Category Archives: Pain Education

24Sep/18

Getting the best of athletes at the ACPSEM Symposium 2018

getting the best of athletes

Getting the best of athletes

Yesterday I was excited to speak at the ACPSEM Symposium 2018 at The Imperial War Museum — an inspiring place to inspire our best selves! Having been asked to talk about sensorimotor training, mindfulness and using hands for treatment, I shifted the title slightly: getting the best of athletes. To prepare the participants, not passive listeners, I wrote a brief premise: problem pain in sport.

Starts with the best of you

Getting the best of athletes and patients necessitates you getting the best of you. For athletes to reach peak performance they need those around them to also be at their peak. For physiotherapy this means delivering the best care, which we can only be doing in our own way when we are top of our own game. How can we achieve this?

Self-coaching is something we do all the time, primarily featuring what we tell ourselves — our inner dialogue. Now of course just because it is your dialogue based on your thinking and beliefs, does it mean that it is right? The art of self-coaching requires us to be skilful with our mind from where our actions follow. It seems easy to convince ourselves of something through simple repetition together with cognitive dissonance. Becoming familiar with the way your (embodied) mind works is a most valuable skill, as it is in the athlete to focus on performance.

You have probably noticed how the skills of self-coaching are the same as those we can use to get the best of our athletes and patients. In that we are also practicing makes it authentic.

What do you want?

What is your picture of success? We need to know where we are going and what we want to achieve. To really embed this within our thinking and actions, we must take the time to picture and feel it. Otherwise it is a mere doff of the hat and off we go again in a vague direction leading wherever.

Take a moment to write down your picture of success — what does it look like? What are you doing? Where? Who with? 

What are your strengths?

When you use your strengths you achieve results. Do you know your top 5 strengths? One way to clarify your strengths is to think of an example of when you were successful. What did you achieve? How did you achieve it? What part did you play?

Further useful questions to ask yourself could be, when am I in flow? When do I feel at my best? When do I quickly see the answers and a way forward?

Take a few moments to write a list of your strengths on a blank piece of paper. You can then establish your top 5

Like working a muscle, you can choose a strength each day to flex and practice.

Strengths-based coaching

Blending strengths based coaching with the latest understanding of pain is an approach to working with people suffering chronic pain, which I devised and continue to sculpt. This work will never be completed as we continue to develop our understanding on a route of mastery. To truly understand pain takes a working knowledge of neuroscience, biology, cognitive sciences, social sciences, consciousness, perception and more. This is not enough for then we need the wisdom to best use this knowledge.

Wisdom + knowledge = best actions

The essence of this approach is to focus on an individual’s strengths, whilst managing the consequences of their weaknesses. This is always about getting results by aiming to get the best out of the person and their circumstances. It is also about concentrating on what we can control and not what we cannot control.

What is pain?

We touched on this most vital of topics. Not in the detail of a full day Pain Coach Workshop, but to highlight the pinnacle of current thinking. I always emphasis the size of the global problem of pain as a backdrop. The understanding of pain must move forward in society where the problem is embedded in terms of personal suffering and the enormous cost.

There is no adequate brief explanation of pain. Pain is the greatest example of a conscious experience flavoured by individual stories, past experiences, expectations, emotions, context and meaning. Love is another. To understand a person’s pain to help them to understand their pain is to understand them and their style of life. How do they do life? How do they do pain?

ACPSEM Symposium 2018 at The Imperial War Museum

The question to ask, having listened deeply and compassionately to the narrative, is why have they not got better? Why the hold up? What is limiting their progress? We are always moving onwards, it’s the direction that is key. Which direction is the person going in and why? Establishing this allows us to create a new way forward together.

Pain is part of the way we protect ourselves. It is a perception and like all perceptions, can be thought of as an inference. Or our brain’s best guess based on a need to protect us, often just in case. Like anything that gains momentum, this builds over time as the perceived threat builds and the range of cues, triggers, contexts widen. Some may assume we are assuming that because of this understanding we are saying it is somehow unreal. This is definitely not the case. Pain is always real. Pain is always embodied. Pain is always individual, and what the person says it is. Let us never confuse this again.

Examples

The examples I used to demonstrate the Pain Coaching approach were those I was asked to discuss: sensorimotor training, hands on and mindful practice. Now of course these are not exclusive to Pain Coaching, which is the arching way of getting results. Pain Coaching is not a technique in itself so to speak.

Here is a short summary of the important points. Each example is about changing the person’s state. We practiced bounding and breathing in the session as a way of experiencing and feeling state change. Such change is always happening, but we are often unaware. The body is ever-present, yet our minds are often elsewhere. We can never be truly ourselves or well without being whole and connected, which is one of the reasons for being mindful.

As clinicians we are state changers, encouraging and inspiring others to change in their desired direction, day-to-day, moment to moment. This is why self-coaching is so important. The person has to be able to encourage and enable themselves in their world to get results.

Mindful

To be mindful is to be present in yourself, in this moment whilst being open to what is happening, whatever that may be. Mindfulness is accepting, non-judgemental and seeing things for what they are instead of being biased by the mind’s presuppositions. So often we worry about things that never happen that way.

