Category Archives: Pain beliefs


I am in pain

We often say I am in pain but does this really describe what is happening. Knit-picking perhaps, but I think that what we say, the words we use and the way that we use them are fundamental to being human and who we are as individuals. The innumerable phrases that have been passed down the generations will have their origins in a time was very different. So how relevant are they now? And how useful?

Someone says to you, I am in pain and instinctvely you know what they mean. You cannot possibly know what they feel or how they are feeling it, but you know that they are feeling something unpleasant and want you to know about it. There is a point to telling others about your pain, perhaps to seek help or advice, to gain sympathy or to give reason for non-participation for example. These are all accepted reaons for sharing, and would typically be known as part of the social dimension of pain.

However, we cannot really be ‘in’ pain. We can feel pain, pain can emerge from our very being (this includes our body) and pain can hurt, but you cannot be in pain. You can be in a house, a car or tent. Being in something suggests that you can get out. If you say that you are in pain, it suggests that you can get out of pain. Now, pain changes and is transformed (we are not in a constant state of anything, hence pain comes and goes like any other state–pain is part of a protective state), but you cannot get out of pain because you cannot be in pain. There is no entrance or doorway to pain that once you have entered requires you to find an exit.

Should we change our terminology and what effect would that have? I don’t think it will really change anytime soon, however when clinicians are thinking about the pain being described by an individual, it is more accurate to  consider the whole person from where the pain emerges in a particular location, with the underpinning biology involving many systems upstream of the lived experience. A story book requires a reader, words on a page and the book to be bound together. The book is the body that is read yet the reader must take the words and create a meaning, a story that makes sense, lived in his or her whole person–a beautiful description is felt and lived through the whole person involving complex biology that is a blended mind-body; embodied cognition. Our body is a story book yet the story is our experience. Changing the terminology will occur with time and as the understanding of pain evolves.

The growth of pain understanding is vital as a basis for informed choices and treatment choices–one of the biggest reasons for chronic pain being the number one global health burden is the lack of understanding, whereby the medical model continues to predominate treatment choices; i.e./ target treatment at the place where pain is felt in the body. This misses the point of pain as part of the way in which a whole person protects himself/herself, and indeed much of our common language contributes to an old belief system that our generation has been brought up upon. Evolution takes time and of course a new and more complex explanation to replace one that is simple, will be threatening. Nonetheless, this is where we will go as people experience failed treatments or do not reach the expected outcomes alongside developments in pain science that become increasingly known in the public domain. This knowledge will demand that things continue to change, and as a result so will our language. As is common though, this is a two way street and if we take opportunites to change our language, then we are using the social dimensions of pain to create learning opportunities that lay the foundation for perceptual shifts. And there’s one thing that changes pain, and that’s a perceptual shift.

Richmond with Georgie Standage co-founded UP | Understand Pain, a campaign to raise awareness of the problem of pain and what we can do to overcome pain — we are no longer managing pain, we are changing pain and coaching people back to a meaningful life. The next UP event is in October when more than 1000 singers will be performing; even more than last time! 

The Pain Coach Programme is a comprehensive strengths based approach to overcoming pain. Call us on 07518 445493 to start your programme.


Pain and compassion

puppy love by Porsche Brosseau

puppy love by Porsche Brosseau

Pain and compassion are being explored at a forthcoming British Pain Society Conference, so I thought that I would comment on a couple of important aspects.

Firstly, as clinicians compassion plays a role in our desire to guide and treat others in pain and most likely coloured our choice to become a health-carer in the first instance. Secondly, I find that the vast majority, if not all those I see are compassionate people to everyone (or most!) except themselves. Here are some brief thoughts.

Compassion is defined as ‘inclining one to help or be merciful’ (Oxford Dictionary). The Dalai Lama describes compassion from a Buddhist viewpoint: ‘Compassion is said to be the empathetic wish that aspires to see the object of compassion, the sentient being, free from suffering’. There must be an object of compassion that is another individual or of course the one that is often forgotten, oneself.

