Category Archives: Headache

04Jun/17

Headache

Headache is a leading cause of suffering

Headache and migraine are in the top 12 of the Global Health Burden of Disease Study (2011)

 

Headaches

If you watched Doctor in the House on BBC recently, you would have gained an insight into the terrible suffering caused by cluster headache. This is one of the many conditions characterised by chronic pain. In this case, there was significant improvement as the family made some important changes. More on this shortly.

Chronic pain is the number one global health burden, costing more that cancer, heart disease and diabetes put together. There are millions of people across the globe enduring chronic pain states. They have little or no understanding of why they continue to suffer and no knowledge of how to overcome their pain. This can and must change, and to do so means that society needs to understand pain ~ this is the reason for UP | understand pain. Pain is a public health problem of huge significance.

The programme hosted by Dr Rangan Chatterjee highlighted the impact not only upon the brave lady Gemma, but also upon the family. It was their shift in thinking that resulted in new habits, which create the right conditions to get better. That was a choice made based upon new understanding. Realising that we have a choice is a key first step. We can make the decision to commit to doing the things that will change our health, our relationships, our performance and our pain.

Pain always occurs in a context and involves life’s habits. On realising the range of influences upon pain, the person can instigate changes that make a huge difference. In the family setting, this involves all members, including children. There are huge numbers of children who suffer pain (1 in 5) and huge numbers who support a parent. This is a vast problem in itself.

A brief look at pain ~ what is it?

Pain is a whole person state of protect based on the existing and prior evidence that there is a threat or possible threat to the person. Much of the processing is subconscious, our biology in the dark (e.g./ you don’t know what your liver is doing right now), emerging as a lived experience or perception. Anything that poses a possible threat can result in pain. It is important to consider that something only becomes a threat when we think it so, and hence the meaning we choose to give a situation makes it what is it.

It is not only when we are thinking that something is a threat to us of course. Our biological systems interpret sensory information and predict that it indicates possible or actual danger. Working on a just in case basis means that we can get it wring. When we are sensitive,m this can happen more often than not, which is why pain can become so dominant. The range of contexts and situations widen and we notice the pain moments over and over. This does not have to continue. We can actively infer something else with new understanding, new actions, new habits and new patterns — that’s the programme.

Pain and injury are words often used synonymously, but they are simply not the same. Pain is part of a protect state, very similar to that of stress, and injury is something you can see. The former uniquely subjective and a perception constructed by the whole person

What can we do about pain?

The short answer: a lot!

The first step with any change is to make the decision to commit to practicing new habits that lead towards your desired outcome. This decision comes off the back of understanding pain because then you realise that there is plenty you can do to change and overcome your pain.

This always starts with developing a working knowledge of your pain so that you can coach yourself: the right thinking and the right actions to get the best outcome. Initially you are likely to need advice, treatment and coaching to ensure you remain on track.

When you understand pain, you do not fear it or try to avoid it, instead you face your pain, learn about your pain and overcome your pain. This is different to taking a pill or having an injection, which circumnavigate the issue. Only by facing the challenge can we transform the experience of pain. Many messages in modern society encourage us to avoid the difficult things in life but they are unavoidable. We are not typically taught skills to face the challenges that will come up, and so when we do have something to deal with, we suffer. This does not need to be the case, certainly when it comes to pain.

This is not to say that pain is not unpleasant. Of course it is, but we can learn how to minimise the impact and work to create a happy and meaningful life, by living and practicing the skills of well-being. By living I mean that you try to do the things that you want to as much as you can. More dated thinking about pain suggests that you have to get better in order to resume living, however I have turned this on its head and said that you get back to living by getting back to living. Getting back to living IS the way to get better.

In a sense there is a template of how your life and you should be, and there is no real separation between the two. When the template of what is actually happening is different to the expected one, this mismatch creates a drive to bring them together. Pain is one of those drivers. So, if we try to live as best we can, we are in fact bringing these two templates together. Of course there will be a certain tolerance, even perhaps a few moments in some cases, but this is the start point or the baseline. Working from your baseline, you can get ‘fitter’ and healthier with the practices you commit to, and thereby point yourself in a desired direction.