How do you look after yourself? Each day?

Mindful practice enables us to become familiar with our mind, to face our suffering and transform it with compassion rather than try to avoid it or cover it up, which leads to more suffering. Change is what someone in pain wants, and to do so takes awareness, understanding and focus, all of which mindful practice nurtures. This can be through mindful breathing, mindful movements and body scans as examples.

Movement

Movement is fundamental for survival. In persistent pain, protect and survival states predominate, usually just in case as opposed to true need. This is one reason why being in touch with reality is so important. To be in touch with reality means you can perform a more accurate risk assessment, considering that we have no direct access to our biology, just inferred states (what I experience as my perception and reality).

Movement enables us to create our reality. The brain needs movement to actively gather sensory information from the world, thereby creating my perceptions. Anything that threatens my ability to move and act in the world is a threat and will maintain a state of protect. The perceived threat could be restriction, a thought (anticipating pain) or a lack of control due to altered body sense.

On moving we are fulfilling a prediction that has already been made. To re-train normal movement that features ease, action in perceiving (rather than thought about) and flow, is a necessary part of the programme. This starts with body sense training and re-establishing the clear boundary of me and the world, gradually building towards meaningful movements and activities, bringing in elements of control, strengths, endurance and flexibility.

Hypnotic hands

I jokingly talk about hypnotic hands. But in essence we are talking about the use of meaningful touch to bring about a state change. We can see and feel the change in someone when we use touch skilfully. This is a most useful state change that creates a new and pleasurable experience in an area of the body only ever thought of negatively. We also see changes in engagement with the body, re-interpretation of experiences, reduction in threat, and parasympathetic states. All of these are important steps in the right direction. We explore this is detail, creating experiences for each other, in the workshops.

Wrapping up

I like the talks I give to be interactive and experiential.This is one way to emphasise messages. Making it real. Being told something and experiencing something are completely different. Immerse yourself!

As physiotherapists we are pattern breakers, disruptors, state changers, perceptual sculptors. That is the reality and we must forge forward in the profession as we are in a great position to encourage and inspire people to achieve success and live their best lives.

On a route to mastery we seek to grow and develop ourselves as the knowledge tree ever-blooms. We must match this with wisdom, which is why I suggest kaizen and the beginner’s mind at the top of the session. We are each following our own MAP: mastery, autonomy and purpose.

‘Make each day your masterpiece’ John Wooden

If you are looking to develop your practices, to get the best of you and your patients and athletes, The Pain Coach Workshops give you the knowledge, skills and know how:

London 20th October

University of Central Lancashire, Preston 3rd November


 

20Sep/18

Problem pain in sport

Persistent pain and injury in sport

As a premise to the ACPSEM symposium on Saturday, attendees may find this brief blog useful before our session together. Problem pain in sport exists as a challenge, which we must face and address. Some still argue that pain in sport and exercise is somehow different to that of mainstream life. This can only be a limiting belief.

There’s a lot to get into the session, but we’ll give it a good go. It’s interactive, so be ready to get stuck in to get something out of it. This is not a lecture on how to do it. Whatever ‘it’ is. This is about getting the best of your athletes and patients. And there’s only one start point to that: you.

You and pain

What is your approach to chronic pain? Does it excite you or turn you away? What are your beliefs about chronic pain? Do you really understand it? Do you suffer? What do you do with your own pain? What are your biases? What are your limiting beliefs that hold you back? There are many more questions to work out where you are on this one. I’ll let you ponder for now.

We are going to look at your strengths. This is no different to your athletes who seek results. This is coaching, which you are using as a means to encourage and inspire the people who come to see you. How can we build on what works? We self-coach, moment to moment, keeping ourselves in a peak state to perform as a clinician. We are following our MAP: mastery, autonomy & purpose.

What’s your MAP? Why do you do what you do? Is it clear in your approach, attitude and actions? It should be

A task, if you like, is to write down your personal philosophy in 25 words or less ~ challenging?

The ways we get the best of ourselves each day are the same as those we encourage our patients to use to get the best of themselves. We coach them to coach themselves. There are many ways to do this and numerous practices and tools we fill their toolbox with as we create a programme for them to follow. We will look at a couple of important ones in the session as examples. We will also have a go at a few practices that I interweave into the session, just like I do in the full day version. This has to be immersive for you to learn — having the experience and feeling it fully.

Physiology?

Pain physiology won’t feature in any detail, but the modern thinking about pain and what we can do is a theme from start to finish. It’s worth considering that the more we focus on pain, the worse the outcome. The more we focus on the person, disrupting what is holding them back and creating new patterns and habits that head towards their picture of success, the better the outcome. The bigger picture is key. To understand pain is really delving into what it is to be alive, to be human, to be conscious and how we generate perceptions, which are our reality.

My hope is to give you a flavour of this rather huge but exciting area. Much needs to change if we are going to reduce the enormous global suffering (pain is the No 1 global health burden). Are you up for some disruption?

See you there!


Following this will be a Pain Coach Workshop in London on Sat Oct 20th and at The University of Central Lancashire on Sat Nov 3rd ~ if you want a whole day because you are looking to build your practice and understanding of pain, come along!

