Category Archives: Pain Education

Hamstring injuries in football

Chelsea FC – ‘long, long’ injury list

Hamstring injuries in football

Hamstring injuries in football

Part of the role of being a manager is to juggle the team according to injuries. The list of injured players in The Premiership at the moment is significant. Jose Mourhino described his list as ‘long, long’, hence the Chelsea manager is being forced to consider his options for the forthcoming games. With the ever-growing costs involved in football, questions about players’ availability are now a routine focus for interviews.

Diego Costa is struggling with a persisting hamstring injury. Leg injuries and pain are the scourge of footballer’s careers, but with a change in thinking, many of the on-going problems can be eradicated.

Certainly players work hard on their conditioning to make sure that their bodies are prepared for the rigour and vigour of the modern game. Time away from running and kicking allows for the body to adapt — muscles and the systems that control the muscles. Active rest is vital and should include a techniques that create calm in the body via the mind. We know only too well the potent influence of the mind upon the body and vice versa. Allowing a negative thought about pain or injury to take hold will affect movement and performance. But, there are effective ways of dealing with this and should be routine for both players and managers.

There is a difference between hamstring pain and a hamstring injury. The latter involves damaged tissue whereas the former does not. Everyone needs to understand this and know how to discriminate — by everyone, I mean players, medical staff and managers. With everyone knowing the facts about pain and injury, communication is open and free, meaning that any stress created by worry and concern is eliminated. One thing that is not good for pain is stress. Why? Because the body will be in protect mode, and this is not compatible with recovery.

Understanding pain and injury is the start point. From here, recovery can be planned and implemented, working with all the body systems involved with injury and pain — and that includes body awareness, sensorimotor function, immune function, autonomic function; all involved with protection. Protection is vital in the initial stage of an actual injury, but as healing takes hold, the biology of protection may need a helping hand to switch off.

Struggling to get back to football? Have a player who is struggling? Get in touch and we can work together to return him or her to play — 07518 445493



Chronic pain and injury in football and sport

More Premiership injury woe

Chronic pain and injury in football and sportHeadlines today in The Guardian sport section report that Daniel Sturridge is suffering from a further strain, this time in his calf. I do not know if this is the same leg as the thigh strain from which he has recently recovered, but if so, I would not be surprised. In addition, we learn that Raheem Stirling told Roy Hodgson that his legs were sore. Anyone who plays sports will know that feeling.

A second injury or pain on the same side — why?

When we injure a muscle or ligament, inflammatory chemicals are released locally. Danger-sensing nerves (nociceptors) are activated by these chemicals when their threshold of firing is lowered. Danger signals are sent to the spinal cord, where modulation takes place with signals being sent down from the brain — these are in response to thoughts, emotions, context, perceived danger etc. The danger signals are then sent up to the brain via a second neuron, where an analysis of what is happening takes place. On concluding that there is danger, pain emerges from the body in the place where it is thought the problem lies. The body uses cortical (brain) maps to allocate the pain in the body. Put simply, the biology of pain does not reside in the injured tissues but instead involves the protective functioning of many body systems working together.

Once protection kicks in, pain draws our attention to the area, our movement changes as does our thinking amongst other things. This does not involve only the injured body region, but widespread responses of body systems that protect us from actual and potential threat. The original injury goes through a healing process — we have incredibly potent healing abilities — yet the sensitivity and protection can persist. If, for example, the thigh is strained, it is all the ‘wiring’ that involves the leg that will be on alert. Without full resolution, and this includes confidence in the body, the systems are primed and hence during this period it is easier to ‘pick up’ another injury. Sometimes there is an actual injury and damage, but often there is nothing discernible yet it hurts in the same way. Differentiating an actual injury from the sensation of an injury is important. Players and coaches understanding these mechanisms (of pain) is vital in my view, so that these problems can be tackled efficiently. It would be straight-forward to deliver a mandatory, FA backed education package — contact me for details of an education programme.