The feeling of compassion is often described as a warmth across the chest; the type of feeling associated with seeing a small, defenceless animal, or perhaps a newborn child. This feeling enhances our empathy, which drives actions of kindness towards that being. As a clinician there are clear benefits of cultivating a compassionate approach towards patients who suffer the consequences of pain, particularly on-going pain. Certainly compassionate listening and actions are skills to be nurtured as they envelope the therapeutic encounter with essential authenticity. Compassion also creates an environment and a context for effective and skilful communication; an openness that encourages the patient to express themselves as themselves, revealing the challenges that can be surmounted with a joint therapeutic effort. The importance of the clinician being kind to himself or herself is akin to that of the patient. Looking at ways to grow and flourish, to be a better clinician requires acknowledgement of the current standing, acceptance and a desire to improve, yet without self-criticism.

Frequently patients will illustrate their harshness towards themselves. This punishment and criticism fosters angst, frustration, anger and other negative emotions that are draining, damaging and ultimately wasteful as energies are put into everything but clear thought and action towards improvement. At any given time, one does his or her best based on their knowledge and skills — everyone makes mistakes, which the wise learn from and see the opportunity in errors, the opportunity to develop. Learning to be kind to oneself, often breaking a habit of some years (many people I see are perfectionists; but in some arenas this trait is very useful and a strength that enables high performance resulting in success; so let us learn how and when to utilise it), is a vital part of learning how to overcome pain, especially persisting pain.

Here are several videos that are useful to that end:

Learning about compassion towards oneself and others is part of the Pain Coach Programme for overcoming and transforming persisting and chronic pain. Call us to book your appointment: 07518 445493 | Clinics in London | Sessions available on Skype on request


Messages about pain

Important Message by Patrick Denker |

Important Message by Patrick Denker |

When someone seeks help for their pain and injury, they will be given messages about pain that are potent. They are told a, b and c, and hence often take these messages and become them via their own thinking and actions. This is the reason why the early messages about pain need to be accurately based on what we really know about pain and that they motivate people to focus on what they must do to recover. The way in which we think about and hence perceive our pain has tremendous impact on the extent of suffering and how we actually experience the pain itself. Put simply, a lack of understanding that can create concern, worry and anxiety, will raise the threat value of the whole situation, and therefore the body (you) protects further, including an increase in the intensity of the pain itself. All these experiences of thought and action are chemically based — depending on which chemicals are working with which receptors determines how the body systems are functioning and underpinning what we live out.

So what should the messages contain?

1. Facts about pain and the injury, including the poor relationship between the two, that pain is part of a protective response that includes other protective means such as altered movement (e.g. limping) and that the way we think and feel influence both the amount of suffering we endure as well as the actual intensity of the pain itself.

2. The person has an active role in overcoming pain — based on (new perhaps) understanding of pain and person, what is happening, why it is happening and what action needs to be taken.

3. Other relevant information to develop the person’s understanding, and in so doing, gain their trust, respect to follow a programme that motivates through positive thinking and experience towards their vision of how they want to be and live their life.

Undoubtedly, as with any problem we must understand it before we can deal with it. In the case of chronic pain, explanations incorporate the biological changes, behavioural changes and cognitive-emotional changes afoot and how to address these comprehensively–whole person.

The whole person approach recognises that there are many inter-related dimensions of that person, and that we must consider the individual as a whole rather than a back or a knee or any other structure or pathology. The experience of pain and other symptoms is a conscious leap from the underpinning biology, and no-one fully understands how our bodies, our ‘selves’, make that leap from biology to the lived experience. However, listening carefully and compassionately to the individual provides many clues as to why they are in protect and survive mode, emerging as pain and other symptoms, behaviours, thought processes and ultimate actions. This becomes the start point for designing a bespoke, proactive programme, beginning with the right messages.

Whilst the first meeting may identify where the actions taken by the individual are incongruent with recovery, it is worth remembering that this person is doing their very best with the knowledge and skills that they possess at that moment. Everyone has strengths with which they attained success in a range of arenas. Elucidating these strengths creates a start point and also allows that person to know and start feeling that they have the tools to overcome pain, but need guidance on how to best use them. That is our job.

