Category Archives: Chronic sports injuries

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

31May/16

Wrist injury for Nadal

Wrist injuryThe wrist injury for Nadal has been heavily reported in the media. This must be immeasurably disappointing for Nadal, who has suffered with a catalogue of problems over the years, as he seeks to overcome the pain and injury.

Playing sport at this level means that your body is your business. I am going to qualify the term ‘body’ for it is important to consider the body as part of the whole and is in no way separate from the concept of mind — we are our mind; we are our body; the unification has no beginning or end, just emerging as ‘me’, the self.

As we know, to play top flight sport requires immense fitness that necessitates training that blends with that of technique. Nadal has always played an extremely physical game, which is his style, his tennis character or persona. From the first step onto court until the final stroke, physicality predominates but the notion of physicality is not only in the muscular frame, but emerging from the man himself. We can see his body move, but it is he, the man who moves and lives that experience. The point here is that a body does not move in isolation from who we are, what we think and feel emotionally. This factor starts to provide some insight into how we must approach recovery from injury, especially when there are a string of injuries that can appear to be unrelated. I would argue against this, suggesting that there is a commonality in the way we respond to injury and how this governs the recovery.

The way we respond to injury and pain (the two are unreliably related) is individual and dependent upon our beliefs and what we think according to what has happened before. If I believe that pain is related to tissue damage, still the predominant thinking, then I will act in a particular way, and if I know that pain is a normal part of a protective response related to the level of predicted and perceived threat, I will act in another. This highlights the importance of the person understanding their pain to get the best outcome.

When an athlete or a non-athlete suffers on-going injuries or repeated injuries, even in different body locations, one must consider why this is happening and why they are not fully recovering despite their apparent health. One could also ponder on the question of whether they are as healthy as they can be? Chronic stress, where the person consistently perceives threat thereby feeling anxious and tense, changes our chemistry as we operate in survive mode. This does not allow for the most effective healing process as our resources are diverted elsewhere. The athlete in a stressed mode who then sustains an injury will have a different response to the athlete who feels empowered, who is in control and has a high level of resilience at the moment of injury. This is why looking at the whole context of the injury is so vital as important influences and vulnerabilities can be overlooked. Understanding these means that the person and the team can fully address the problem.

Priming or kindling is a good way to think about persistent injuries or the string of injuries scenario. An initial sensitisation is a learning experience for the systems that protect us, meaning that it has a bearing upon the next injury or pain and so on. A string of injuries suggests that a vulnerability has arisen, often due to the prior recoveries not reaching full resolution; i.e./ there remains a perceived threat and on-going protection. In this situation, a further injury, either actual or potential, creates a context for the body systems that protect us to kick in, emerging as pain, altered body sense and movement, a story that we tell ourselves, all unifying to create a change in the sense of self, and not one that is congruent with desired performance outcomes.

The story of a player or athlete being plagued by on-going problems is common in sport as they patch up one area after another. Investigations, treatments, injections etc etc., yet not fully shifting from protect mode to health mode. This must be at the heart of a rehabilitation and recovery programme — the person must get better as a unified experience. I must feel myself again, which means that I am the performance, I am the shot I play rather than over-thinking to anticipating or focusing on another factor that interferes and distracts me from what I am doing.

In summary, completeness of recovery is key and this begins with understanding pain and its poor relationship with injury before creating the right conditions in thought and action. The programme must include threat reducing experiences including the way we think, how we attribute sensations, what we tell ourselves, redefining precise body sense (where I am in space and how I move in relation to the environment) and movements to say the least. Maintaining the desired outcome in mind, remembering that you are your mind (it is not just behind your eyes) and that some of your thinking is done with your body and its movements, both motivates and allows one to question if you are heading towards this or being distracted. Learn and take every opportunity to be on the path of change towards this desired outcome, persevere and dare to be great at what you are doing.

