Category Archives: Neck pain

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

 

 

 

 

29Jun/15

Overcoming neck pain

'neck' by JB | https://flic.kr/p/4VYHd1

‘neck’ by JB | https://flic.kr/p/4VYHd1

Overcoming neck pain is the aim of the many sufferers of this common persisting problem–it’s in the top 10 of global health burdens! What causes neck pain? Regular readers will be familiar with the notion that pain emerges in the person, located where protection is deemed necessary. The feeling of pain, (‘I am in pain’) exists as a motivator through its unpleasantness, demanding attention and action sufficient to reduce the threat and hence leading to pain relief.

The question to ponder upon is why is this person in pain? What has created such a threat value that there is benefit from a painful experience to drive some form of change in thought and action and vice versa, such that the threat diminishes. What can potentially pose a threat? We have to say potentially because these factors will not bring about a pain response in all people as we know. The existence of pain and intensity of pain do not rely upon these factors. Instead it is the meaning and the significance given to these factors that determines what happens next. Consciously I may not believe that sitting for an hour is ‘dangerous’, yet from my body, which of course is not separate from who I think ‘I’ am, emerges the feeling of pain. This is where the sense of self becomes confusing because how can my body be separate from ‘me’. We often use language, especially to do with pain, that distances ourselves from the feeling, except this is erroneous thinking as the pain is emerging in us, much like a thought emerges and becomes conscious. Consciousness is the background upon which a small amount of what is going on appears to us, including pain and other sensory experiences that can frequently evoke emotions.

Examples of factors that can be rated as dangerous:

  • Inflammation (tissue damage, neurogenic)
  • Infection
  • Contexts: e.g. sitting at a desk, driving, carrying a bag
  • Thoughts: the meaning that we give to the pain
  • Stress: this is a response to perceiving a situation as being threatening rather than the actual situation itself
  • Tiredness

In other words we must look beyond, well beyond the area that hurts and think about the person and their life, which includes environments in which they inhabit (home, work, play), people they spend time with, things that they do, past experiences, pain vulnerabilities. This is the same for pain in the neck as it is with any other persisting pain problem. Only with a comprehensive view can we think broadly enough to devise a programme of treatment, training and coaching to sustainably overcome the problem.

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Pain Coach Programme to sustainably overcome persisting and complex pain. Call now: 07518 445493

15Nov/14

5 facts about repetitive strain injury | RSI

 

Repetitive strain injury (RSI) usually refers to pain and other symptoms felt in the hands, wrists and arms, often gradually becoming more noticeable. Unfortunately, many people continue in the same vain at work without seeking advice or changing their habits, resulting in a persisting sensitivity that can become very limiting — often in relation to typing and writing, but this can extend to any activity involving the arms and hands. RSI is also called a work related upper limb disorder (WRULD).

1. Despite the pain and other symptoms (e.g./ pins and needles, numbness), there can often be no significant tissue damage or injury. Hence, debatably it is not actually an injury or even a ‘strain’.

2. It is common for the pain and symptoms to be noted on both sides. Despite the problem beginning on one side, communication within the neuroimmune system gran underpin ‘mirroring’.

3. There can be an altered sense of the hands — feel cooler (the brain perhaps not recognising the hands as self and changing blood flow), bigger, detached. You should report any experience to your healthcare professional because these are important features that guide the type of treatment and training you need.

4. Hypermobile joints are common within the overall picture — BUT, hypermobility is not a problem per se. Just look at all the top athletes. They are hypermobile! You may be a bit clumsy and walk into furniture. Body sense should be re-trained or developed if so.

5. RSI or the like can be embedded within other painful problems such as IBS, migraine, widespread joint and muscle pain. It is not just office workers, text-maniacs and computer users that suffer, new mums are commonly affected with the host of repetitive (new) chores.,

If you think you are suffering with RSI or a similar persisting pains, come and see me to find out how to overcome the problem — RSI clinic in London, call 07518 445493.