“what is your vision of success?

A treatment programme is therefore weaved into your life. You are in the driving seat. This is an important concept as healthcare often puts you in the passenger seat, or as one patient told me, ‘in the boot’. This is not right and will certainly not help the person to get better. The modern understanding of pain tells us a very different story, which is exciting, but must be told as far and as wide as is possible, which is the reason for UP | understand pain.

If you are suffering headaches, you should consult with your healthcare practitioner as a first port of call. You will want to know the possible reasons why you have headaches, but then you will want to know what you can do, what they will do to support you and roughly how long this will take. With an understanding and a direction, with a decision to commit to practices of well-being and determination, it can be transformative.

RS

 

 

 

 

20Jun/15

The problem of migraine

migraine by r. nial bradshaw (2012)

migraine by r. nial bradshaw (2012)

The problem of migraine is bigger than most people realise. In fact, the problem of chronic pain is bigger than most people realise, this being apparent as I purposely ask people I know and meet if they know what is the number one global health burden. It is chronic pain by the way, and migraine and headache sit in the top 10 along with back pain, neck pain and osteoarthritis. Depression is at number 2.

Migraine is sometimes referred to as a functional pain syndrome. Not everyone likes this term, myself included, yet it’s use does mean that we can consider migraine as one of a number of conditions that hurt and cause great suffering. These conditions have a common biology known as central sensitisation, meaning that the individual’s systems that protect are more likely to do so, resulting in persisting pain in many cases.

The other well known functional pain syndromes include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), temporomandibular disorder (or jaw pain, clicky jaw etc), pelvic pain, dysmennorhoea, vulvodynia, interstitial cystitis, chronic back pain and fibromyalgia. These are often co-morbid with anxiety, depression and hypermobility. As individuals, it is common to find perfectionist or obsessive traits that may be useful in certain arenas such as work, helping to achieve great success, yet in other areas of life cause problems. More women than men report these problems, although I am seeing increasing numbers of men who often describe groin pain as a starter but then we explore the history and discover one or more of the aforementioned list. A further frequent finding is difficulty conceiving, this primarily due to the body systems that protect being persistently fired up (by normal living and exposures as well as stressors), and whilst that person is in such a mode, having children is not on the body’s agenda whereas survival is.

As with most of the functional pains, the story highlights certain vulnerabilities that can increase the likelihood of persisting pain including genetics, epigenetics, early life stressors and prior infections/injuries. These factors sculpt the systems that protect as they learn how to respond as well as becoming increasingly vigilant. The combination therewith creates an individual who is more likely to respond to actual or potential threat with vigorous and prolonged action and behaviours. With anxiety in the mix, this person is then likely to over-worry, which in effect further raises the threat value and heighten the responses even more. And so it goes on.

Rarely are the conditions explained adequately to patients, and certainly knowledge of the link between the seemingly different problems has never been volunteered to me by a patient. Therein lies a problem that the individual is suffering one or more pains and other symptoms (e.g./ tiredness, poor concentration, disrupted sleep, lethargy, flu-like symptoms, brain fog), yet they have no understanding as to why, or how it comes on, or what they can and must do to change the situation and move forward. Explaining the condition(s), the links, what the patient needs to do and what we can do to help and support them over a period of time that we can estimate is a key start point.

Further to the common biology, we can observe in the clinic the posturing, movements, guarding, poor body sense, altered sensorimotor function and the overall manifestation of how that person is feeling through body language and the words they use. We can gather far more information about the person, the whole person, by talking to them, listening to them and their concerns. What is their lived experience? The structured interview does not allow for this conversation. Yes we need some specific questions, but creating an open environment gives the person a chance to talk, feel heard and validated. This sets the scene for specific training, techniques and strategies that need to be used throughout the day and the development of understanding, all of which are the knowledge and skill base that the patient needs to overcome their pain.