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22May/16

Sports injuries brewing

Sports injuriesHaving seen a couple more cases of sports injuries brewing this week, it reminded me how common this issue is amongst the active population. It goes something like this…..

A minor tweak that improves somewhat, but not entirely, hanging around and occasionally reminding you that there’s something going on. Often dismissed as a pain that will get better in time if I forget about it and think about something else. It goes away for now.

Then another body part or region chimes in, sometimes replacing the first tweak, sometimes in concert. You tell someone who will listen that the pain has moved from A to B, as B now demands some attention now and again. Except now and again becomes more frequent, being more now than again, subtly creeping up on you as a more consistent pain. You may notice that your running style has changed, or that you are not concentrating so much on the activity but instead wondering if it will hurt or why it is hurting. Performance suffers.

I have described a two step story when in fact in most cases the person tells me about their pain and as we look back, there are multiple aches and pains. It is not unusual for there to be a slight change in general health, and most definitely lifestyle patterns influence the problem. This is simply because none of the issues are separate or in isolation. It is the person who lives the experience and hence they are the perceivers of their body and environment (unified) as well as the producers of that perception and the action taken.

What is happening?

Some refer to kindling, like a fire building up over time. There is an injury or inflammatory response during a time of vulnerability (e.g. perceived stress, tiredness, illness), or the person is vulnerable to experiencing an amplified protective response due to prior learning — how their protective systems have learned to interpret the possible causes of sensory input. So each time there is a protective response, the effects grow, the impact increases and all quite gradually in many cases.

How did this happen? This is frequently asked as the gradual nature means we forget about the priming or kindling events on the way to what is happening now.

This is why it is important to fully recover from injuries and illnesses so as not to carry over the effects. To do this, one must restore the normal healthy mode, re-train body sense and movement, develop confidence and technique; in essence feel yourself again, which is to say that the focus is on the performance.

Pain Coach Programme to comprehensively overcome persisting pain and sports injuries | t. 07518 445493

** Common persisting pains from sports injuries include back pain, tendon pain, knee pain, ankle pain, shoulder pain, tennis elbow, wrist 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.

 

 

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.

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12Oct/14

Athletes still on the bench?

Chronic pain exists in sport. It is a frustrating problem for players and coaches alike, and is accompanied by an expensive price tag in professional sport. Similar to non-sporting injuries, there is initial tissue damage (e.g. a ligament sprain) that triggers inflammation, a normal part of healing, which typically hurts. This is meant to happen as a motivator to take action: to protect the injured body and to change behaviour to allow healing to progress.

The focus of treatment is usually the injured body region. Reasonable, you may think. Indeed in the early stages, it is wise to think about creating the right environment for local healing. However, there are responses that go far beyond the muscles, ligaments and joints. It is worth pointing out here that we only ‘feel’ those structures because of how our brains create the experience, this merely touching the subject on how we really ‘feel’. This in mind, it is only logical to think further than the injured tissue in order to comprehensively rehabilitate an injury.

In persisting pain states that present as an on-going injury or an inability to return to the playing field, thinking beyond the body is essential. Why is this player not recovering? The ligament has healed, the bone has healed, there is little or no inflammation on the scan etc, etc. What is going on? Going upstream of these tissues provides the answers. In fact, going upstream will explain persisting inflammation in many cases, and help to break the cycle.

Pain is multi-system, pain is emergent, pain is whole-person. A range of body systems kick-in when we injure ourselves, and sometimes they do not switch off as you may expect. There are indicators at the time of injury that suggest the route forward will be an issue. These need to be addressed rapidly.

I read and hear about treatment and rehabilitation programmes that focus on movement, proprioception, strength, core and the like. All important, but what happens when these fail to get the sports person back to play? What is the reason? The answers lie in the adaptations of the body systems and the beliefs and expectations of the healthcare professionals and the athletes.

Different thinking is needed for persisting, complex and chronic pain.