If you are a business that is keen to prevent RSI and other persisting pains (e.g./ neck pain, back pain), come and talk to learn about strategies that you an put into place to save money and increase productivity: 07518 445493

19Dec/13

Low back pain & neck pain | a very common problem

Most of us will experience low back pain and neck pain at some point in our lives. In fact, it is unusual not to have some aches and pains around the spine. With back and neck pain being so common in the modern world, you would assume that treatment is very effective. Sadly not.

There are different scenarios with back and neck pain, often either a nasty acute type pain or a lower level nagging pain that grinds on and on. A further common situation that I see is a persisting back pain that is part of an overall picture of widespread pain. Accompanying the pain is altered movement and muscle tension that adds to the unpleasantness. This is mainly due to the effects of overactive muscles that are being told to protect the area — acids released, reduced oxygen levels; both of which can excite local nerve endings (nociceptors) that send danger signals to the brain.

When a particular movement or action triggers the pain, we assume that this is dangerous and the cause of the pain. This is not quite the case. There is a lead up to the moment of pain when the nervous system is becoming sensitised, often slowly, over a period of time. This is called priming. Then, at a given moment, when the system is close to the threshold of becoming excited, a normally innocuous movement just tips the physiology over the line with a consequential range of protective responses that include pain, spasm and altered movement.

Sometimes there are changes in the tissues or ‘damage’. Again there is often an assumption that when the pain begins, this is the point of injury. This can be the case but equally the changes in the tissues may have been evolving over a period of time. The reality is that you will never really know, even with a scan. The scan may show a disc bulge or herniation but does this describe your pain? Or tell you when the problem began? No.

Unpleasant as the body responses are, they are normal, necessary and part of the way in which the body defends itself, largely organised by the brain. The pain draws our attention to the area that the brain wants us to protect. When the pain is severe of course our attentional bias will be towards the region most of the time — hypervigilance. How we think about the pain will determine the impact, level of suffering and influences the trajectory of the problem as our thoughts and beliefs about back pain will impact upon what action is taken. In the very acute stages, there may not be a great choice when the pain and spasm is strong, thereby limiting movement vigorously. It is good to know that this phase, as horrible as it can be, does not last too long in most cases if the right action is taken based on good knowledge.

It is always advisable to seek help and guidance: know that nature of the problem, how long it can go on, what is normal and what you need to do to ensure a good recovery. Generally, understanding that pain is not an accurate indicator of tissue damage — see video here — , controlling the pain with various measures in the early stages and trying to move as best you can starts off on the right footing. It can be scary when the pain is severe, so calming strategies really help to reduce the impact — anxiety is based on thinking catastrophically about the problem, thereby triggering more body defences in pain and tension. Mindful breathing and other relaxation skills should be practiced regularly.

In summary, back pain and neck pain are very common. The primary message here is that the acute stages are unpleasant and often distressing but they do not last long in most cases if the problem is managed well with understanding to reduce concerns and to minimise the threat value, good pain control, simple movement strategies and a little treatment to ease tension and change the sensory processing in the body so that it feels more comfortable.

If you have low back pain or neck pain, especially persisting pain or widespread pain, come and see us to find out how you can change your pain and get moving again: call 07932 689081

 

13May/13

Posture | Embodiment of what we are doing and thinking

Back pain and neck pain are very common and costly problems, both personally and economically. Many people suffer bouts of such pain and some continue to suffer on-going pain and consequences.

Posture is often quoted as being a causative factor although this is really too simple to explain back pain and neck pain. Of course, when we are suffering pain, the way in which we sit and stand has a bearing upon the pain with some positions making the pain worse and some offering relief. In very acute episodes or during a flare-up, an unfortunate individual may find it very difficult to find any comfortable position although this is usually short lived – if you are currently experiencing such pain you should seek the advice of your doctor or healthcare professional as early pain relief, perhaps by medication, is very important for early coping.

When we are sitting in a particular form, we embody what we are doing and thinking about. This means that the effects of maintaining a position are not purely a consequence of the posture but rather a combination of the body’s configuration and what is going on physiologically. In particular, I am referring to the effects of stress when we perceive a situation to be out of our control. This in combination with the particular posture is what leads to pain and discomfort in the ‘end organ’, the musculoskeletal tissues of the body.