This approach is part of The Pain Coach Programme for individuals to overcome their pain problem and for clinicians seeking to learn the Pain Coach approach for chronic pain. Contact us for more details if you are suffering chronic pain or a therapist wanting to advance yourself in the field of chronic pain: 07518 445493


Pain and the perfectionist

By LordEfan |

By LordEfan |

Pain and the perfectionist could be a title of a book in which the character suffers on-going pain, seeking to conquer himself using his perfectionist traits. I know of no such book, but I do know that a significant number of people who I see with chronic pain are perfectionists.

Like most things though, it is how you look at it that makes the difference. Most traits that we exhibit have a benefit and a purpose in our lives in one quarter but can be problematic in other arenas. Perfectionism is no different.

Whilst being a perfectionist would be highly adaptable when studying the detail of a document, arranging a bouquet or organising an event, when this spills over into being hard upon oneself, it can push the individual too far. Compassion must start with the self — being kind to yourself. It is all too common that people are self-critical, either overtly or more frequently via the inner dialogue. Continually telling yourself that you are not good enough or that you will never achieve is the exact opposite of believing in yourself. If there is one characteristic that is vital in overcoming pain, it is the belief that you can do it.

The sense of never being quite good enough is a safety mechanism of sorts. On the flip side it may drive the individual to practice or work harder, and this is acceptable if it does not cause angst and on-going stress that is incongruent with health and a feeling of wellness. Chronic stress is a significant issue in the modern world, having a huge role in many of the common problems that we see today — e.g. functional pain syndromes such as IBS, headache, migraine, functional abdominal complaints. Chronic stress causes the body to set itself in an inflammatory state, and there is a constant preparedness for action to fight or run away from a wild animal. Except there is no wild animal, just our thoughts and interpretations. These we can learn to observe rather than become embroiled within with techniques such as mindfulness.

Perfectionism is a strength that we can foster as part of the programme of overcoming pain. I base my treatment and training programmes upon your strengths as these are what we use in life to succeed, and succeed you will by nurturing these within an action plan that takes you back to a meaningful life. It is easy to say don’t be too hard on yourself, yet difficult to master. But it is possible to harness the strength of perfectionism and use it to overcome your pain.

For information about the Pain Coach Programme to overcome chronic pain, call 07518 445493. The Pain Coach Programme is also a learning programme for clinicians who want to develop their skills, either 1:1 mentoring or in small groups. Call us for details or email [email protected]



Pain and guilt

You are beautiful by La Melodie

You are beautiful by La Melodie

Many people who I meet will describe their pain and guilt. Naturally they come to tell me about their lived experience of pain and how this impact upon their lives. They narrate a story in which they are the person who has lost their sense of self, who they think that they should be and how they think their life should be. In answer, I will seek to make sense of their story with explanations and a route forward (the coaching and treatment programme). Then we encounter the challenge to surmount feelings of guilt at the thought of dedicating time to ‘me’ in order to overcome the pain. How will I do these things when I have to…….? You can fill the gap with work, be a wife, be a husband, be a mother etc etc. Familiar feeling?

So here is the deal. You actually deserve to get better because you are worth it. One of the common themes in chronic pain is that the sense of self-worth diminishes, if it was not already ground down by life’s experiences over the years. This is certainly something that needs to be worked upon as part of the coaching programme, along with self-belief, self-efficacy, confidence, focus, resilience and motivation to name a few.

How can we do the things that we need to do in both thought and action, if we do not prioritise? It is your job to get better.

A clever programme will easily interlace into your life rather than be seen to be something separate. We have a lived experience and the development of self to change health and pain is moment to moment. It is as simple and as hard as developing new habits using the skills and strengths that you already possess. A clever programme will use your strengths to overcome your pain. And by overcome, I mean resume a meaningful life, and what this means to you — not the clinician or anyone else, you. When you feel like you, according to you, then all those around you will benefit as well. So as much as you may begin by viewing the prioritisation of the programme as being selfish (and I hope you do not now, or did not, but soon you won’t), to be you again requires that you do make this one of your top 3 priorities. You are not separate from your environment or the people in that environment, and hence you need to focus on you and those around you need to develop their thinking about this as well.

