, despite the level of fitness, each body needs to adapt to the demands of the training and play. Without this time, there can be a tipping of the ‘build-breakdown’ balance towards the breakdown (inflammation). A state of chronic inflammation is likely to explain a range of common problems that can become significant.

When an acute injury occurs in sport, there is pressure to resume play as soon as possible. Do players return too soon? Are they fully ready? Being ready means that the body tissue are robust to withstand the stresses and strains, movement patterns are normalised (and not guarded), body sense is acute and thought patterns focus on the game and not on the body.

“the clues are in the story

We do not know all the factors involved with each player at Wimbledon who had to retire, but the points described above are relevant and need consideration. When clinicians are assessing an injury, this is especially so. Each injury or pain moment (the two are different) occurs in a context as we have established. Nothing happens in isolation, we are on a timeline, and hence we must consider how the person may be primed by prior learning. What are the influences upon this current moment? Some will be obvious and some more hidden. This is why allowing the person to tell their story is vital. The clues lie within their narrative, so we must listen actively and be open.

This is a brief look at some of the key issues. Pain and injury are always going to feature in sport. We need to draw upon the pinnacle of our knowledge of pain and bring this into the athletic world. In other words, we need a shift in the thinking away from the biomedical model, instead looking at the wider picture: a true biopsychosocial, or sociopsychobio model. Here is a reminder of the key points:

The key points:
  • pain and injury are poorly related
  • pain is suffered by the (whole) person not a body part (e.g. tendon pain ~ the primary focus remains on the tendon rather than the person)
  • pain does change when it is understood by the person and they actively create new patterns

Pain and Communication

The problem of pain

Pain and communicationCommunication has a large role in pain from the perspective of telling someone that you are suffering but also in the treatment of pain. At the BASRaT Symposium last week I outlined some of the key features that I will summarise here.

Before discussing communication I highlighted what is the one of the most significant and costly problems on the planet: pain. There are vast costs to society and individuals as the numbers of people suffering chronic pain are enormous. The British Pain Society recently called it the ‘silent epidemic’.

It is thought that 20% of the population suffer on-going pain, including 1 in 5 children. Whilst we can say that the former is a significant number necessitating action, the latter absolutely needs to change. We must understand why this is the case. What is it about modern living and culture that is creating a generation of pain and anxiety? There are some obvious candidates: pressure to achieve at all costs, a lack of self-esteem, narcissism encouraged by popular culture, and obsession with social media at the expense of developing connections and communication skills (including addiction to devices).

One of the main reasons for the scale of the pain problem is the misunderstanding of pain through society. The biomedical model still predominates when there is the search for a structure or pathology to explain the pain and extent of the pain. The preferable biopsychosocial model takes into consideration the important psychological and social dimensions, but often the ‘bio’ receives most attention. Modern understanding of pain would suggest that actually, a better framing would be a sociopsychobiological model because whilst understanding the pathophysiology and molecular aspects of pain is important for scientists and clinicians, the person in pain just needs to know what to do when they are in pain. They need a process to follow with an understanding as to why this is important. Neuroscience education has a place in the treatment of pain, but not a primary one.

Pain is a subjective experience emerging in the person, influenced by a range of social, cultural, contextual and environmental factors, past experiences and beliefs, in the face of a perceived threat. Pain is about protection and survival.

Pain & communication

With the size of the problem in mind alongside the understanding that pain is poorly related to injury and tissue health or pathology, we looked at some important aspects of communication.

One of the communication streams that is often forgotten is the inner dialogue. This is the story that you tell yourself about you and life; that little voice that is so familiar and if not trained can be so disruptive. This is the inner dialogue that can cause such suffering when we berate ourselves for not being good enough. This is relevant for the person with chronic pain as self-criticism is a common feature when in fact kindness and self-compassion is a key driver in getting better. Equally, the clinician’s inner dialogue will affect his or her approach and decision making. Think of a scenario when you are tired, you were late for work, you stubbed your toe on the bed and then you are faced with your first patient who has not improved. You need clarity of thought to approach this situation, not a mind cluttered with annoyance and frustration.

What are you telling yourself? What are you convincing yourself? How are you choosing to think?