22Jan/18
Living well

Get back to living by living

Living well

It’s raining today (Monday 15th Jan). Not unusual for January but how does it make you feel when you look out of the window? Do you see possibility or problem? A wet day or a chance to jump in puddles? Most kids love jumping in puddles to see what happens and because that exploration is fun. As an adult, life is much more ‘serious’. To spend time splashing about many not even occur to you.

Having fun is a fundamental part of living a healthy and fulfilling life. Carefree movements and silliness in all their shapes and forms makes us feel free and easy, together with laughter, smiles and joy emerging from such acts dotted through each day. There is time for serious stuff, but this can be addressed with more focus, clarity and resilience when we are well. We learn, we bond, and we foster wellbeing through fun. However, this can all seem to be lost when our health and sense of self is threatened, so how can we get back to living when suffering chronic pain? Do we wait to feel better? Or do we actively do something to feel better? I would strongly argue the latter, but we need a way; the ‘know-how’.

Do we wait to feel better? Or do we actively do something to feel better?

Many people suffering chronic pain and other complex health problems are merely surviving or getting by. There is no sense of living. Instead, they are struggling through each day, perhaps with the occasional pleasure. There do not appear to be many choices because of the seeming limitations imposed by the pain, and even if there is some sunlight breaking through the clouds, it is short lived through the expectation that pain will soon return.

As with many of chronic pain’s associated consequences, to understand it informs new thinking, new decisions, new behaviours and hence new experiences. When the fears and worries diminish, opportunity arises. The fears naturally ease when pain is understood. Here are a few simple examples of what is known about pain:

  • pain and injury are not the same
  • pain and injury (damage to tissues) are poorly related
  • pain is part of the way we protect ourselves together with changes in thinking, feeling, movement and perception; all in the name of defence just in case the perceived, or predicted danger really exists (based on what we know, or ‘priors’).
  • pain is much better an indicator of the person’s state — i.e. in a state of protect; this is why tiredness, anxiety and perceived loneliness increase the likelihood of being in pain as all of these are potentially threatening
  • pain is embedded in our society
  • pain changes — when you monitor your pain, you realise the ebbs and flows; the notion of impermanence is useful here, as life would not be possible without our ability to transform and learn. All experiences come and go.

There is much more that we know about pain, and we are learning rapidly alongside the ever-deepening understanding of consciousness.

There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

With insight into the way we think, the way our mind works and being in touch with reality by being present and aware, one can begin to craft a way forward, step by step. This is the practice of being mindful, which is a way of living life, and really being here and now. These are not just words or concepts, but a reality. The past has gone and the future never comes; there is only this moment to live. Indeed this moment may be filled with suffering as this is unavoidable in life — this is the truth. But it may also be filled with joy and pleasure — this is also the truth. Rolling with the natural ups and downs of life then, becomes a skill that we can develop together with the practice of the skills of being well so that we build wellness and resilience.

In this sense, we need to go out into the world to ‘sample’ the sensory opportunities. In doing so we ‘update’ our perceptions and experiences. This is work in progress, so we take steps to build the effect as we become more skilful, just like learning a musical instrument. This is living by living.

There are likely to be parameters to work to if you are suffering chronic pain. One of the modern tenets for managing and overcoming chronic pain is that of creating a sense of safety (pain is about perception of threat, hugely involving the person’s interpretation of the situation, consciously and subconsciously). Understanding pain forms the basis of feeling safe to move and ‘act’, which then become the next prior experience(s) or reference point(s) (consciously and subconsciously); i.e. a building effect.

Along the way we associate with the success of the little wins, rewarding oneself at each step; rewarding the fact that you took action as you may not ‘see’ much change day to day. Think about dental health. You know that you must clean your teeth twice a day for 2 minutes. Not just once, but every day if you want to maintain a healthy mouth. Consider getting fit. Going to the gym once will do little. Going 3 times a week will build health and fitness, although you may not see much change for a few months.

Living by living

The start point with the principle of ‘living by living’ is to think about what you can do, even for a short time. This maybe walking, meeting friends (social interaction to counter perceived loneliness), simple movements or stretches to nourish the body tissues, reading, going to an event. Immediately you may think of the reasons why you CAN’T, but remember that these are the thoughts informing your decisions that you can change by associating with pleasure rather than ‘pain’. When you update your beliefs by truly understanding pain, you realise that you CAN do certain things, which you can build up, just like getting fit.

As you gradually fill your time with chosen and meaningful activities, the pain rents less space in your thinking and experience of life. The wheels start turning in the right direction, and you begin to associate more and more pleasure with your successes, even if you feel your pain at times. Pain is an action, a perception, a feeling, an emotion, a thought, all together as a means to make oneself safe. Whilst more complex that the (wrong) belief that pain resides in the tissues, this understanding means that we have a huge number of ways to transform the experience. Pain is embodied; we feel it in our body. But ‘I’ feel it, the person feels it, not the body part where I feel it — back pain: it is not my back that is in pain; I am in pain, feeling it in my back. Pain is ‘whole person’ and hence needs this approach.