For this reason, I encourage partners and family to come to some sessions, or even come on their own to develop their thinking and to see their role in your recovery. You could even start by asking them to read this blog.

To be you is not to be selfish but a vision to be achieved.

For further information about the Pain Coach Programme to overcome pain, call now 07518 445493 — you deserve it!


The art of batting

With the cricket season about to begin, I thought it timely to use a batting metaphor to illustrate how thinking can obstruct free flowing movement. For the cricket lover, there is great joy watching a batsman lean into his front foot, head towards the ball, eyes focused through the grill, as the bat arcs guided by fast hands, the wood kissing the leather ball in the briefest of seconds before accelerating to the rope.

Seeing an expert perform in any field has the common denominator of ease. They make it look so natural and effortless, whether playing a musical instrument, dancing or stroke play. The movements have been rehearsed and honed thousands and thousands of times before, the motor patterns in the brain grooved with the synaptic efficiency that results from hours of practice.

Most people are ‘experts’ at walking. We don’t think about it in this way necessarily but the walk is a movement pattern that has been practiced since we started, well… walking. It is only when things go wrong does the motion change. A limp for example. Walking can also change when we start thinking about it rather than naturally, unobservedly going about our business of ambulation. Note how much activity is afoot from the simple stepping action, involving the whole body, the whole person and his or her mood and the environment in which the individual resides at that moment. Of course, the perception or even attention upon the environment is affected by one’s mood — ‘how did I get here? I didn’t even notice’.

With movement and posturing being an expression of who we are and what we are thinking and feeling, there are characteristic styles that identify us to others and to self — you will recognise a friend from afar by the way he walks; and you will know that you are moving well and normally by detecting self, or rather when the self feels different. When all is well, the act of walking is not noticed, yet as I have said, this changes at the point of being conscious of how the arms swing, the legs lift and the body sways, and if heavy or light thoughts crowd into the mind.

It is well known that the batsman must concentrate on the ball until the last: ‘watch the ball onto the bat’. This happens quickly and hence any unnecessary thought can affect the end result. ‘He looks quick’, or listening to the banter from behind the stumps, and oops, it could be the long march back to the pavilion. Some high quality players have in recent years been subject to depression, which has certainly affected their ability to hit the ball. Thoughts crowding in. The art of batting then, is a mindful task whereby the mind must be quiet to allow for the free flow of movement. There is no difference between this and movement on a day to day basis.

The person suffering chronic pain moves differently. The body is protecting itself, the individual consciously protects and hence simple movements, once take for granted, are now anticipated, planned and executed in a timid and fearful way. This pattern is encoded and passed back into the sensorimotor system to plan the next movement and other possible actions that the brain predicts may happen. Where this does not match the normal pattern, a threat value is created, evoking activity in the salient network that detects when something is physiologically amiss. Part of this network’s role is to trigger responses that motivate behaviours and attention to the relevant areas of the body. Once satisfied that all is well, protection is lifted and wellness ensues.

Movement is fundamental to health and feeling normal. We can tell when someone is not well in many cases by the way they move and hold themselves. To restore flow and ease of movement often requires that we target fears and anxieties that are caused by thoughts that can obscure. Much as the batsman needs clarity, so does the person overcoming pain. And whilst sometimes we need to think about the way we move, most times we just desire natural, unconscious and purposeful action that results in a reward.

In rehabilitation and in overcoming chronic pain, just like batting, we need a clear mind so that we can focus upon the job in hand. Thoughts come and go, but if we let them interfere with the action rather than letting them pass, there will not be the same result. Practicing mindful movements where you learn the skill of focused attention allows for the right kind of concentration and attention, eradicating the effects of fear and anxiety that can so commonly be associated with normal movements and activities. Understanding pain is another key element of reducing these fears and their potent effects.