How we communicate pain to the person has an impact on their understanding, which is paramount in validating their story to date, and in helping them engage with the programme. Firstly we must listen deeply so that we can know the person as much as the condition ~ the two are not separate. Listening deeply is a skill allied with active listening when you are fully present, in contact via body position, your eyes and expressions (verbal and non-verbal), and allowing them the space and time to tell their story. This narrative holds many clues so our full attention is required, jotting down key points and phrases. In sum, there are different communication dynamics co-existing: the inner dialogue of the person, that os the clinician and the (outer) communication between the two.

Compassion and empathy

Cultivating compassion and empathy as a clinician is an extremely worthwhile exercise. Those who have chosen the caring professions have already demonstrated these characteristics by the very nature of the choice ~ we care and want to help others to live their lives. It is interesting and reflective to consider the question: why do I care?

Not only is this important for the clinician, but also for the patient to learn such skills, especially if they are hard on themselves. It is very easy to pick up on this when they speak to you. The problem with being a self-critic without control is that it is very threatening and hence is provoking the self-protect systems that exist to make sure we survive. These systems have a significant role in pain and hence we are aiming to do the very opposite: active the care-giving systems and effect parasympathetic actions. In a sense our job is to help the person realise that they are safe, how they can safely build up their meaningful activities and adapt in a way that means they are living meaningfully.

What are compassion and empathy?

  • Empathy ~ the capacity to share the feelings of others
  • Compassion ~ feelings of warmth, concern and care for the other…with a strong motivation to improve the other’s wellbeing (Singer & Klimecki)

These will be familiar to clinicians and therapists, but what may not be so familiar is the fact that we can train and practice simple skills to improve our capacity.

It will not be a surprise to many that our brains change when we practice and learn, and this is no different for compassion. Neuroscientists have been looking at these mechanisms for some years now, gathering data on these brain changes and how they manifest in the person. Aside from the science, developing a compassionate society has obvious benefits for all:

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive ~ Dalai Lama

These are skills that should be practiced from an early age with purpose, in homes, schools and workplaces. And just to be clear, compassion is not characterised by weakness or femininity as can be said; not at all. Compassion takes courage and is for all.

Simple practices

There are a range of practices that clinicians and therapists can use for both themselves and their patients. Remember that there is an interaction between the care-giver and receiver, both benefitting from a kind action on a chemical level. Fostering and nurturing every opportunity means that we set the scene: the welcome, the greeting, the opening question or comment, the engagement, the demonstration of care, the calm environment, and much more. Being aware of the present moment and crafting each unique session is a skill to be fostered.

It is beyond the scope to describe the following in detail, but as an indicator, these practices are easily started, often a challenge to continue, but immensely worthwhile for the individual and society:

  • mindfulness
  • lovingkindness meditation
  • the practice of gratitude
  • cultivating an ability to control the wandering mind
  • purposefully generating positive emotions

It is worth remembering that as a clinician, you are the treatment as much as any approach you apply. There is no separation. Developing your capacities hence will have a significant impact on your clients and patients as you increasingly set the scene and communicate in such a way that the person feels trust towards you, a sense of being cared for and a belief that they can get better.

Here is a great video from one of the foremost researchers in the field of compassion, Richard Davidson

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09Jun/16

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.

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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.

 

 

05Dec/15

Henderson’s heel

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

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

Henderson’s heel has captured the front page of the Guardian sports supplement today. The article claims that he has been told to play through pain as there is no cure for plantar fasciitis–the plantar fascia is a strip of tissue spanning from the heel to the forefoot.

In the general population this problem exists and is typified by first steps soreness on getting out of bed. The pain is often noted on walking, standing and running, in some cases being sore and stiff to begin with before easing and then building again.

The usual explanation is overload, but there is more to it than that. As with any persisting problem, it is not just about the blamed tissue, but much, much more. Similar to tendon problems, when the focus is merely on the structure, the outcomes are limited as are expectations:

“…with my heel there isn’t a timescale, there isn’t really a cure….”, said Jordan Henderson, continuing to describe how he feels, “There have been times when I’ve been pretty down because we couldn’t find the answers”.

Pain problems need to be addressed in line with our modern understanding of what pain really is, a protective device in the face of a perceived threat. The point in time when something hurts is not in isolation to what has been learned or believed beforehand, the meaning, the context and prediction of what may happen. Consider the footballer who attaches great importance to the state and health of their body and their legs and feet in particular. Also think about how these problems are discussed and viewed within the culture of football; all the views and opinions and what they are based upon. An injury deemed to be chronic or long-term has great consequences for the career of a footballer and hence the meaning of this pain is different to an amateur player or someone who does not play football. Much like the violinist who cuts their finger, this is more pertinent when they are about to play a concert — we know that pain threshold is lower in violinist due to the meaning and context. There is no reason to think this is different in footballers and their legs. What is the relevance?