*Action: think about something you CAN do, especially if it is fun. Picture it, visualise doing it and notice how you feel. Then try it, perhaps just a little to begin with so that you have a good experience that becomes a past experience to draw upon. We create these past experiences by living, hence getting back to living by living. Write down what you have done and how you feel that sense of success and achievement. Then build.


The Pain Coach Programme is a comprehensive approach to managing and overcoming chronic pain and easing the suffering of chronic health conditions. Contact us to book your initial conversation to learn about reaching your potential to live well. We look forward to hearing from you. t. 07518 445493

* You should always discuss new approaches with your healthcare provider.

14Oct/17
Whole person to treat chronic pain

Pain is a very human experience

Pain is a very human experience

Pain is a very human experience

It is easy to take being human for granted. It is what and who we are but it is also why and how we ‘do’ life. We do it in a very human way, which is somewhat unique to each of us, yet there are patterns.

Part of being human is being conscious. Now, we don’t have to be conscious to be human, but we do have to be conscious to be having the experience of being human. We have many, many experiences, and one of the commonest is pain. There are a few exceptions, but on the whole most people will experience some pain each day. Many people will experience a lot of pain each day. This can be to the point that they feel it is continuous.

Despite pain being embodied, it is somewhat elusive. It is as complex as we are, because it is part of who we are and how we survive. To say that pain is embodied means that we experience it in our body, for where else could it happen? There has been a huge focus on the brain in recent years and this continues. However, pain is not ‘in my brain’ as some people believe and say, instead it is emergent in me, and I am a whole unique person (WUP).

What is the purpose of pain?

Despite the complexity of pain in terms of biology and experience that together are a lived experience known only to the individual, there are simple reasons why we feel it. There is also the way that we do pain. This is our style and it typically resembles the style with which I ‘do’ my life. My life-style is the approach I take to life. This incorporates the way I face challenges and address my needs.

We are aware of our needs implicitly by the way we feel and the sensations we experience. These are our need states and we must attend to them to maintain homeostasis. Failing to do so results in a shift into a protect state. Basic need states include hunger, thirst, the urge for toileting and pain. When our basic needs are taken care of we can focus on what we are doing.

Of course there is a prioritising system, so if I am thirsty but a pack of hounds are chasing me, it would not be wise to stop for a drink. Also, we don’t always get it right and so needs may not be apparent or we may feel a need but not actually require any more. An example of the latter would be food when you may have the feeling of hunger, yet you have actually eaten enough.

Similarly with pain as a human need state, when this becomes a more persistent state, we can argue that the emergent experience does not fully represent the need. I would suggest that when someone is suffering chronic pain, this is normal and what is an experience that compels thinking and action to address certain factors in one’s life. However, the frequency, intensity and intrusion is not representative of the threat. Instead, it is a summating nagging that can become extremely intense at times as the evidence continues to suggest that something dangerous could, or is happening. This is basic biology at play, maintaining our survival.

Continuously we appraise our circumstances, our brains predicting what could be the best explanation for the sensory signals. This is what we experience consciously as the world around us as well as ourselves in the midst of this most vivid film. We are the actor, the director and the pundit all together somehow. There can be a flitting from one to the next but never wholly one nor tother.

Perfection is what you are striving for, but perfection is an impossibility

As well, we can often be the most critical of each, seeking the perfect performance, which of course rarely of ever exists. As John Wooden said, arguably the most successful coach ever and a wholly decent and insightful man, “Perfection is what you are striving for, but perfection is an impossibility. However, striving for perfection is not an impossibility. Do the best you can under the conditions that exist. That is what counts”.

Pain and the way we experience it, what we do with it, how we acknowledge it as part of us like any other experience or anatomical part makes us the very human that we are. Love and how we ‘do’ it is another fine example of a conscious experience that is so very human. The repertoire of descriptions, responses, narratives, poems, paintings and expressions pays homage to something that we need not fear, only address. For that is the purpose of pain.

How we address pain, how we approach something that is not just a feeling but an action and cognition, is as part of the experience as the experience itself. There is no separation. When people try to distance themselves from ‘it’, or fight ‘it’ or resist ‘it’, they only try to do this to pain with themselves. We cannot successfully fight ourselves. Instead, accepting and understanding the need state before taking action that proves our own safety. We have to actively generate that prediction, or actively infer by new understanding and new actions within a world that we, as Anil Seth describes ‘predict into existence’.

Let us never forget that we have remarkable potential because we are human. We can choose our approach to life once we have become aware of our existing style. If it does not work, if it does not bring health and happiness, you can choose another. And like anything that is important, we have to practice and take steps and learn along the way. This is what we are doing each moment as it unfolds and we are re-sculpting ourselves to make sense of the world and ourselves, where the two are interconnected. So why not feel a sense of control and practice skills of being well, each day, every day. This you can choose to do.

24Jul/17

Improve staff fitness

Improve staff fitness

Call to improve staff fitness by the Chief Executive of Public Health England, Duncan Selbie

To improve staff fitness is a great idea all round. According to The Observer yesterday, the cost of staff sickness is £29 billion a year. Denis Campbell reports upon Duncan Selbie’s call for companies to encourage healthy practices. Imagine freeing up some of that cash for education, including educating the next generation to look after themselves. We may laud ‘great results’ in A*’s and A’s but at what cost? We continue to see the figures for mental health rising in kids? I would rather my kid had a D, had tried his best and was all-round healthy. What use is an A if you are suffering depression?