If you are struggling to return to sport or you are working with a player who is stuck, get in touch and we can work together to identify the problems and how to solve them: call now 07518 445493 

24Jul/14

It’s time to bring what we know about chronic pain into sport

I recall a time when a consultant told me that chronic pain does not exist in private medicine. I was somewhat dumbfounded that an intelligent person could have such a thought. As a far as I was (and am) concerned, pain is classless. This was some years ago, however I am reminded of this when I think about the lack of recognition of chronic pain in sport.

Injury and pain are part of sport and we all know this well. Healthy people engaging in regular physical activity gain the physical and psychological benefits of exercising, but there is a risk of injury. And whilst many people who are injured will heal and recover, resuming their sport, there are a cohort who do not return to full participation and suffer on-going pain. Persisting pain affects one’s ability to perform, self-confidence, self-efficacy and in the professional case, a career. This is no different to the situation with a non-athlete with chronic pain.

There are a number of reasons why an athlete fails to recover including the context of the injury, early management, the development of fear, the understanding of the pain and injury, and the intensity of the pain at the outset. When lecturing on this subject, I tell the story of Messi who believed that his career was over because of the pain he experienced in his knee having collided with a goalkeeper. He was immediately taken for an MRI scan that revealed no injury. Recovery was swift when Messi knew he had not damaged his body. The pain he experienced on the field when he thought his footballing days were over was intense with a meaning that drove into the heart of his emotions, and that of the silenced crowd.

The reasons that pain persist are no different in the non-sporting person: the context of the injury, the state of health at the time, prior pain and injury and how they were dealt with, initial management etc. This being the case, we can bring the modern thinking about chronic pain into the sports arena for two reasons. One is to look at how injuries are dealt with in the early stages, and the other to take a broad perspective in tacking the on-going or recurring injury.

The early management of sports injuries is well known. The aspect to which I refer is the communication about injury and pain. In fact, even before an injury, providing education for players and athletes would impact upon those first vital moments that can prime and set up the recovery. At the point of injury, a whole body, all-system response kicks in, and recognising these processes in their entirety will maximise the recovery potential from the outset. All the necessary processes for recovery are in the human body. The main proponents of disruption are over-zealous treaters, fearful potential recoverers and those who ignore what the body is orchestrating. A careful explanation of the injury, pain and what will happen to aid recovery goes a long way to calming excited protective body systems.

Changing a pain state is entirely possible. Understanding that pain emerges in the body but involves the whole body is vital when considering all the factors necessary to set up recovery. When pain persists there are many habits and behaviours that become part of the problem. These need identification and re-training as much as the altered body sense, altered movement patterns, altered thinking, altered emotional state, altered immune responses, altered endocrine responses, altered autonomic responses, altered self-awareness, altered perception of the environment — we are altered in this state and it involves a host of responses, not set in stone but instead, adapting and surviving. On spraining a knee ligament, it’s not the ligament as much as how the body is responding to the detection of chemicals released by the injured tissue, the perception of threat and how the individual responds to the conscious feelings created by the whole body that drive thoughts and behaviours.

In the light of this knowledge (that has existed for many years), far more comprehensive treatment and training measures have been devised in small quarters. This approach delivers vastly improved outcomes because the problem is being addressed in a way that recognises that pain emerges from the whole. This notion was crafted from the merging of neuroscience and philosophy and is now taking our thinking forward (thanks to Mick Thacker and Lorimer Moseley for bringing this mode of thinking to physical therapy and beyond). I no longer refer to ‘pain management’ as this implies we are not trying to change pain, and I believe that we can and do change pain.

Pain is changing all the time as is every conscious experience. What patients believe is what they will achieve: “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right”, Henry Ford. Let us draw upon the psychology of success, create a clear vision and go for it. Every action and thought can be challenged with the question, “Will this take me towards my vision?”. This is the same in sport as it is in the general population and we can use exactly the same principles, just with different end points — everyone has a different end point, hence my push for recognition that chronic pain exists in sport and remains a huge and costly problem for individuals and clubs.