In summary, why do pains appear on the same side? Because the initial sensitivity has not fully resolved in the case when no actual injury can be found. If there is a strain or sprain detected, there is a good chance that motor control, body sense and awareness and or confidence are not complete. Of course, there is always the possibility of just plain old bad luck, however I would suggest that it is more likely that the body remains in a degree of protection mode.

Aching legs and recovery

Briefly, the body needs time to recover from the demands of exercise. This can be all out rest for a short period but also active rest that would be a lower intensity of movement and activity; a skills based session for example. There are ways of enhancing recovery that include focused movements and body awareness exercises as well as the practice of mindfulness. We have a great ability to adapt, and in fact our body systems are continually changing and adapting to our lifestyles. This is one of the reasons for chronic health problems in a society that is ‘wired’ and ‘immediate’. Put simply, our bodies are not designed in this way.

Educating players about pain, injury, recovery and health empowers them to make good decisions. With coaches and managers also understanding these principles, it creates a positive culture with clear communication about injury and pain. A player should always feel that he can talk openly about how he is feeling, physically and mentally — although I would argue that these are one and the same because we are whole person: genes, character, personality, experience, knowledge, beliefs, mind, body etc., with no single feature standing above the others.

Contact me for information about pain seminars and training at your club — 07518 445493


Predicting recovery?

Recovering well from surgery

Predicting recovery?

Predicting recovery?

Recent research suggests that we are getting closer to being able to predict how well individuals will recover from surgery (Science Translational Medicine, This will be an important step forward, especially if outcomes can be determined by a blood test that predicts recovery times by identifying the immune signature. The results will need to be repeated, but this is an exciting development.

I see many people who underwent surgery and struggled to recover due to pain or the lesser known sickness response. I believe that with careful observation, listening to the patient’s story and a detailed assessment before the operation, we can identify those who are likely to have problems with pain. It is in part the history that provides clues about sensitivity and also how the person is approaching the surgery. Whilst anxiety and concern are natural, if worry takes hold, anxiety affects the immune system and other body systems, potentially diverting their workings towards protection rather than healing. There are effective ways of preventing this from happening with a proactive programme that starts before surgery and then optimises the recovery after surgery.

Call us now to find out about pre-operative assessments & the post-operative proactive recovery programme – 07518 445493



Pain is a whole person experience

CRPS Research Update | October 2014 #CRPS

Physiotherapy LondonWelcome to the Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Research Update for October, a summary of the latest studies. 

If you are suffering with CRPS, I am here to show you how you can move forward — come and visit the CRPS clinic page here.

Spinal cord stimulation for complex regional pain syndrome type 1 with dystonia: a case report and discussion of the literature.
Voet C1, le Polain de Waroux B2, Forget P2, Deumens R3, Masquelier E4.

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome type 1 (CRPS-1) is a debilitating chronic pain disorder, the physiopathology of which can lead to dystonia associated with changes in the autonomic, central and peripheral nervous system. An interdisciplinary approach (pharmacological, interventional and psychological therapies in conjunction with a rehabilitation pathway) is central to progress towards pain reduction and restoration of function.
This case report aims to stimulate reflection and development of mechanism-based therapeutic strategies concerning CRPS associated with dystonia.
A 31 year old female CRPS-1 patient presented with dystonia of the right foot following ligamentoplasty for chronic ankle instability. She did not have a satisfactory response to the usual therapies. Multiple anesthetic blocks (popliteal, epidural and intrathecal) were not associated with significant anesthesia and analgesia. Mobilization of the foot by a physiotherapist was not possible. A multidisciplinary approach with psychological support, physiotherapy and spinal cord stimulation (SCS) brought pain relief, rehabilitation and improvement in the quality of life.
The present case report demonstrates the occurrence of multilevel (peripheral and central) pathological modifications in the nervous system of a CRPS-1 patient with dystonia. This conclusion is based on the patient’s pain being resistant to anesthetic blocks at different levels and the favourable, at least initially, response to SCS. The importance of the bio-psycho-social model is also suggested, permitting behavioural change

RS: With CRPS we absolutely need to consider ‘multilevel’ modifications and adaptations within the nervous system but also how all the other systems that have a role in protecting us are functioning. This often manifests as habitual thinking and activities that maintain protection. Realising these habits, automatic by the nature of being a habit, and making changes with specific training creates new patterns of activity that head towards health.