“To improve staff fitness is a great idea all round”

The main target for this message seems to be small and medium sized businesses. Naturally this draws responses about the costs and limited opportunities within such firms compared to bigger companies. However, this problem can easily be solved by creating guidelines and providing support ~ see below for some ideas. It would be well worth the investment.

We can look at the trend in big businesses of building gyms on-site, having physiotherapy and doctors available, bringing sandwiches to the desk and even a neck massage while your pour over your spreadsheets. However, you could also argue that this merely keeps people at their desk or in the workplace for longer, often in the very environment that is causing most of the problems!

“The skills of wellbeing easily weave into the day”

There are a vast number of different options for healthy practices and skills of wellbeing. Teaching people such practices each day, I am very familiar working with individuals who have decided to create new patterns (habits) to supersede existing patterns that cause pain and suffering. Most people I see have chronic pain together with varying degrees of anxiety, depression and other persisting ills (e.g. migraine, headache, IBS, pelvic pain, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue). Usually this is accompanied by perfectionism (expectations are never met resulting in ‘I am not good enough’ and consequential stress) and self-criticism to a unhealthy degree.

Many people spend their lives in protect mode. Occasionally they experience care-giving mode, but not often. Biologically these people are likely to be ‘inflamed’ much of the time, which explains many of the common complaints in the modern world for which medicine has no answer. The endless search for a medical explanation leads down a slope of decreasing expectations and hope. In essence, like chronic pain, this is not actually a medical problem. Once any sinister pathology has been excluded, the biomedical model offers nothing here as the problem is embedded in society; i.e. it is a public health issue.

To address a public health issue, we need society’s thinking to change. For thinking to change, existing beliefs must be shaken as we update our understanding. Understand Pain is a purpose led enterprise that works to change society’s thinking about pain. In the same way we can build upon the strengths in society with regards to being active. The ‘already active’ can become champions, spreading the right messages about the healthy practices that they have adopted. These people are living examples of the benefit.

“Staff fitness benefits business and society”

Staff fitness

Turning this on its head as I like to do, let’s think about living well and meaningfully. In other words, what can we do and what can we focus on? What positive action can we take as individuals and society? This is not just about small and medium sized businesses creating opportunity for healthy practices. Businesses must collaborate with staff who they themselves need to be motivated to live well. We all have this responsibility to ourselves, our families and society.

There is too much knowledge to sit back now, we all have a role to play, not just the business owners. However, if owners and executives take the right steps and lead from the front, they will inspire action. Do we have good enough leaders to do this and recognise the benefits for the business itself and society as a whole? That’s another question!

What could we do at our place?

Consider how staff will engage with the business and colleagues when the right environment and ethos exists. What are the company values? This is a great opportunity for small and medium sized businesses to engage deeply with its people. Even if this means re-writing the values in an effort to keep growing.

  • Create a space for exercise
  • Create a space for meditation
  • Link with local teachers: yoga, Pilates etc. ~ also an opportunity for staff to bond by doing something together
  • Encourage meetings that are mobile ~ where can we go? Let’s walk and talk
  • Encourage conversation over email/text ~ walk to that person’s desk
  • Compulsory lunch break away from the desk
  • Education programme for the skills of wellbeing

Using your imagination, you will be able to come up with some great ideas for your place. Your people are your greatest resource. Looking after them means looking after your business.


If you would like to know more about healthy practices and skills of wellbeing, please contact us. See what we can do for you as an individual and a business

Individual coaching and workshops ~ t. 07518 445493
27Mar/17

Charity quiz night

Charity Quiz Night

On Thursday 20th April we are having a charity quiz night at Wags N Tails in Surbiton to raise money for CRPS UK and UP | understand painclick here for the event link — please come along and support us! 

Richmond is running the London Marathon this year to support CRPS UK and UP — please donate here

Chronic pain is the number one global health burden

Chronic pain costs us the most of all the health problems that exist. One only has to think of all the conditions that are painful and consider the expenditure on investigations and treatment. This is in addition to the loss of productivity. Some 20% of the population suffers chronic pain, including 1:5 children, which begins to provide insight into the immeasurable suffering. People from all corners of society are struggling to understand why they are in pain, do not know what they can do and feel isolated as their plight continues. This does not need to be the case.

UP | understand pain

At UP, we have a vision of a world where people understand pain and know what they can do to live well. This begins with changing the way society thinks about pain, truly understanding the facts, in which case they would know that there is a way forward. We are constantly changing and learning meaning that we have the resources and the potential to get better. People need to know how.

UP is to be re-launched this year as a social enterprise that will deliver the latest knowledge about pain and how it can be applied. The know-how is vital as are the skills of well-being and self-coaching. The programmes will be delivered to people suffering pain and to healthcare professionals who work with people in pain. This includes trainees who are the new generation of clinicians and therapists. We also plan to take our message to the policy makers to create changes ‘top down’.