What emerges when we sit for long periods at the desk is a consequence of how we are sitting, what we are thinking and how we are feeling

There are some fundamental factors to address when treating low back pain and neck pain. These include education about the pain mechanisms and the problem to reduce the threat and empower the individual to be proactive and the maintenance of activity levels. Around this can be a range of therapies and strategies that should all point the compass towards the restoration of healthy movement and healthy metaphor, both emergent from the individual.

A significant consideration for developing healthy tissues and movement is posture as a construct of the aforementioned factors: position + cognitive/emotional state. Addressing this in detail is vital, especially for those who spend time at a desk, as this is a large chunk of their time. It is not simply a case of suggesting an ‘ideal’ posture but rather an active, nourishing approach to the physical, cognitive and emotional dimensions of pain.

For more details on our proactive postural programme for individuals and businesses call us now: 07932 689081 or email: [email protected]

 

 

19Dec/11

Healthy tissues in 1-2-3

The simple fact is that our tissues need movement to be healthy. By tissues I am referring to muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, fascia and skin. This does not need to be extreme movement but it must be regular and purposeful. Even without pathology, pain or an injury it is vital that the tissues are moved consistently throughout the day. It is likely that if you are recovering from a pain state, this movement will need to be ‘little and often’ to follow the principle of ‘motion is lotion’. I love this phrase. It was coined by the NOI Group guys and I use it frequently. At the moment I a considering some other phrases with similar meanings. If anyone has any suggestions please do comment below.

There are many types of movement from simple stretching to walking and more structured exercise such as yoga.  For convenience I talk to patients about the ‘themes’ of the treatment programme. In relation to movement there are three themes 1-2-3: specific exercises to re-train normal movement and control of movement, general exercise and the self-care strategies to be used throughout the day.

The specific exercises could include re-learning to walk normally, to re-establish normal control of the ankle or to concurrently develop confidence such as in bending forwards in cases of back pain. Normal control of movement is a fundamental part of recovery. When the information from the tissues to the brain is accurate, there is a clear view on what is happening, menaing that the next movement is efficient and so on.

General exercise is important for our health in body and mind. As well as reducing risk of a number of diseases, our brains benefit hugely from regular exercise. We release chemicals such as serotonin that make us feel good, endorphins that ease pain and BDNF that works like a miracle grow for brain cells. Gradually increasing exercise levels is a part of the treatment programme for all of these reasons.

Regularly punctuating static positions with movement nourishes the tissues and the brain’s representation of the body. The tissues will tighten and stiffen when they remain in one position for a long period of time, and more so when there is pathology or pain. Often there is already overactivity in the muscular system when we are in pain as part of the way the brain defends the body. This overactivity leads to muscle soreness that can be eased with consistent movement.

These three simple measure are behaviours. Behaviours are based on our belief system and therefore we need to understand why it is so important to move and re-establish normal control of movement as part of recovering from an injury or pain state. This includes tackling any issues around fear of movement and hypervigilance towards painful stimuli from the body. Our treatment programmes address these factors comprehensively, employing the biopsychosocial model of care and the latest neuroscience based knowledge of pain.

Email [email protected] for more information about our treatment programmes or to book an appointment.

21Oct/11

Using neuroscience to understand and treat pain

I love neuroscience. It makes my job much easier despite being a hugely complex subject. Neuroscience research has cast light over some of the vast workings of our brains and helped to explain how we experience ourselves and the richness of life. An enormous topic, in this blog I am briefly going to outline the way in which I use contemporary neuroscience to understand pain and how we can use this knowledge to treat pain more effectively. This is not about the management of pain, it is the treatment of pain. Management of pain is old news.

Understanding pain is the first step towards changing the painful experience. Knowing how the brain and nervous system operate allows us to create therapies that target the biological mechanisms that underpin pain. Appreciation of the plastic ability of the nervous system from top to bottom–brain to periphery–provides us with the opportunity to ‘re-wire’, and therefore to alter the function of the system and make things feel better. Knowing the role of the other body systems when the brain is defending us, is equally important. The synergy of inputs from the immune system, endocrine system and autonomic nervous system provides the brain with infomration about our internal physiology that it must scrutinse and act upon in the most appropriate way. We call this action the brain’s ‘output’ which is the responses that it co-ordinates to promote health and survival.