Longstanding Complex Regional Pain Syndrome is associated with activating autoantibodies against α-1a adrenoceptors.
Dubuis E1, Thompson V2, Leite MI3, Blaes F4, Maihöfner C5, Greensmith D6, Vincent A7, Shenker N8, Kuttikat A9, Leuwer M10, Goebel A11.

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a limb-confined post-traumatic pain syndrome with sympathetic features. The cause is unknown, but the results of a randomized crossover trial on low-dose IVIG treatment point to a possible autoimmune mechanism. We tested purified serum immunoglobulin G (IgG) from patients with longstanding CRPS for evidence of antibodies interacting with autonomic receptors on adult primary cardiomyocytes, comparing with control IgG from healthy and disease controls, and related the results to the clinical response to treatment with low-dose intravenous immunoglobulins (IvIG). We simultaneously recorded both single cell contractions and intracellular calcium handling in an electrical field. Ten of 18 CRPS preparations and only 1/57 control preparations (p<0.0001) increased the sensitivity of the myocytes to the electric field and this effect was abrogated by pre-incubation with alpha1a receptor blockers. By contrast, effects on baseline calcium were blocked by pre-incubation with atropine. Interestingly, serum-IgG preparations from all four CRPS patients who had responded to low-dose IVIG with meaningful pain relief were effective in these assays, although 4/8 of the non-responders were also active. To see if there were antibodies to the alpha1a receptor, CRPS-IgG was applied to alpha 1a receptor transfected rat1-fibroblast cells. The CRPS serum IgG induced calcium flux, and FACS showed that there was serum IgG binding to the cells. The results suggest that patients with longstanding CRPS have serum antibodies to alpha 1a receptors, and that measurement of these antibodies may be useful in the diagnosis and management of the patients.


A CRPS-IgG-transfer-trauma model reproducing inflammatory and positive sensory signs associated with complex regional pain syndrome.
Tékus V1, Hajna Z1, Borbély É1, Markovics A1, Bagoly T1, Szolcsányi J2, Thompson V3, Kemény Á1, Helyes Z2, Goebel A4.

The aetiology of complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), a highly painful, usually post-traumatic condition affecting the limbs, is unknown, but recent results have suggested an autoimmune contribution. To confirm a role for pathogenic autoantibodies, we established a passive-transfer trauma model. Prior to undergoing incision of hind limb plantar skin and muscle, mice were injected either with serum IgG obtained from chronic CRPS patients or matched healthy volunteers, or with saline. Unilateral hind limb plantar skin and muscle incision was performed to induce typical, mild tissue injury. Mechanical hyperalgesia, paw swelling, heat and cold sensitivity, weight-bearing ability, locomotor activity, motor coordination, paw temperature, and body weight were investigated for 8days. After sacrifice, proinflammatory sensory neuropeptides and cytokines were measured in paw tissues. CRPS patient IgG treatment significantly increased hind limb mechanical hyperalgesia and oedema in the incised paw compared with IgG from healthy subjects or saline. Plantar incision induced a remarkable elevation of substance P immunoreactivity on day 8, which was significantly increased by CRPS-IgG. In this IgG-transfer-trauma model for CRPS, serum IgG from chronic CRPS patients induced clinical and laboratory features resembling the human disease. These results support the hypothesis that autoantibodies may contribute to the pathophysiology of CRPS, and that autoantibody-removing therapies may be effective treatments for long-standing CRPS.