CRPS UK

The CRPS UK charity supports people who have been diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS — sometimes called RSD) and their families. The most recent diagnostic guide is the Budapest Criteria.

CRPS is poorly recognised and understood. This means that diagnosis and the right treatment can be delayed, resulting in on-going suffering. The pain of CRPS can be unimaginable with the impact upon the person’s life being enormous.

We can and must do better with CRPS and all pain conditions. The right messages early on and the right actions taken by both the individual and clinicians will make a huge difference.

The work being done by both CRPS UK and UP will be instrumental in the forthcoming changes that must happen in society. Pain is a public health issue of the utmost importance — the costs and the suffering. Pain must be addressed in this way, which is what we are doing at UP. This massive problem affects us all and we can do so much to transform the issue.

Please support our work by coming to the charity quiz on Thursday 20th April or donate here.

 

13Mar/17

3 ways to ease suffering

We all suffer. Suffering is part of living and so is unavoidable. There are many reasons for suffering and they are unique to that person and the way that they view life. The Oxford Dictionary defines suffering as “The state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship”. We are all subject to these states regardless of age, gender, culture or class. In fact, we could say that humanity is connected by the universal experience of suffering. Bearing this in mind and essentially normalising suffering as part of life, it would be prudent to develop some skills that allow us to face suffering, transform, learn about, and ease it. Here are 3 ways to ease suffering.

These are simple practices for everyone that can be integrated into day to day life. Moment to moment awareness creates the opportunity to practice healthy habits resulting in living well.

Acceptance

Accepting what is happening right now dissolves any resistance. Resistance results in suffering because we are not happy with how we are or where we are or what we have. This is a common cause of discomfort and resistance can certainly drive tension and pain in the body. Accepting is NOT giving up. Instead it is actively being open to what exists now as a lived experience, allowing it to transform as it always does with each passing moment. Acceptance allows us to move forward in a chosen direction whereas resistance does not.

Mindful practice

There are simple mindful practices that give us insight into the way we think and feel, help us to be acceptant, allow us to let go of unhelpful thoughts and to be open to experiences as they unfold. By the very nature of these practices, a sense of well being emerges as we fully engage with the joys of life as well as think clearly about how to surmount the inevitable challenges we face. Here are a few examples:

  • take 4-5 slightly deeper breaths at regular intervals during the day, being fully aware of the ‘in’ and ‘out’
  • pay full attention to what you are doing, whatever that happens to be
  • formal practice of mindfulness meditation ~ this is best done with a coach or instructor to start, or in a group
Practicing gratitude

There are great benefits of practicing gratitude as a skill of well-being. Next time you are feeling glum, in pain, feeling anxious, try thinking about something you are grateful for. This does not need to be anything momentous, instead something more day to day such as the clothes on your back, the sun in the sky or a text from a friend. It needs to have some kind of meaning to you. Practicing gratitude can change the way we relate to an issue of concern. We release some important and healthy chemicals by actively generating the feeling (the feeling is underpinned by those chemicals as best we know), which creates the conditions for more clarity. Clarity of thought means we can focus on the thinking/actions that can result in face a challenge successfully.

The Pain Coach Programme to overcome pain and to live well | t. 07518 445493

08Mar/17

Find peace

In a sense I think that we are all trying to find peace. We week to find peace within ourselves and the world in which we find ourselves — the two are entwined.

We often hear the word peace nowadays. This is because peace is a state we strive for globally in the face of threats that are often purported in the media. There are fewer who seek the polar opposite; people who appear to welcome violence, war and other destructive states. This can only be because of wrong perceptions of the world resulting in wrong thinking and wrong actions.

In terms of chronic pain, perhaps we can say that we strive for a state of peace. This is an idea that came from a conversation with a learned friend some months ago. It was based upon thinking about the ‘opposite’ of pain, which cannot simply be pain free. When we are pain free, we are not thinking ‘I am pain free’, instead just acting, thinking and perceiving as a blended trio within each moment. To find peace seems to be a good place to start overcoming pain.

What is a state of peace?

By definition, peace means ‘quiet, tranquility, mental calm, serenity; a state of friendliness’ (Oxford Dictionary). Consider how we feel and think when in pain. We are suffering, fighting, surviving, emotionally turbulent, living the storm of physical sensations and the turmoil of the thoughts and feelings about these sensations. The former appears to be a good place to be in comparison. There is however, one issue, and that is the effect of resistance to what is happening right now.

Resistance itself causes great suffering. Not wanting to be here, instead wanting to be there. Not wanting to look like this, instead wanting to look like that, are two common examples. This is being non-acceptant and fighting the present moment. But it does not necessarily seem natural to do anything else other than resist. Why would you not want to feel better? Look better? etc etc.

This is an issue of desire and the grip that it can have upon us that causes suffering. The problem is that if you are strongly focusing upon how you want to be and resisting how you are or what you have, you are missing the opportunity that exists now. This is in the form of acceptance, which is simply acknowledging and being open to what is happening right now without resistance. Accepting what is happening right now relieves the suffering and allows us to take the right actions to find peace. These actions can only happen now because now is the only real moment. Thinking about what you might do or what you did only exist in your (embodied) thoughts. Concrete action can only be in this moment.