To set up the right conditions for recovery, we must consider beliefs, thoughts and fears as well as the environment and the vision of where the person wants to be. From here we can create an individualised programme that addresses all dimensions of the pain experience: the physical, the cognitive and the emotional; and how theses dimensions interact. This is the complete and whole person approach to pain that is necessary and indicated by modern pain neuroscience.

For informationPain Coach Programme or to book onto the Pain Coach Programme, please call us on 07518 445493




My top 5 pain myths

In my view, it is the lack of understanding that causes so many problems with pain in terms of how pain is viewed, treated and conceived as being changeable. Pain can and does change when you understand it and think about it in accordance with the modern (neuroscience-based) view and have a definite plan that is followed with big action towards a vision of where the you want to be. Having seen many individuals put this into practice, I am confident that the start point is always how we think because this is from where the action emerges. The right thinking begins with understanding your pain.

In the light of this, here are my top 5 pain myths:

1. Pain comes from a ‘structure’ in the body — e.g./ a disc, a joint, a muscle.

2. The amount of pain suffered is related to the amount of damage or the extent of the injury.

3. Pain is in your mind if there is no obvious cause in the body — i.e./ via scans, xrays etc.

4. There are pain signals from the body to the brain.

5. Pain is separate from how you feel or think.

There are many others.

Now, this all sounds rather negative and I like to turn this on its head and look at how we can positively influence health in order to change pain. The programmes that I create with individuals for them to follow are all about creating the right conditions in the body systems, all beginning with the right thinking that often challenges existing ideas and notions about pain.

Struggling with pain? Persisting pain? Call me 07518 445493 | Specialist clinics for pain and persisting pain in London


Top 5 back pain myths

Welcome to my top 5 back pain myths. What are these you may ask?

Around pain and in particular back pain, there are many phrases and explanations used to try to educate the patient. These have been handed down through the generations and can appear to be logical. Fortunately, the science has moved on and we know better.

Here are 5 common beliefs that have been challenged:

**I have not included the myths of core stability because this has been well documented previously. Pulling in your abs does not solve the complexity of back pain, especially chronic back pain.

1. Bending is dangerous

2. Discs slip

3. Nerves are trapped

4. Pain comes from facet joints, discs etc

5. Low back pain is in isolation to everything else in your life.

Comments below:-


1. Bending is normal. Sure it can hurt when the back is being protected, and when we have back pain the muscles are guarding and this can reduce the amount of movement. In the acute phase, most positions and movements hurt, but this is protection and it is meant to be unpleasant in order to motivate action. Moving little and often, changing position and breathing all help to keep blood and oxygen flowing.

2. Discs are not actually discs and they do not go anywhere. Yes they can be injured like any other tissue. They can bulge and affect the local environment, and they can herniate, triggering a healing response — both can hurt because protection is initiated. The fact that there are so many nerve endings around the area mean that sensitivity can arise in a vigorous manner. Again, this is a normal if highly unpleasant experience. Remember that a 1/3 of the population have such changes in their spine but without any pain. The body as a whole must rate the situation as threatening for it to hurt.

3. Nerves do not get trapped. Local swelling and inflammation can sensitise the nerves meaning that they send danger signals. There is not too much room either, so if there is swelling or a bulge, this can affect blood flow to the nerve itself and cause sensitivity to movement and local chemical changes. Again, this can happen without pain as well, so it is down to the individual’s body systems and how they respond. Understanding, gradually moving and breathing can all help ease you through this phase.

4. Pain is whole person and involves many body systems that are protecting you. There is no pain system, pain centre or pain signalling. Pain is part of a protective response when the body deems itself to be under threat. We feel pain in the body but the underlying mechanisms are upstream of the body part that hurts. To successfully overcome pain we must go upstream as well as addressing the health of the body tissues.

5. Low back pain is embedded within your lifestyle. It is not separate to how you live — e.g. lack of exercise, postures, work, stress, emotional state, previous experiences, understanding of back pain, gender, genetics, just to name a few. This maybe more complex, but this provides many avenues for overcoming pain.