RS – as ever we must consider the role of the immune system but in the light of other systems as no system works in isolation to the others. There is vast interaction between the immune system, nervous system, endocrine system and autonomic nervous system to the point where I believe we are a single system interpreting and responding. One response maybe pain as part of protection and our systems become very good at protecting us — this is not to suggest that our systems and ‘me’ are separate entities. Whole person is the only way we can sensibly think about this.

Local Anesthetic Sympathectomy Restores fMRI Cortical Maps in CRPS I after Upper Extremity Stellate Blockade: A Prospective Case Study.
Stude P, Enax-Krumova EK1, Lenz M, Lissek S, Nicolas V, Peters S, Westermann A, Tegenthoff M, Maier C.

Patients with complex regional pain syndrome type I (CRPS I) show a cortical reorganization with contralateral shrinkage of cortical maps in S1. The relevance of pain and disuse for the development and the maintenance of this shrinkage is unclear.
Aim of the study was to assess whether short-term pain relief induces changes in the cortical representation of the affected hand in patients with CRPS type I.
Case series analysis of prospectively collected data.
We enrolled a case series of 5 consecutive patients with CRPS type I (disease duration 3 – 36 months) of the non-dominant upper-limb and previously diagnosed sympathetically maintained pain (SMP) by reduction of the pain intensity of more than > 30% after prior diagnostic sympathetic block. We performed fMRI for analysis of the cortical representation of the affected hand immediately before as well as one hour after isolated sympathetic block of the stellate ganglion on the affected side.
Wilcoxon-Test, paired t-test, P < 0.05.
Pain decrease after isolated sympathetic block (pain intensity on the numerical rating scale (0 – 10) before block: 6.8 ± 1.9, afterwards: 3.8 ± 1.3) was accompanied by an increase in the blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) response of cortical representational maps only of the affected hand which had been reduced before the block, despite the fact that clinical and neurophysiological assessment revealed no changes in the sensorimotor function.
The interpretation of the present results is partly limited due to the small number of included patients and the missing control group with placebo injection.
The association between recovery of the cortical representation and pain relief supports the hypothesis that pain could be a relevant factor for changes of somatosensory cortical maps in CRPS, and that these are rapidly reversible

RS – we are either in pain or not in pain. If our focus is elsewhere and we are not experiencing pain, then we are not in pain. Whilst this may sound obvious, many people tell me that they are in pain all of the time. When I ask about times that they feel no pain, an oft given answer is that the pain is hidden at times when they do not feel it. Pain cannot hide. It is on-off, binary. At any given moment, we are either in pain or not in pain. Every moment changes and hence pain can change in a moment — referring to the rapidly reversible change in maps in this article; and why wouldn’t we have the ability to rapidly adapt? I believe we can change and it happens in a moment — our thinking, actions and experiences. Consider how we can be happy in a moment, and sad in a moment. Happiness is a feeling, pain is a feeling. Both have a purpose, to motivate us to do something or think in a particular way. There is a desperate need to change the globe’s thinking on pain, this being my main purpose. In doing so, we can alleviate a vast amount of suffering from pain, narrowing it down the pain that we need for survival and eliminating the pain that persists for no good reason.


There is no pain system

Pain is whole person

Pain is whole person

Many writers in health journals and magazines continue to refer to pain systems, pain pathways, pain signals, pain messages and pain receptors. There is no pain system, there are no pain pathways, there are no pain messages and there are no pain receptors.

Pain emerges from the body (or a space that has a representation in the brain in the case of phantom limb pain) and involves many body systems and the self. Where does pain come from? Well, it comes from the person describing the pain. Does it come from the back or the knee or the head? That is where you could feel it, but in order to feel it in a location we need our body systems to be in a protective mode and to be responding to a potential threat.

Pain is allocated a space where the body requires attention, and whilst this is a vital survival device when we have an injury, it is less useful when the injury has healed or there is no injury. This is the case in chronic pain, although there are reasons why the body continues to protect based on the fact that the perception of threat exists.