Our pain experience is determined by the extent of threat and not the extent of tissue damage. How threatening to the footballer is the notion of a chronic foot problem? Very. Does this impact on the experience of pain, definitely. Pain tells us little about the tissue state, but much about how the brain is predicting what the sensory input (about the body and the environment) is meaning based on what is thought and believed. Already you should be seeing how the ‘treatment’ of such a problem needs more than local interventions to change the way in which the body-brain-environment interactions are manifesting as pain, in this case in Henderson’s heel.

We are designed to change and hence pain can and does change when you understand it and take the wisest and healthiest action. This action goes upstream of where the pain is felt.

Where do we feel pain? In our body, because this is where we perceive our actions, largely created by brain networks and body systems, yet none in isolation and none predominating. All are vital to have a sense of what is happening right now. And what is happening right now? Our reality in any given moment is created by the sum of all the activity in our body and brain within a certain context. This incorporates habits and associations that create the backdrop for prediction; e.g./ Henderson arrives at the training ground, and even at the thought of running around, the systems that protect us are engaging and priming in preparation so that when he begins to run, threat is assumed based on what is known, what has been and what could be. Result, pain in the heel.

Now, of course there can be an inflammatory response as well, and this may well have been detected on various scans. However, there are different inflammatory mechanisms, the one we know well from injury: think of a sprained ankle; and then neurogenic inflammation that is a feature of on-going sensitivity, when the peripheral nerves are stimulated from on high to release inflammatory chemicals into the tissues they supply, thereby maintaining the cycle. Again, predicting that healing is required, the higher centres trigger this response, and it needs addressing, but not just locally. This is the big problem with tendon treatments currently, the focus on the periphery. There must be an interpretation of what is happening in the tissues and concurrent thinking and feeling to make the experience of pain a conscious one. There is not always central sensitisation at play, but there are always higher centres involved with a conscious sensation.

There is much more to discuss and note in relation to the points raised, but for now we can look at the principles that are important for overcoming an on-going pain problem in relation to Henderson’s heel. Considering that pain is about threat value, the over-arching aim is to reduce the perception of threat and hence the prediction of required protection. This begins with understanding pain so that the individual’s thinking is based on the working knowledge that they are safe. Safe that is, to perform specific and general exercises to nourish the body and move for health. The specific desensitising techniques are tailored to the person who feels the pain, considering the existing associations and triggers. A sensorimotor training programme works to normalise movement from the planning level to the actual execution, thereby creating a new layer of experience that forms the basis for the next prediction; the prediction of safety. Building the tolerance gradually, allowing for adaptation is key. There are a number of ways to go about this, but in essence, the programme is to be lived through the day, moment-to-moment to match the lived experience that is pain.

It is the person who feels pain, not their foot or their tendon. Their tendon or fascia is not a separate entity seeking help. They are merely the place or space in the body where the pain is felt. The biology of the whole experience sits within that that creates who we feel we are, and the richness of that experience in that moment. Hence, we must always work with the person: their body tissues, their environment, their neuroimmune system and how the sum of all of this creates their lived experience. Within each dimension, there are a number of actions that influence the whole. This is how people overcome pain — not their foot; the person. And who are these people that overcome their pain? What do they look like?

They look like you and me. They have a working knowledge of their pain that allows them to exercise and re-train on a basis of the true meaning of their pain, a feeling of safety, diminished threat, the creation of safety in situations once deemed threatening, and they match their lived experience of pain with a programme that is likewise lived, health based, strengths-based and they have a clear vision of where they are going based on their values.

Pain can and does change, beginning with understanding it.

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21Sep/15

Andy Murray wins despite back pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

05Feb/15

Today’s talk at QMUL | pain in sport

Today’s pain in sport talk at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) for the MSc Sports & Exercise Medicine group focused on modern concepts of pain, in particular the problem of persisting pain. Using plenty of clinical examples and anecdotes, we explored a range of topics including:

  • The enormous (global) issue of pain
  • The dimensions of pain (physical – cognitive -emotional)
  • The importance of the whole person as much as the condition
  • The relevance of the meaning of pain to the individual and how this flavours the pain experience
  • The vital early messages when we talk to someone with pain, and how this can shape their thinking and actions
  • The importance of using the science of pain in dealing with sports injuries.