By being present we can find peace. This emerges from simple practices such as mindful breathing and mindful activities that mean you are present, aware, open, insightful and accepting in a compassionate way.

Where is peace?

There is only one place that we can find peace. That is within ourselves. I recall a pertinent moment a few years ago when a friend said to me ‘I hope you find peace’. It is something we appear to look for, yet we don’t need to look because it is right here. We simply need to create the conditions for peace to emerge and be felt. Does this mean no pain? No, not necessarily. Can you feel pain and be at peace? Yes, absolutely. And in this state, the pain transforms and our suffering eases. So, when we find peace that was already there, just overladen with our day to day fears and worries, the pain rents less and less space. Then we can concentrate our efforts on living well, which is the way to overcome pain.

How can I be present and find peace?

Everything that ‘happens’ does so now, in this moment. It is called being present and we can be fully aware, attending to this moment to gain all the rewards. To be present we can start with a few simple practices:

1. Take our attention to our breathing, even just 4-5 breaths, and do this regularly through the day ~ set a reminder

2. Fully attend to what we are doing, whatever that may be. ‘An unhappy mind is a wandering mind’ was a recent study title. We are happier when we are attending to what we are doing in this moment.

You may also choose to regularly practice mindfulness and other meditations such as metta, or loving kindness meditation. The formal practice each day develops our ability to accept, let go, be open, be tolerant, gain insight into our own and others’ thinking. In so doing, in the wake of the practice comes a sense of peace and calm that deepens in time. There are well described healthy benefits of regular mindfulness practices yet it is important that we practice for the sake of practice and not to ‘become’ something else. This is a challenge but you will recall that trying to be someone else or be somewhere else creates resistance. By far the best way to begin practice is with a teacher but there are some excellent apps and videos aplenty on you tube; for example Thich Nhat Hanh, The Dalai Lama, Matthieu Ricard, Ajahn Brahm, Jon Kabat Zinn.

Pain and peace

Pain is as complex as any other lived experience. It involves the whole person, their biology, their consciousness, their past experiences and their genetics to name but a few factors — it is complex! Equally as complex is pain relief that involves all the same factors. Where we feel pain is not where pain is ‘generated’, instead this is where there exists a perceived threat.

Regular readers of modern pain science literature will know that pain is related to being threatened or potentially threatened, acting in the name of survival. The location of the pain is really a projection of all the biology involved with protecting us, emerging in a specific place where we are compelled to attend. If there is actually an injury there it seems to make sense. Often in cases of chronic pain there is no obvious injury or pathology. This is because pain and injury are poorly related. Despite this, the pain felt is the pain felt. Pain cannot be seen so we must listen to the person as it is the individual who feels the pain.

“Pain and injury are poorly related

Existing under a state of threat results in a range of thoughts and behaviours that can be combatant in nature. Consider what we have said about peace. To find peace we must be acceptant, open and demonstrate compassion towards ourselves and others. If we ‘fight’ the pain, we are only fighting ourselves. Creating a sense of peace allows us to choose to focus on the actions (e.g./ exercises, re-framing our thinking to reduce fear, socialising, practicing mindfulness, gradually becoming more active, and many more) that create the conditions for living well.

Overcoming pain is an active task. The person needs guidance, motivation and support but the to begin with the basics to sustainably move in the desired direction. This includes a working knowledge about (your) pain with skills and practices to use day to day, moment to moment. The new knowledge about pain creates a sense of safety rather than threat, peace if you like. This clarity that emerges from understanding pain means that the person can truly focus on what they need to do to get better. This starts with thinking like the healthy person who is living well: ‘what would they think and do here?’ you can ask yourself, before doing exactly that, albeit with certain limitations at the start. These limitations can and will be worked upon: ‘can I?’ turns to ‘I can’ and ‘will I?’ turns to ‘I will.

From a place of peace and clarity come right perceptions about oneself and the world. To find peace is to find it in oneself. It is there and may need uncovering. When you do, the world looks to be a different place. One that is far less threatening and one in which to thrive and to live a meaningful life.

The Pain Coach Programme to address suffering by learning to live well | t. 07518 445493
20Feb/17

Pain is whole person

Pain is whole person

There is only one way to approach the problem of chronic pain as it emerges in the individual, and that is by addressing the whole person. This way demonstrates a true understanding of pain: the lack of any pain system, pain signals or pain centres and that the vast majority of the biology of pain is not where we actually feel it in the body or body space in the case of phantom limb pain. Much like when you watch a film in the cinema, most of what you need is not on the screen.

With pain being absolutely individual, coloured by the context, the environment in which it is being phenomenologically experienced, prior experience and beliefs (about pain, health, danger, ‘me’, the world etc.), the action we are motivated and compelled to take, existing health and level of threat perception to name but a few. In short, this includes activity in the brain and central nervous system, immune system, endocrine system, sensorimotor system, visual system, and the autonomic nervous system. Most of this is not where the pain is felt.