No matter how long you have had pain, it can and does change. We are designed to change, and this is happening all the time. We are on a continuum, and we can have a say in where we go. It is a challenge and requires dedication, motivation, resilience and practice, but with the right thinking, action and support, great things can be achieved. I am honoured to see this happen in the clinic every week as people overcome their pain and resume being who they think they should be.

If you are suffering or think that you could be suffering with functional pain syndromes, call me for a chat and we can decide what you need to do to start overcoming your pain: 07518 445493

Clinics in Harley Street, Chelsea and New Malden Diagnostic Centre

22Oct/14

Girls, stress and pain

I have seen a number of teenage girls over the past year who are affected by chronic pain. They are often referred because of recurring headaches or migraines but we discover that there is widespread sensitive at play. How does this happen? Why does it happen?

Headaches and migraines can be functional pains. When these pains are part of a picture of sensitivity, often accompanied by anxiety, there are often other problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, pelvic pain and jaw pain. Whilst these problems all appear to be different, they have a common biology. Typically I work with women aged between 30 and 55 who suffer these aches and pains, but increasingly this is an issue of the younger female. Having said that, when I explore the story of an adult, we often find reasons for sensitivity that begin in childhood. This priming sets the scene for later events.

As adults we face many challenges. We have body systems that are trigged by these challenges, especially if we think they are threatening to us. In particular the autonomic nervous system (ANS) is quite brilliant at preparing us to fight or run away, which is very useful…..if you are facing a wild animal. On a day to day basis, it is in fact useful for the ANS to kick in and create some feelings in the body that alert us to danger — the caveat being, nothing is dangerous until it is interpreted as so, and hence we need a construct of ‘danger’ and of the thing that is perceived to be dangerous. For example, a baby may not have the construct of a lion and hence sees this big, cuddly, moving….thingy…like my teddy (may not have a construct for any of these either!), and essentially detects no threat. As the baby detects no threat, he or she behaves in a way that may not threaten the lion and hence the lion may feel safe. Both feeling safe, they become friends. Perhaps — these things have happened apparently. Please do not try this at home, but hopefully you get the idea. Back to day to day….

In the modern world we often feel anxious. This is the body warning us that something is threatening. In many cases that I see, there is a strong reaction to banal events and non-threatening cues. Or if the cue is worthy of attention, the response is well out of proportion — e.g. utter panic and defensive thinking-behaviours. To what do we respond most frequently? Definitely not lions. Muggers? Gunmen? Earthquakes? Tidal waves? These are all inherently dangerous situations, that we simply do not often face. Sadly some people do have such encounters but the majority of us do not. The answer is our own thinking. The thoughts that are evoked — seemingly appearing form nowhere at times — are not the actual problem but instead the interpretation of the thought (metacognotion; our thinking about our thinking). The meaning that we give to a thought, often automatically, will determine the body response as our thoughts are embodied. And just to complicate things further in relation to thinking, there’s a world of difference between the experiencing-self and the memory-self. The former refers to what is happening right now, the latter to what we remember, or think we remember. In terms of pain, if our memory of a painful event concludes with a high level of pain, this will flavour the memory-self and we will report as such. The story, which is a snapshot within our lives, and how it turns out has a huge impact upon the subsequent memory of what happened.

The adult within an environment that becomes threatening, the workplace for example, can become very responsive to different cues that once were innocuous. Now they pose a potential danger and each time that happens and we respond with protective thinking and behaviours, the relationship becomes stronger — conditioning. There is no reason any this cannot be the same for younger people who are consistently within an environment and context that begins to pose a threat; a demanding school environment with high expectations plus the child’s own expectations and perfectionist traits. Place this context within a changing period of life and minimal time for rest and there is the risk of burn out or development of problems that involve many body systems. We cannot, no matter what age we are, continue to work at a level that is all about survival.