Pain is part of a protective response. Many other systems are also working to protect us: the immune system, the endocrine system, the autonomic nervous system, the sensorimotor system etc. — and all the systems that these impact upon, such as the gastroenterological system (how many people suffer problems with their gut at the same time as having persisting pain?).

So, in chronic pain we need different thinking because tissue or structurally based therapies do not provide a sustained answer. Instead we need to address the fact that persisting pain is as a result of the body’s on-going perception of threat. It is this that requires re-training alongside any altered movement patterns and a shift in body sense in order to successfully deal with pain and move on.

Specialist Pain Physio Clinics – transforming a life of pain to a life of possibility 

Call us to start now: 07932 689081 or email [email protected]




Greatness, smoothness & injury

In response to @simonrbriggs excellent article in the Telegraph (see here) contrasting Federer and Nadal in respect of their physical longevity on the court, I wanted to agree with Simon’s subsequent tweet about the many factors involved with an injury — the line I frequently quote being: ‘no injury happens in isolation’. Whilst I am no tennis expert, I understand that these two masters have very different approaches on the court that define their games. The wicket is more familiar territory, and I would equate this observation to the games of Tendulkar versus Gilchrist. Both masters of the willow, yet styles that illustrate very different means and modes of dominating the ball. 

Sport enthusiasts and pundits alike gush with awe at the ease with which a stroke player caresses the ball. The expert appears to have all the time in the world to position themselves in perfect balance, to be able to effortlessly time the touch, and send the ball at a speed that is vastly out of proportion to the effort applied. Federer fits this mould, and whilst he undoubtedly trains to be fit and strong, he has a technique that is so efficient and so thoughtless that he can focus entirely upon the whole game as if viewing from a point up above. And to take nothing away from the skill of Nadal, his explosive force delivers excitement as he thunderously strides across the court in Zeus-like fashion. As Simon points out, if Nadal were to maintain a physical wellness, his dominance would surely prevail. Who you would most like to be conqueror would then be down to a preferred style, and we love to talk about style.

Returning to the construct of injury that is always embedded within a context and never in isolation to a range of factors that create a situation — no injury happens in isolation. The meaning of an injury is tantamount, and certainly impacts upon the intensity of pain. Cast your memory back to Messi believing that his career was over after he collided with the goalkeeper. He had merely bruised his knee yet the pain was so intense he had to be carried from the field of play in hushed silence.  A violinist who cuts his left index finger will suffer more pain than if I slice the skin on my same digit. There is a different meaning attached to his finger, even with a paper cut. 

Whilst both Federer and Nadal will be accustomed to the pain of hard training and playing, the pain of injury is different. The way we think about the pain at the time of injury sets up the on-going responses and how we chose to behave — it is not the injury itself, but the way we think that counts. Spraining an ankle usually means limping, and this is a sensible behaviour as partial weight-bearing reduces the strain through healing tissues, and is more comfortable. When we know that all is well, in other words that the injury is healing normally (and this is meant to hurt, however unpleasant or inconvenient), there is an acceptance of the necessary steps back to normal movement and activities. The early messages after an injury then, are vital to set up a positive route forward. Excessive fear, anxiety and incorrect messages at the start can set up a pathway of obstacles to recovery. 

Drawing together the smoothness of action that interweaves with other characteristics that construe the greatness of Federer: the technical self-efficacy, rehearsed movements that require no conscious processing and a baseline of fitness and mobility, all of which create a context that minimises the risk of injury. The sublime control, gliding easily across the surface and a ‘oneness’ with the occasion offers only the smallest opportunity for breakdown that most can only dream of, including Nadal whose vigorous assault upon ball and opponents opens the door for stress and strain to emerge, persist and potentially dominate.