Pain and injury are notorious for being poorly related. There are countless stories of people suffering great trauma (tissue damage) and reporting minimal or no pain, some sustaining minor injuries and describing agonising pain and a huge variation in between. Considering the factors in the previous paragraph, one can start to understand why. In essence it is due to pain being a better indicator of the level of perception of threat; i.e./ more threat, or existence of threat = pain.

Bearing this in mind, and this is the current understanding of pain, you can see why the whole person approach is necessary. It is as much about the person as the condition, as Oliver Sacks wrote and practiced, and indeed this is a vital principle to work to. Understand the person and their circumstances and you go some way to seeing a way forward. Listening deeply in the first instance creates the opportunity to gain insight into the reasons for the person’s suffering — the reasons for pain and what is influencing that experience. From this foundation, one develops a rapport, not just as a clinician or therapist but as a trusted advisor, giving the person the knowledge and skills to overcome their pain and live a meaningful life.

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Pain Coach Programme to overcome chronic pain ~ t. 07518 445493 or email: [email protected]

 

01Feb/17

The inner dialogue

The inner dialogue ~ what do you listen to and what do you tell yourself?
You are beautiful by La Melodie https://flic.kr/p/99ACEa

You are beautiful by La Melodie https://flic.kr/p/99ACEa

One of the things that makes us human is the inner dialogue or inner voice that is fairly continuously ‘speaking’ to us. Of course the voice is part of each and everyone of us and is not an outside agent. To some people it can appear to be coming from somewhere or someone else as in the case of psychiatric disorders. That must be frightening.

The inner dialogue is part of the workings of our mind. Our minds play a significant role in our actions and perceptions but it is not a one way street. The physicality of our existence can impact upon the way in which we think. The branch of philosophy named embodied cognition has much to say on this matter, addressing the notion that our thinking is embodied. A simple example is when thinking about hunger and food, we would typically feel that in our body, interpreting the sensations as being in need of food. A further example is the way we gesture with our hands to demonstrate a point, freeing up resources for further thinking. Consider how you feel when you think of a loved one or a difficult situation in the past — where do you experience it? Certainly not ‘in the head’.

There is a skill in choosing whether to listen to and act upon our inner dialogue or our thinking. It is true that we do not choose the workings of our mind, however we can learn about how it works, our habits of thought and realise how we embody these thoughts. In so doing, we have the opportunity and responsibility to become increasingly skilful in deciding whether to pay attention or to let go of thoughts and the inner dialogue. Being mindful is just that. We are aware of the thoughts, noticing their impermanence, recurrent nature, the way they create feelings in the body, but we are not engaging or becoming embroiled. There is a monumental difference between being in the film and watching the film. You are still experiencing the full richness of the feelings and emotions but with curiosity, with compassion and with an intent to only act with kindness, towards self and others.

Learning to be observant of the inner dialogue allows you to make choices. We have choices and often need to realise them. How am I choosing to feel or think about a particular situation? Even asking yourself that question gives you space to decide what you can do. Shifting the thinking to take another perspective can give a very different feel to the experience. Knowing that you can do this is very empowering, as you know that you can face challenges with skill and insight.

The story we tell ourselves can be so impacting upon our reality, lived experiences and ultimately our health and sense of well-being. If you persistently tell yourself that you are not good enough, have not tried hard enough or blame yourself for all sorts of things that may not actually be your fault, this will create a range of unpleasant feelings in the body as well as paint a bleak picture of life. Being hard on oneself causes our protect systems to switch into action. A range of common ailments manifest if these systems are ‘on’ too much without adequate refresh and renew time. Such problems include chronic aches and pains, sleep disturbance, gut issues, mood variance and exhaustion; very common presentations in my clinic. This need not be the case by learning some simple skills of well-being and day to day practices that stoke up our healthy systems. This is the bulk of the work we do to overcome pain and health problems — see here.

The inner dialogue and pain

Pain and the inner dialogueThe inner dialogue can tell us our story; the story of me. The self that I experience moment to moment, which is continually updating. Our implicit ability to change creates great hope as we can transform our suffering by gaining knowledge and insight into our existing habits. From this awareness we can choose to create new habits that are based upon our value system (what is important to you in life) and are by design all about sustainably living a meaningful life.

Many people with chronic pain have received messages that suggest pain must be managed or that they must just cope. This lowers expectations and hence our story and the inner dialogue is based on this belief. We can and must do better. Changing our story, and this is applicable to any story we tell ourselves, creates a new way onward. This begins with understanding pain. Countless people have told me how much better they feel on starting to understand their pain when we discuss their experiences at the first meeting. There is no magic here. We feel better when we have understanding of a problem and insight into how we can address the issues — feelings of agency, choice and empowerment feed and motivate us to take action; the right action. The Pain Coach Programme is all about the right action based on the right thinking. Understand your pain, write and see a new story and then live it. This is the story of your success, whether it be overcoming pain, setting up a business, writing an essay, doing an exam or playing a game of football. Use the story wisely, make it count and use every moment in a way that encourages and motivates more and more great action.

The Pain Coach Programme is a blend of strengths based coaching and pain sciences for your to achieve your success | t. 07518 445493