Category Archives: Sports Injuries

05Feb/15
Persisting sports injuries

Today’s talk at QMUL | pain in sport

Today’s talk at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) for the MSc Sports & Exercise Medicine group focused on modern concepts of pain, in particular the problem of persisting pain. Using plenty of clinical examples and anecdotes, we explored a range of topics including:

  • The enormous (global) issue of pain
  • The dimensions of pain (physical – cognitive -emotional)
  • The importance of the whole person as much as the condition
  • The relevance of the meaning of pain to the individual and how this flavours the pain experience
  • The vital early messages when we talk to someone with pain, and how this can shape their thinking and actions
  • The importance of using the science of pain in dealing with sports injuries.

Richmond holds clinics for pain and chronic pain problems in Harley Street, Chelsea and New Malden

If you would like Richmond to come to your practice and talk about pain and chronic pain, please contact Jo on 07518 445493.

24Nov/14
Sturridge thigh injury

One injury, and then another…and another….

Sturridge thigh injury

Sturridge | more thigh troubles

It is a common scenario sadly, both in professional and amateur sports. One injury, then another and another, each demoralising further. It is noteworthy that the science of pain would say that expectations and other thoughts about the pain and injury will affect the pain itself, potentially increasing the overall threat value — recall from previous writings that pain is a response to threat, and not to just that of the actual injury itself. We must consider any threat to the whole person, and this includes thoughts about oneself and one’s career.

When the body is sensitised by an initial injury, despite healing this sensitivity can persist subtly. In other words, at a certain level of activity there is no problem, no defence. But reaching a new level of training may then reach the current threshold that is not yet back to normal. The threshold is the physiological point where messages are scrutinised by the neuroimmune system that is already vigilant to potential threat. There does not need to be an actual threat, just a perceived one by these vigilant body systems, which then triggers a biological defence: pain, altered planning of movement, altered thinking etc.

The continuous journey back to full fitness requires a complete integration of physical and mental preparedness. As well as tissue strength, endurance and mobility, the controlling mechanisms must switch back to normal settings rather than protect — i.e. the upstream: muscles do what they are told by the motor system that originates in the motor areas of the brain, and the motor system plans and executes movement. The planning of movement not only occurs when the ball is about to be kicked or a run begun, but also when thinking about the acts or watching another. As well as these influencing what is happening, these are also great rehabilitation tools to fully prepare the system for the rigours of the game as well as ensuring completeness of recovery: the player resumes the right thinking, decision-making, motor control as well as fitness.

 

23Nov/14
Persisting sports injuries

Why do Arsenal and MUFC have so many injuries?

Football injuriesArsenal Football Club have apparently reported 30 injuries since August, and Manchester United 37 injuries. Why so many?

Injuries are more complex than perhaps initially thought. It is not simply that a player runs out onto the field, clatters into another player, changes direction or bursts into action. There is a huge amount of multi-system activity, both conscious and unconscious that biologically underpins every injurious situation.

For example, a seemingly ‘simple’ ankle sprain is this: a disrupted ligament releases inflammatory chemicals that excite the normally quiet danger receptors on nociceptors; nociceptors send danger signals to the spinal cord to communicate with secondary neurons that are influenced by a flow of signals coming downwards from the brain. The sum of this give and take reaches the brain. According to whether a threat is determined or not, the appropriate response is pain, drawing attention to the affected area so that the right behaviour can be assumed, promoting recovery and survival. Pain is a need state, driving and motivating action.

The danger signals, for there are no pain signals or even a pain centre in the brain, are chemical messages until given meaning by the emotional centres of the brain. This is based on the context of the situation, beliefs, immediate thoughts, previous experience and the environment to name but a few. The injury is deeply embedded within all these factors, none of which are stand alone.

To illustrate, a professional footballer who sprains his ankle could think: ‘how will this affect my career?’, ‘how long will I be out?’, ‘will this affect selection?’, ‘is this the end of my career?’, ‘what will this cost me?’ etc. The question to ask is how is this thinking likely to affect pain? Are those thought threatening? Of course they are, and hence affect the way in which the body protects. As well as promoting the right environment for healing (bottom up), one has to create the right conditions in all body systems (top down) by cultivating the right thinking and with definite action. Until thoughts and beliefs flavour nociceptive signalling, there is no meaning, and without meaning there is no pain. We need pain to survive, but we also need a logical and rational meaning.

Within the culture of football, there are certain beliefs and memes around injury. This will be the case regarding ankles, hamstrings and groins. Just listen to the pundits to hear their comments on these injuries to know this fact. How much of it is fear-based rather than being based on pain science and basic biology? Tackle this and you are more than half-way towards creating the right conditions for recovery.

Injury is incredibly complex because we are incredibly complex. Drawing upon this modern way of thinking about pain and injury and I believe we can tackle this increasing problem of recurring injuries in sport more effectively.

Persisting sports injury? Recurring injury? Football injury? Call now 07518 445493

20Oct/14
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

 

 

18Oct/14
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

 

12Oct/14
Still on the bench?