Excellent data from contemporary research tells us that understanding pain increases the pain threshold (harder to trigger pain), reduces anxiety in relation to pain and enhances our ability to cope and deal with the pain. We know that movement can also improve after an education session. This is because the perceived threat is reduced by learning and understanding what is going on inside, and knowing what can be done. The vast majority of patients who come to the clinic do not know why their pain has persisted, what pain really is, how it is influenced and what they can do about it themselves. For me this is the start point. Explaining the neuroscience of pain. Facts that we know people can absorb, understand and apply to themselves in such a way that the brain changes and provides a different experience.

It is the brain that gives us our experience of ourselves and the world around us. This includes the sensory and emotional experience of pain. The brain receives information from the body via the peripheral nervous system that suggests there is a threat to the tissues (input). In response, the brain must decide whether this threat is genuine based upon what is happening at the time, the emotional state, past experience, the belief system, gender, genetics, health status, culture and other factors. In the case that the brain perceives a threat, the output will be pain. The Mature Organism Model developed by Louis Gifford describes this beautifully (see below).

Pain is a motivator. It grabs our attention in the area of the body that the brain feels is threatened based upon the danger signals it is receiving from the tissues via the spinal cord. The brain actually ascribes the location of the pain via the map of the body that exist in the sensory cortex. On feeling the pain, we take action. This is the reason for pain. It motivates us to move, seek help or rest. Pain is an incredible device that we have for survival and learning, necessary to navigate life and completely normal. The brain constructs the pain experience and associated symptoms in such a way that we have to take note and do something about it immediately.

21Apr/11

Aches & pains, stresses & strains

 

Treatment Programme for life’s ailments

Aches and pains are a normal part of life, reminding us that we are doing too much, too little or something potentially injurious. Classically, sitting at the desk for hours, using a computer mouse repeatedly, texting and emailing on phones with small keypads, going from being sedentary all day to exercising furiously in the morning, at night or at the weekend, all can lead to aches and pains. Much of the time we expect this to be the case such as after a good workout, when re-starting at the gym or following an unusual bout of DIY. We can explain it, the pain has a meaning and often a short lifespan.

Whether we experience pain or not is not as simple as ‘we do some physical activity and then the tissues hurt’, but rather it comes down to the brain’s analysis of whether there is a threat to our tissues or not. So, we can do all sorts of activities, but it will only hurt when there is a perception of danger. The brain receives signals from the body tissues and organs, maintaining an ‘online’ monitoring system via a huge network of nerves that send messages to the spinal cord. These messages are then passed upwards to the brain for scrutiny. If, and that’s a big if, there is a sense of danger based on this information and past experience, the brain will protect the affected area and make it hurt. If there is no perceived danger, it simply won’t be painful. Good examples of this are phantom limb pain that is a sense of pain in a limb that is no longer present and battlefield stories of severe trauma yet no pain. The long and the short of it is that pain is not an accurate indicator of tissue damage as borne out in huge amounts of research that has been done over the years. This knowledge has advanced our ability to understand pain and treat it in a better way (for further information see our page dedicated to pain).

The aches and pains that we feel are influenced by a number of proven factors. These include stress, emotional state, fatigue, hormones, the immune system, past experience, culture, our beliefs about pain, gender and expectations to name but a few. Understanding this is very important for successful management and treatment as these factors need to be identified and dealt with appropriately. This approach is called the biopsychosocial model of care and deemed to be the best way of looking at and treating pain. We consider the biological mechanisms, the psychology and social impact. For example, a violin player cuts his index finger: biology includes inflammation that hurts, healing and changes in blood flow; psychology that would be thought about how this will affect his/her ability to play, ‘it’s a disaster’, anxiety about the future, I believe this will heal quickly; and social impact considers the fact that he/she cannot play and therefore there is no income this wee. Clearly there is more to it but this brief overview helps conceptualise the model and that the components are inter-related.