How can we go about this? Initially we must create awareness of the extent of the problem, recognising that a wider approach is needed and subsequently implementing contemporary treatment and training methods that work with the whole person. Understanding the pain mechanisms, the pain influences and the context of the pain for the individual orientates thinking that creates a route forward toward the identified vision. Blending specific training (e.g./ body awareness, sensorimotor control) with techniques that boost self-efficacy and maintain motivation for the necessary steps towards recovery. The recovery is part of the vision and is determined by prioritising the programme and working consistently.

Using comprehensive measures and thinking, we can create the conditions that allow for pain to change in the whole person by allowing body systems to do their work. Our role is to facilitate this biology by what we say, do and advise. Drawing upon the contemporary way persisting pain is approached in the general population, sportsmen and women can access the same benefits, optimise their potential to return to exercise and reduce the risks of recurrence.

Richmond specialises in creating the conditions for people with chronic pain and injury to recover and move forward. When he is not seeing patients, Richmond spends his time writing and talking about pain with the aim of bringing the modern understanding of pain into the public domain for better treatment

Specialist Pain Physio Clinics, London

31Jan/14

5 reasons why I use manual therapy for cases of persisting pain

Some will argue that manual therapy — joint and/or soft tissue techniques — has no role in chronic pain. I disagree. Why?

(In no particular order)

1. Touch is normal and it is something that we do when we care.
2. Hands on treatment is expected when you visit a physiotherapist or physical therapist.
3. Stimulation in the area of the body that hurts can feel good. If it causes little or no pain, the brain is happy and interpreting the stimulus (touch, pressure, movement) as being safe. More of that please! A great way to desensitise and for the experience of pleasure in the affected area.
4. Change the brain’s output by addressing the area with therapy that feels good — that’s the output feeling good, along with reflexive reduction in protection.
5. What do you do if you bang your elbow? Rub it. In chronic pain, you may need to think about how and when to rub it, but nonetheless, rubbing it needs. Combine rubbing with visual feedback and there you have a pain relieving strategy.

08Jan/14

Too many cases of “I can’t” — the effects of persisting pain

Frequently patients tell me at the first meeting that they cannot do x, y and z. Naturally, when something hurts we avoid that activity or action because pain is unpleasant. It hurts physically and mentally. In the acute stages of an injury or condition, it is wise to be protective as this is a key time for the tissues to heal, and although some movement is important for this process, too much can be disruptive. As time goes on, gradually re-engaging with normal and desirable activities restores day to day living. However, in some cases, in the early stages of pain and injury, the protection in terms of the thinking about the pain and subsequent behaviours becomes such that they persist beyond a useful time. The longer that this continues, the harder it becomes to break the habits.

Don’t feed the brain with “I can’t”, feed it with “I can” — cultivate the natural goal seeking and creative mechanisms of the brain

The vast majority of patients who come to the clinic have had their pain for months or years. I would like to have seen them earlier so as to break the habits of thought and action that are preventing forward movement. As a result of the longevity and severity of the pain, the impact factors, distress and suffering, a blend of experiences, expectations and thinking about the problem, it is common to slip gradually into a range of avoidances that are strongly linked with thoughts that “I can’t do …. or …..”. These thoughts may have been fuelled by messages from care providers.

As a general statement, most activities that someone avoids because they fear that it will be damaging or painful can be approached with specific strategies that address both the thinking about the activity and the actual task itself. Recalling that pain is a protective device, an emergent experience within the body in an area that is perceived to be under threat and requiring defence, by diminishing the threat we can change the pain. And there are many ways of doing this on an individual basis — as pain is an individual experience with unique features for that person.

One of the main aims of our contemporary approach is to ensure that the individual understands their pain and problem so that the fear and threat value dissolves away. This leaves a more confident person willing to engage in training that promotes normal activities and re-engagement with desired pass-times.