Whilst we can swoon over the masters of any game, the vast majority of us play amateur sport. At the level of the masses, I always feel that the risks of injury are outweighed by the benefits of participation — physical fitness, the offsetting of cardiovascular disease, the cathartic outlay against stress and of course the social element (after the game: the 19th, the clubhouse, the curry house…). Equally, whilst the professionals are honing their skills and prowess, amateurs spend a great deal of time around their occupations and families to improve on the fields and courts, imagining achievements on the great meadows of Lords and Wimbledon. I too dream and envision, but returning to diminishing the risk of injury, as the principle is the same whether pro or amateur. And there is no reason why the latter should not acquire the same knowledge and receive the same principled care.

One of the first actions I take is to ensure that the injured person’s knowledge and thinking are in alignment with what we know about pain and healing, and that their choices of behaviour always take them toward and not away from recovery, no matter the start point.  My fundamental belief in our ability to change pain drives my over-arching mission to deliver pain education to all. Understanding pain will inform positive and healthy actions across the board from professional athletes to children to stakeholders (more on this in subsequent blogs). 

Recovering from an injury is straight forward. Most of the problems arise from the wrong early messages and a desire to move on faster than the healing process, thereby disrupting mechanisms that have inherent intelligence. We literally get in the way of our own recovery. We are the problem, yet the injury is blamed. Know the injury, know the pain, know the time line and know the action to take. Simple. One of the issues that Nadal may suffer, as do many professionals, is the rapid return after injury without full recovery, or a lack of time for the body to adapt. This latter problem disrupts the balance of breakdown and rebuild that is constant in the body. Tipping towards breakdown, inflammation persists and causes persistent sensitivity, even at a low level. This manifests as the on-going niggles, gradually becoming more widespread as time progresses and often without an obvious injury. Familiar? Perfectly solvable when you know how and respect the time lines of healing and recovery. Time is money some may argue, but then stepping back and thinking about the longevity of a career provides a different perspective. Deal with this bout of aches and pains completely and create the opportunity for more years of competing as opposed to the stop-start, partial recovery that affects performance and confidence, the two being utterly related. Over-thinking movement and lacking confidence both affect quality of movement — manifesting as the yips in some cases. Is Nadal smashing his way through because he fears that one day he will finally breakdown? Only he knows. Feeder on the other hand as we have seen, has a smooth style that glides him across the courts of the world. 

In summary, to look at the differing styles of play that define Federer and Nadal, it is clear that the smooth approach taken by the former has played a role in his longevity in terms of fitness (lack of injury) and success, the two being related. Simply, the more games you are able to play without a physical hinderance or even the thought that you may have a physical hinderance, for mere thinking affects the way we move, the greater the opportunity for winning titles. So surely, the planning of any athlete’s training and career must consider the ways in which maximum participation can be balanced with time required to adapt and recover. This is the same for both the professional and the amateur athlete, beginning by understanding pain and injury. 


When in pain, the World looks different

busy-street-new-york-cityWe are familiar with the notion that the World is always changing. In fact, change is one of the few certainties in life that we can rely upon. However, change is only possible if there is someone present to experience how things are evolving, and that person is also changing. No two moments are the same.

To experience change we need to know what has happened previously and to recognise the difference in the now. As humans we have complex systems that work together as a whole (the ‘me’) to make sense of what is going on within us and around us, and in so doing, create a perception of the World and where we are within that World. When these pieces fit well, we feel good.

For those suffering chronic pain the World changes in a way that makes it appear threatening, distant, disjointed and sometimes intolerable. We know that places appear to be further away when we have persisting pain, and that stairs look steeper when we are tired. Both of these altered perceptions are protective as they motivate defensive behaviours that can manifest as avoidance. Whilst this is an important strategy in the early stages of an injury, as time passes, this way of operating becomes a problem in itself as engagement with life diminishes. This choice, sometimes conscious and sometimes subconscious, becomes conditioned quickly. Often the decisions about whether to approach or avoid are based upon a belief that pain equates to tissue damage. Understanding pain counters this problem.