So the aches and pains of life are there and common and can become persistent, annoying, frustrating and affect ones ability to enjoy life. Our tolerance for the challenges we face may diminish and activity levels can drop and the downward spiral can begin. It could be that it is an old injury that recurs periodically or improved but never really resolved. Whatever the scenario, if the aches and pains, stresses and strains of life are too loud and bothersome or just there in the background nagging away, we have a programme for you that provides integrated treatment, strategies to develop resilience, relaxation and education so that you can understand what is happening to increase awareness allowing for change. The course is based on the latest understanding of pain, stress and health to offer informative, active, fun and effective ways of enjoying your body and life.

The basic programme consists of an assessment to determine the nature of the problem(s) followed by six 30 minute sessions. During these sessions you will receive an explanation of the problem including the causes and influences, treatment (this can include soft tissue massage, joint mobilisation, acupuncture), an exercise programme to focus upon stretching, mobilising or strengthening particular body regions, mindfulness techniques and breathing exercises. The programme parts create a synergy that targets body, brain and mind for better physical and psychological health.

Having completed the programme you are welcome to add sessions for ‘top ups’ on a individual or a single session basis.

To book, call now 07518 445493

Please note that if further investigations or a referral to see a consultant are required, a letter will be provided and recommendation made so that this can be actioned rapidly. Subsequently the programme or specific treatment can be started.

31Jan/11

Mindfulness for stress reduction

Mindfulness is becoming increasingly popular. This is good because of the benefits from regular practice that include improved concentration, focus, clarity of thought, reduction in negative thought streams and stress related problems. Pain falls into the last category as stress and pain often come hand in hand. In fact, pain is a stressor when it is perceived to be out of the control of the individual.

Stress refers to the body trying to restore balance physiologically. The bottom line is the perception of a situation. When our brains a working out what is going on inside of us and to us, if there is a perceived threat it will respond. We are then conscious of pain, discomfort, ‘butterflies’ and a host of other emotions with physical manifestations. Physical stress occurs when we exercise, sit too long and drink too much coffee to name but a few. Psychological stress happens in response to harassment, thinking negatively and ruminating on an argument for example.

The problem lies in the fact that the brain responds to perceived threats whether they really exist or not. If you play the tape of an argument with the boss, you experience the genuine feeling of rage and anger as very real chemicals are being released and giving you the same feelings. Therefroe an on going perception of threat leads to chronic stress as the brain and body try to restore balance. The persistent release of chemicals relating to stress can affect tissue health and maintain the cycle of sensitivity. We already know that thinking negatively has a measurable effect upon the immune system (catastrophising leads to an increase in IL-6 that impacts upon IL-1 and TNF that both have a role in inflammation), therefore for a number of reasons it is important to develop some skills in managing stress.

Mindfulness offers such an approach and if used well can be extremely beneficial in situations of stress and pain. At Specialist Pain Physio Clinics we use this technique and cover some basic skills to enable increased control, reduction in stress and anxiety and a stepping stone to deeper practice that has wide ranging healthy benefits.

NB/ The has been some confusion recently with comparisons of mindfulness to breathing. Mindfulness is mindfulness, breathing is breathing, they are not the same.

For more information read Matthieu Ricard’s Art of Meditation.

20Jan/11

Treatment for pain relief and relaxation

Our treatment programmes target the pain source(s) by working out the type of pain that you have. This is the most modern way of reliving pain and is known as a ‘pain mechanism’ approach. It has been described in the scientific press for medication (pharmacology) and because we love science at Specialist Pain Physio, we adopted the principles. Basically it means that through your description and the examination we can work out the main drivers such as inflammation, the immune system and stress, and the devise personal strategies and treatment techniques to deal with the problems.

Our aims are:

  • To relieve pain
  • To ease suffering
  • Restore activity levels
  • Help return to work, sports and other activities
  • To relieve stress and anxiety related to the pain & injury
  • Reduce the risk of recurring injury & pain
  • Promote health & wellbeing
  • Maximise your potential physically & psychologically

Appointments 07518 445493