I focus on girls and women because females outnumber the males coming to the clinic. Many are perfectionist, many are hypermobile, many are anxious, many are in pain and many are suffering. This is a situation that needs addressing worldwide, and starts with understanding what is happening, why it is happens and how it happens. Over the past 10 years this understanding has evolved enormously, providing tangible ways forward. This does not mean that we need to change perfectionism, but rather recognise it and use it wisely; this does not mean that anxiety is abnormal, but rather recognise it as a normal emotion that motivates learning and action; this does not mean that feeling pain is a problem to fear, but rather know it can change when we take the right action; and it does not mean that we will not suffer, but rather accept that part of living involves suffering that we can overcome and move on.

We have created an incredible, fast moving world. The body does not work at such a pace. It needs time to refresh and renew so that we can think with clarity and perform to a high level, achieve and be successful. We are humans. We are a whole-person with no division between body and mind; instead one thinking, feeling, sensing, creating, moving and living entity responding to the experience of the now and to memory of what we think happened. Gaining control over this with understanding and awareness provides a route forward to wellbeing, no matter where the start point.

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If you are suffering with persisting pains — body pain, joint pain, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), headache, migraine, pelvic pain, jaw pain + feeling anxious, unwell, tired — call now and start moving forward 07518 445493 | Clinics in Harley Street, Chelsea and New Malden

05Nov/12

Women and pain | Part 1

 

‘As many as 50 million American women live with one or more neglected and poorly understood chronic pain conditions’ 

Generally I see more female patients than male. This observation supports the view that chronic pain is more prevalent in women than in men for some conditions – see the International Association for the Study of Pain fact sheet here. There are some ideas as to why this may be, including the role of the sex hormones and psychosocial factors such as emotion, coping strategies and roles in life. Additionally, experimental studies have shown that women have lower pain thresholds (this is a physiological reading) and tolerance to a range of pain stimuli when compared to men although this does not clarify that women actually feel more pain – see here. Pain is a subjective experience of course, and modulated by many factors.

A campaign for women’s pain | Chronic pain in women (2010) report

It is not uncommon for a female patient to tell me about her back pain and continue the narrative towards other body areas that hurt and cause problems. This may include pelvic pain, migraine, headache, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic knee pain, widespread sensitivity and gynaecological problems (including dysmenorrhoea, endometriosis and difficulty conceiving). These seemingly varied conditions are typically looked after by a range of medical and surgical disciplines: gynaecology, neurology, rheumatology, gastroenterology and orthopaedics. More recent science and thinking has started to join the dots on these problems, offering new insight into the underpinning mechanisms and more importantly approaches that can affect all the conditions in a positive way. This is certainly my thinking on this hugely significant matter.

Reconceptualising pain

Undoubtedly pain is complex. This is particularly the case when pain persists, disrupting and impacting upon life. Reconceptualising pain according to modern neuroscience is making a real difference to how we think and treat pain – see this video. Briefly, thinking of pain as an output from the brain as a result of a complex interaction of circumstance, biology, thought, emotion and memory begins to give an insight into the workings of the brain and body. Pain is individual, it is in the ‘now’ but so coloured by the past and what it may mean to the individual. The context or situation in which the pain arises is so very important. We talk about pain from the brain but of course we really feel it in our physical bodies, but the location is where the brain is projecting the sensation – see this video.

Neuroscience has shown us that the danger signals from the body tissues are significantly modulated by the brain before the end output is experienced. Factors that influence the messages include attention, expectation and the circustance in which the individual finds herself. We have powerful mechanisms that can both facilitate and inhibit the flow of these signals and these reside within the brain and brain stem. For this reason we must consider the person’s situation, their expectations, hopes, goals, past experiences and current difficulties, and how these can affect their current pain.

Stress & emotion

Any hugely emotive issue within someone’s life can impact enormously upon pain and sensitivity. This can be the stress of a situation including caring for a relative, losing someone close, work related issues and divorce. The problem of conception certainly features in a number of cases that I see, causing stress and turmoil for both partners but clearly in different ways. Fertility receives a great deal of attention in the media and there are a many clinics offering treatment and therapies, in effect raising awareness and attention levels towards the problem. The pain caused by difficulties having children can manifest physically through the stress that is created by the situation. Thoughts, feeling and emotions are nerve impulses in the brain like any other and will trigger physical responses including tension. Stress physiology affects all body systems, for example the gastrointestinal system (e.g./ irritable bowel), nervous system (e.g. headaches, back pain) and the immune system (e.g. repeated infections).