I as an individual, with a set of beliefs about myself and the World construct the perception that I have of that World. The reality that I experience is mine, and only mine. This reality can be suggestible and is certainly influenced by many factors, including how I am thinking right now. Is a sunset the same experience when I am happy compared to when I am sad?

Pain is part of the perception of the World, my World. The pain I feel is the ‘how’ I am experiencing the present moment, and I am feeling the pain in a part of my body. This is ‘how’ I am feeling my body, and often the painful area to which I am drawn is the only part of my body that I am feeling. The pain is not separate from the World I perceive, instead it is embedded within the context of my perceived World. Pain is changeable and is a different experience when I am at home compared to when I am at work. Pain is moulded by the environment as much as the perception of my environment is moulded by my pain. We are not, and cannot be separate from the environment in which we reside.

We can use this understanding to our advantage when designing rehabilitation, training and treatment programmes. Considering the environment from where the patient has come, and certainly the environment created for face to face therapy sessions. This is both the space in which the treatment is happening and that cultivated by the therapist through language and posturing. Treatment is embedded within the place where it happens and therefore, creating a place of positive meaning can empower recovery.


When is a door not a door? When it’s a jar – a perspective on back pain

This old joke springs to mind when I think about back pain. We can think simply about a doorBack pain and create an image of how it appears but in fact a door consists of at least some of the following: a piece of wood (or another material), a handle, some hinges, a lock and a frame. All of the physical components need to be made from raw materials and require the skills of an individual or a machine to make door. These skills must be learned or a machine need be designed for the specifics of making a part. In this sense, a door is not a door until all these come together. In fact, this can only make a door when the person looking at the door or using the door knows that it is a door and has the function of a door. Otherwise it is just a collection of abstract items. We can say the same for many things that we take for granted when we know what they are and their purpose.

Back pain is such a common problem that it seems as though we should experience this pain at some point in our lives. Certainly the way we live nowadays has a huge impact on the likelihood of suffering back pain. There are many simple habits that we can form to deal with the problem but all too often, we just don’t. Why? Because it is not at the top of our priority list. That said, when is back pain not back pain? When it’s understood. So this must be the start point. Understanding pain and back pain can make an enormous difference to the suffering that spans from mild discomfort to disabling agony.

Back pain is pain in the back — this may sound obvious and it is, yet there is much more to it, somewhat analogous to the door. What is the back? It is made of many components that together form the back. To know it is the back, we must have a construct of the back. We must know what is the back and what is ‘my’ back; the ‘mine-ness’. Similarly with pain, we must have a construct of pain that is learned. These are both the ‘what’, yet we need a ‘how’ to experience them. In the case of back pain, the way in which we are experiencing the back is with pain. Pain is how we feel the back at that moment.

Just as the back is constructed by physical ‘parts’ with a conscious aspect that is non-physical (the two create the whole), the ‘parts’ involve all the systems of the body as much as the self. Back pain is the end result of an enormous amount of multi-system activity, emerging in a body location that is felt. This is the ‘is-ness’ of the experience produced by the whole person that is the sum of every cell in the body. Pain as an emergent property of the whole person is a biological response to a perceived threat. This includes when the body is injured, pathologised and in anticipation that something could be dangerous. Consider a moment when you anticipate that it will hurt. What do you think? What do you do?

Practically, what does this all mean? It means that we cannot use a structural or component basis for treating back pain. The relationship between the body tissue state and the pain state is poor, perhaps even non-existent. Pain is emergent from a whole person who is embedded within a social setting, a culture and a context that all create a meaning for that individual who has a mind that needs a brain, yet the mind is unlikely to reside simply in that brain. The mind resides in that whole person much as the pain that emerges. Hence we must think about the whole if we are to be successful in treating pain.

If you are suffering with chronic pain, come and see us and discover what you can do to understand and change your pain

t. 07932 689081

Specialist Pain Physio Clinics, London


Where have ‘I’ gone?