Richmond holds clinics for pain and chronic pain problems in Harley Street, Chelsea and New Malden

If you would like Richmond to come to your practice and talk about pain and chronic pain, please contact Jo on 07518 445493.

24Nov/14

One injury, and then another…and another….

It is a common scenario sadly, both in professional and amateur sports. One injury, then another and another, each demoralising further. It is noteworthy that the science of pain would say that expectations and other thoughts about the pain and injury will affect the pain itself, potentially increasing the overall threat value — recall from previous writings that pain is a response to threat, and not to just that of the actual injury itself. We must consider any threat to the whole person, and this includes thoughts about oneself and one’s career.

When the body is sensitised by an initial injury, despite healing this sensitivity can persist subtly. In other words, at a certain level of activity there is no problem, no defence. But reaching a new level of training may then reach the current threshold that is not yet back to normal. The threshold is the physiological point where messages are scrutinised by the neuroimmune system that is already vigilant to potential threat. There does not need to be an actual threat, just a perceived one by these vigilant body systems, which then triggers a biological defence: pain, altered planning of movement, altered thinking etc.

The continuous journey back to full fitness requires a complete integration of physical and mental preparedness. As well as tissue strength, endurance and mobility, the controlling mechanisms must switch back to normal settings rather than protect — i.e. the upstream: muscles do what they are told by the motor system that originates in the motor areas of the brain, and the motor system plans and executes movement. The planning of movement not only occurs when the ball is about to be kicked or a run begun, but also when thinking about the acts or watching another. As well as these influencing what is happening, these are also great rehabilitation tools to fully prepare the system for the rigours of the game as well as ensuring completeness of recovery: the player resumes the right thinking, decision-making, motor control as well as fitness.

 

23Nov/14

Why do Arsenal and MUFC have so many injuries?

Arsenal Football Club have apparently reported 30 injuries since August, and Manchester United 37 injuries. Why so many?

Injuries are more complex than perhaps initially thought. It is not simply that a player runs out onto the field, clatters into another player, changes direction or bursts into action. There is a huge amount of multi-system activity, both conscious and unconscious that biologically underpins every injurious situation.

For example, a seemingly ‘simple’ ankle sprain is this: a disrupted ligament releases inflammatory chemicals that excite the normally quiet danger receptors on nociceptors; nociceptors send danger signals to the spinal cord to communicate with secondary neurons that are influenced by a flow of signals coming downwards from the brain. The sum of this give and take reaches the brain. According to whether a threat is determined or not, the appropriate response is pain, drawing attention to the affected area so that the right behaviour can be assumed, promoting recovery and survival. Pain is a need state, driving and motivating action.

The danger signals, for there are no pain signals or even a pain centre in the brain, are chemical messages until given meaning by the emotional centres of the brain. This is based on the context of the situation, beliefs, immediate thoughts, previous experience and the environment to name but a few. The injury is deeply embedded within all these factors, none of which are stand alone.

To illustrate, a professional footballer who sprains his ankle could think: ‘how will this affect my career?’, ‘how long will I be out?’, ‘will this affect selection?’, ‘is this the end of my career?’, ‘what will this cost me?’ etc. The question to ask is how is this thinking likely to affect pain? Are those thought threatening? Of course they are, and hence affect the way in which the body protects. As well as promoting the right environment for healing (bottom up), one has to create the right conditions in all body systems (top down) by cultivating the right thinking and with definite action. Until thoughts and beliefs flavour nociceptive signalling, there is no meaning, and without meaning there is no pain. We need pain to survive, but we also need a logical and rational meaning.

Within the culture of football, there are certain beliefs and memes around injury. This will be the case regarding ankles, hamstrings and groins. Just listen to the pundits to hear their comments on these injuries to know this fact. How much of it is fear-based rather than being based on pain science and basic biology? Tackle this and you are more than half-way towards creating the right conditions for recovery.

Injury is incredibly complex because we are incredibly complex. Drawing upon this modern way of thinking about pain and injury and I believe we can tackle this increasing problem of recurring injuries in sport more effectively.

Persisting sports injury? Recurring injury? Football injury? Call now 07518 445493