Suffering with persisting back pain? Have other seemingly different problems such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), headaches, migraines, other joint pains, muscular pains, pelvic pain, jaw pain, recurring bladder infections? Contact me today to learn how you can move forward and overcome your pain: 07518 445493


Pain – the unseen force

“Do we see the hundred-thousandth part of what exists? Look, here is the wind, which is the strongest force in nature, which knocks men down, destroys buildings, uproots trees, whips the sea up into mountains of water, destroys cliffs, and throws great ships onto the shoals; here is the wind that kills, whistles, groans, howls–have you ever seen it, and can you see it? Yet it exists.” Guy De Maupassant – the monk talking to the author at Mont Saint-Michel.

Pain, have you ever seen it, and can you see it? The unseen power of pain that is the cause of suffering is one of our greatest enigmas. We are understanding where pain comes from with greater precision but with every painful experience being unique, the pattern of activity in the brain is rightly different on each occasion. The widespread networks of neurons that are active when we are in pain are not specific to hurting, there is no pain centre. It is fascinating that we can see similar brain activity during a pain that results from nociceptive stimulation of the body and from social isolation. Neither pain can be seen from the outside, only the facial expression and verbalisation with the hundreds of words that can describe the feeling.

Is this the reason why people are disbelieved? Because pain cannot be seen. How can anyone truly measure the pain of another? Hurting is subjective. I know and only I know how much it hurts and how it affects me. All too often a patient describes returning to work and feeling a sense that colleagues do not believe or understand their suffering. This can only increase the threat and elucidate further protective responses that feed into the cycle of thoughts–physical responses–emotions–thoughts.

Thoughts cannot be seen but they are real as they play in the mind, each one creating a body response: “I am hungry,”, the stomach rumbles; “I don’t know my lines,” the stomach tightens and tingles; “I have pain, what does it mean?” the body tightens, the pain intensifies. None of these can be seen but they exist as much as the wind that can bend a tree.

Pain is embodied. We feel pain in a location in the body, even if the body part no longer exists such is the case in phantom limb pain. The brain networks ensure that we attend to the body region deemed in need of protection, creating the unpleasant experience that is pain so that action is taken to resolve the issue. In the early stages of an injury we actively protect the area by reducing movement, guarding with increased tension, warning others away with bandages and crutches. If you are travelling in London on the tube, this may even afford you a seat in rush hour. Persisting pain is not related to the extent of tissue damage, if it ever really is–for pain is not an accurate indicator of tissue damage. Chronic pain can feel like a fresh injury and drives the same behaviours: attention towards the painful area, guarding with the musculoskeletal system by tightening up the muscles–our natural armour, and avoidance. These behaviours feed back into the body systems that tell the brain something is up and the brain responds by continuing to protect. The cycle continues until there is a good reason for it to stop because a safe state has been achieved.

The challenge of tackling chronic pain means that we must look beyond the tissues. Exploring the brain, the immune system, the endocrine system, the motor system and how they interact to create our moment to moment experiences, the interface with life and how we respond at any given time. Nothing is permanent. Pain can come and pain can go. Cultivating the conditions for pain to change is the contemporary way of thinking and each person requires a unique approach based on sound scientific principles. So, much like we can harness the wind to create power, we can harness our biology to create a meaningful life.


To book an appointment or for information about our bespoke treatment and training programmes for pain and chronic pain, contact us today: 07932 689081




Uncomfortably numb

Feeling numb can mean that the self has lost its physical presence, or in an emotional sense, feelings have become blunted. These are both different constructs of loss for which we are compelled to seek an answer, often causing great angst. To step out of the normal sense of self is profound, difficult to define and causes suffering, whereby one has lost his or her role.

Physical numbness, if we can say this, will usually be described in terms of a body region feeling different. Altered body sense is a common finding in persisting pain states and in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In extreme situations, an out of body experience can be described where the person views themselves from an outsider’s perspective, in the third person. Often though, one refers to numbness as an area with reduced or no sensation. This can be objective such as when a stimulus (eg/ a pin prick; a light brush) is applied to the body surface and the sensation is lacking; or subjective when an area is felt to be numb yet a stimulus can be felt normally.