Lifestyle

Lifestyle factors play a significant role in persisting pain. Modern technology and habits that we form easily may not be helpful when we have a sensitive nervous system. For example, sedentary work, the light from computer screens, pressures at work, limited exercise, poor diet, binge drinking and smoking to name but a few. All are toxic in some way as can be our own thinking about ourselves. When we have a thought, and we have thousands each day, and we pay attention, becoming absorbed in the process, the brain reacts as if we are actually in that situation. Consequently we have physical and emotional responses that can be repeated over and over when we dwell on the same thinking. This is rumination and is likely due to ‘hyper-connectivity’ between certain brain areas – see here. We can challenge this in several ways including by changing our thinking and using mindfulness, both of which will alter brain activity and dampen these responses. It does take practice but the benefits are attainable for everyone.

In summary, the underlying factors that must be addressed are individual and both physical and psychological. Pain is complex and personal, potentially affecting many different areas of life. How we live our lives, what we think and how we feel are all highly relevant in the problem of pain as borne out of sensible thinking and the neuroscience of pain. Understanding the pain, learning strategies to reduce the impact, receiving treatment that targets the underlying mechanisms, making healthy changes to lifestyle and developing good habits alongside the contemporary brain based therapies can make a huge difference and provide a route forwards.

For information on our ‘join the dots’ treatment programmes for chronic pain, contact us here or call 07932 689081

 

26Sep/11

Dysmenorrhoea and Pain

Dysmenorrhoea and pain — You may wonder why I am writing about dysmenorrhoea. It is because in a number of cases that I see, there is co-existing dysmenorrhea and other functional pain syndromes. These include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), migraine, chronic low back pain, pelvic pain, bladder pain and fibromyalgia. Traditionally all of these problems are managed by different specialists with their particular end-organ in mind—e.g./ IBS = gastroenterologist; migraine = neurologist; fibromyalgia = rheumatologist. The science however, tells us that these seemingly unrelated conditions can be underpinned by a common factor, central sensitisation. This is not a blog about dysmenorrhoea per se, but considers the problem in the light of recent scientific findings and how it co-exists with other conditions.

 

Central sensitisation is a state of the central nervous system (CNS)—the spinal cord and the brain. This state develops when the CNS is bombarded with danger signals from the tissues and organs.  It means that when information from the body tissues, organs and systems reaches the spinal cord, it is modified before heading up to the brain. The brain scrutinises this information and responds appropriately by telling the body to respond. If there is sensitisation, these responses are protective and that includes pain. Pain is part of a protective mechanism along with changes in movement, activity in the endocrine system, the autonomic nervous system and the immune system. Pain itself is a motivator. It motivates action because it is unpleasant, and provides an opportunity to learn—e.g./ do not touch because it is hot. This is very useful with a new injury but less helpful when the injury has healed or there is no sign of persisting pathology.

Understanding that central sensitisation plays a part in these conditions creates an opportunity to target the underlying mechanisms. This can be with medication that acts upon the CNS and with contemporary non-medical approaches that focus upon the spinal cord and brain such as imagery, sensorimotor training, mindfulness and relaxation. In this way, dysmenorrhoea can be treated in a similar fashion to a chronic pain condition although traditionally it is not considered to be such a problem. The recent work by Vincent et al. (2011) observed activity in the brains of women with dysmenorrhoea and found it to be similar to women with chronic pain, highlighting the importance of early and appropriate management.

The aforementioned study joins an increasing amount of research looking at the commonality of functional pain syndromes. We must therefore, be vigilant when we are assessing pain states and consider that the presenting problem maybe just part of the bigger picture. Recognising that central processing of signals from the body is altered in a number of conditions that appear to be diverse allows us to offer better care and hence improve quality of life.

* If you are suffering with undiagnosed pain, you should consult with your GP or a health professional.