Neuroscience focuses upon the brain. Neuroscience has shown us that the brain is involved with pain. Consequently the brain has been blamed for pain, the unpleasant motivator that is designed to grab our attention and enforce action that protects us from a threat, actual or potential.

Recent thinking that sensibly gathers paradigms from both neuroscience and philosophy challenges us to re-consider the brain-based explanation for pain, even if we are bringing other body systems into the frame. Mick Thacker argues that pain must come from the whole person, not a part of that person. Whilst I have always subscribed to a holistic view, considering all the dimensions of a pain experience (physical, cognitive, emotional), I have been guilty of the journeying on the brain train. As ever though, our knowledge and ways of thinking and using the knowledge evolve and now pain must be thought of as a holistic expression of the whole person.

My left buttock has been hurting for the last three days, so this has provided me with an opportunity to explore this pain and what it means for my ‘self’. It is of course me that is in pain, a localised feeling in the buttock, but nonetheless it is me, myself and I. The pain invades my attention, thoughts, decisions and plans that all involve me and my interaction with the immediate environment in this particular context. Yes this involves my brain, but my brain is me. One organ or one thought does not define me, yet I need both to sense myself.

Listening to a patient describe their pain is to listen to them describing themselves. What I hear and observe in people with persisting pain such as fibromyalgia, is a story of suffering. Suffering is a loss of the sense of self, and that is a whole, not a part. Pain is a feature but so is loneliness, avoidance, fear, anxiety and isolation. So are we just trying to change pain as this is the most frequent request made by patients? In my view, we are seeking to create the conditions for change in a direction that reduces suffering, this of course including the easing of symptoms. We can only achieve this by working with the whole person and not a part.

Although there is much talk about the pain during a session, what is often verbalised and demonstrated is a change in sense of self. We do not feel the same as before, and certainly as pain persists, this sense alters further. Yes we can identify mechanisms that underpin such change such as adaptations in the brain maps, however it is still the entire person who has the experience. Only by keeping this in mind will we be in the right track with treatment, training and mentoring patients to guide them forward. It must be their whole person that is proactively involved in this journey, cultivating a sense of self that fits with expectation and the vision of how things should be.

Specialist Pain Physio Clinics, London — empathetic treatment, training & mentoring for chronic pain


Fibromyalgia — creating conditions for change

Pain and symptoms can and do change. They can change moment to moment and day to day, but if you suffer persisting symptoms, all of the variations can blend into a long physical and mental struggle. Striving for change needs understanding, motivation, resilience and a plan of how to reach your goals.

Fibromyalgia is biology in action. An integrated response of the nervous system, immune system, autonomic system and endocrine system, all of the manifestations of fibromyalgia are the outputs, the end result of how those systems operate together. Unpleasant and troubling as the pain and symptoms are, this is the body trying to recover and making the individual aware. Most of the processes happen beneath our conscious level, but those that don’t cause suffering, whereby suffering is a loss of a sense of self.

Together the sensations that we feel, the thoughts that we have and the environment around us are the experience. Edelman calls this the econiche, the interaction and end result of this interaction being the individual’s reality. The reality has to be unique: what I see and what you see in the same scene can be different based upon what we know, what we expect, current mood and attention to name a few variables. The same could be said for pain that will be influenced by similar variables. There is a biology of pain and the biology of the influences upon the pain.

My farming analogy that is based upon my belief that pain can change (neuroplasticity — the ability of the nervous system to adapt and learn; it is always changing….there it goes again, it’s just changed. And again), is a useful way of explaining to patients how we think about these systems and interactions, how we have to create the right conditions for change. Much as a farmer will prepare his field and cultivate the best soil for his crops to grow, the individual must take conscious action for the body systems to work towards wellbeing. This is the ‘why?’, with the ‘how?’ being a comprehensive approach that targets the physical, cognitive and emotional dimensions of pain.

Come and see us to find out how you can create the right conditions for changing your pain and symptoms: call 07932 689081