Although numbness in the the body is not painful per se, it is often tarnished with an aversive element that is described as unpleasant. This seems to be a particular issue in the extremities; conditions that involve nerves such as Morton’s neuroma. The mismatch between what is physically present and can be seen yet not felt, is difficult to understand and compute until the construct is explained.

An explanation: the body is felt via its physical presence in space, interacting with the immediate environment, yet is ‘constructed’ by networks of neurons in the brain. These neurons or brain regions are integrated, working like superhighways in many cases, thereby enhancing certain experiences or responses. At any given moment, the feelings that we feel and the physical sensations that we experience are a set of responses that the brain judges to be meaningful and biologically useful. The precision with which we sense our physical self and move is determined by accurate brain (cortical) representations or maps of the body. These maps are genetically determined yet moulded with experience, for example the way the hand representation changes in a violinist. Similarly, when pain persists we know that the maps change and thereby contribute to the altered body sense that is frequently described. It is worth noting that patients can be reluctant to charge their altered body experiences for fear of disbelief when in fact they are a vital part of the picture.

Emotional numbness is consistent with physical numbness in the sense of a stunted experience, whereby the expected or normal feeling in response to a situation fails to emerge. Rather, something else happens thereby creating a mismatch between the expected feeling and that which occurs. This experience manifests as a negative and is not discriminatory, affecting a range of emotional responses. A sense of detachment from the world often accompanies the lack of feeling. One could argue that this is a form of protection against feelings of vulnerability where we can also use our physical body, our armour, to shield us from the threat. Of course the threat is down to our own perception of a situation, another example of a brain construct. A situation is a situation but we provide the meaning based upon our own belief system and respond accordingly, often automatically.

Cultivating a normal sense of self is, in my view, the primary aim of rehabilitation and this encompasses both the physical and emotional dimensions. Both are influenced by thoughts, the cognitive dimension, that emerge from our belief system that drives behaviours. Hence, a programme design must reflect the interaction as it presents in the individual, most of the clues residing in the patient’s narrative that we must attend to in great detail. Validating the story and creating meaning is the first step towards a normal sense of self, to be enhanced with specific sensorimotor training and cognitive techniques such as mindfulness based stress reduction and mindfulness per se.

Wider thinking and practice is desperately required in tackling the problem of persisting pain. One of many responses to threat, pain is part of the way in which we protect ourselves along with changes in movement and other drivers to create the conditions for recovery. Sadly, many people ignore or miss these cues in the early stages through being fed inaccurate information about pain and injury. Many common ailments that can become highly impacting and distressing such as irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, pelvic pain, widespread musculoskeletal pain, anxiety, fertility issues and low mood, gradually creep up on us as the sensitivity builds over a period of time; the slow-burners. An answer to these problems that are typically underpinned by central sensitisation and altered immune-endocrine functioning, is to create awareness and habits that do not continually provoke ‘fright or flight’ responses that essentially shut down many systems in readiness for the wild animal that is not present. Actually, the wild animal is the emotional brain that when untamed can and does create havoc through the body, affecting every system.

The ever-evolving science and consequent understanding now puts us in a great position to trigger change. Initially discussing numbness, I have purposely drifted toward a more comprehensive view looking down on the complexity of the problems that we are creating in modern existence, manifesting as common functional pains. As much as we are knowing more and more about these conditions, we are actually describing the workings of the different body systems in response to a perceived threat that may or may not exist. This is always multi-system: nervous, immune, endocrine etc. and all must be considered when we are thinking about a pain response. But let’s not just think about pain as this is one aspect of the problem, one part of the emergent experience for the individual — think movement, think language, think body language, think ‘how can we reduce the threat’ for this individual so as to change their experience of their body responses. It is at this point that we see a shift and it is possible in all of us. We are designed to change and grow and develop, so let’s create the conditions for that change physically, cognitively and emotionally.