Athletes still on the bench?

Still on the bench?

Still on the bench?

Chronic pain exists in sport. It is a frustrating problem for players and coaches alike, and is accompanied by an expensive price tag in professional sport. Similar to non-sporting injuries, there is initial tissue damage (e.g. a ligament sprain) that triggers inflammation, a normal part of healing, which typically hurts. This is meant to happen as a motivator to take action: to protect the injured body and to change behaviour to allow healing to progress.

The focus of treatment is usually the injured body region. Reasonable, you may think. Indeed in the early stages, it is wise to think about creating the right environment for local healing. However, there are responses that go far beyond the muscles, ligaments and joints. It is worth pointing out here that we only ‘feel’ those structures because of how our brains create the experience, this merely touching the subject on how we really ‘feel’. This in mind, it is only logical to think further than the injured tissue in order to comprehensively rehabilitate an injury.

In persisting pain states that present as an on-going injury or an inability to return to the playing field, thinking beyond the body is essential. Why is this player not recovering? The ligament has healed, the bone has healed, there is little or no inflammation on the scan etc, etc. What is going on? Going upstream of these tissues provides the answers. In fact, going upstream will explain persisting inflammation in many cases, and help to break the cycle.

Pain is multi-system, pain is emergent, pain is whole-person. A range of body systems kick-in when we injure ourselves, and sometimes they do not switch off as you may expect. There are indicators at the time of injury that suggest the route forward will be an issue. These need to be addressed rapidly.

I read and hear about treatment and rehabilitation programmes that focus on movement, proprioception, strength, core and the like. All important, but what happens when these fail to get the sports person back to play? What is the reason? The answers lie in the adaptations of the body systems and the beliefs and expectations of the healthcare professionals and the athletes.

Different thinking is needed for persisting, complex and chronic pain.

If you are struggling to return to sport or you are working with a player who is stuck, get in touch and we can work together to identify the problems and how to solve them: call now 07518 445493 

28Sep/14
Chronic pain and injury in football and sport

Premiership football injuries — all too common, time to re-think

Chronic pain and injury in football and sportOpening the sports pages this morning (Saturday), the news is abound with the football injuries in the Premiership. Manchester United report nine unfit players just a few weeks into the season. Nasri is ‘out for a month’ as he is due to have surgery for a ‘serious groin injury’ — if it is a serious groin injury and requires surgery, how can Nasri be back in one month whilst allowing for healing, re-training of body sense and control, fitness and an ability to perform free of any thoughts that impact upon his play? A return without fully addressing these fundamental factors will set Nasri up for a greater risk of future problems.

Just as the thinking in pain, the largest global health burden, needs to be constantly challenged, so does the way we think about injuries in football and sport.

Clubs, managers, fans and players alike want a rapid return to the field. The financial and footballing culture demands that players are back as soon as possible. The pressure is great, but pressure is created by the way one thinks and perceives a situation. Change the thinking and a different system will emerge that allows for improved preventative strategies, full recovery and gradual return. 80% recovered is not good enough, 90% recovered is not good enough; unless of course the risk of re-ignition of pain is deemed to be acceptable. We should always aim for a full and sustainable recovery.

There are simple ways of evolving thinking, beginning with players really understanding pain and injury — for example, the poor relationship between pain and the extent of tissue damage, the many influences upon how we control movement and perform, the context around an injury and how this affects the body’s response. This education and training should equally be delivered to managers, coaches and club owners. The biggest issues are the lack of understanding of pain and the communication around the injury. With understanding of pain and clear communication from the outset, there is a strong basis for optimal recovery.

Some pains come from incidents, such as a tackle (direct trauma) or a turn of pace (hamstring strain), and others from a prior injury that has not fully recovered or emerge as a result of the body gradually protecting itself more and more. This latter scenario develops from incomplete recovery from normal training and match play, i.e. there is not enough rest and recuperation time for normal tissue breakdown-rebuild. Both of these scenarios need greater consideration to keep the players playing. And sometimes, the wisest action is that they do not play.

Drawing upon the neuroscience of pain and performance, persisting injury problems in football can be addressed in such a way as to sustainably reduce the risk of re-injury and on-going niggles. We accept that sport can hurt. But when performance is compromised by factors that we can address, for the sakes of all those involved, we can think differently and take the treatment of injuries to a new level that is all about learning and moving forwards.

If you are a player struggling to return to play or a club, call us now to start your recovery: 07932 689081

27Aug/14

Murray’s attack of the cramps

Most active people have suffered the agony of cramping. The uncontrollable vice-like spasm squeezes the blood out of the muscle, the acids build and the oxygen level drops. End result: writhing or hopping around until the tightness eases and pain gradually subsides. It is not uncommon for the effects to be felt for a day or so afterwards, much like post-exercise soreness. Usually there is one affected part of the body whilst Murray reports to have felt the cramping in his thighs, his trunk and forearms, a more widespread pattern.

Murray’s health team will monitor his electrolyte levels closely and implement a diet that optimises his needs. Widespread symptoms that are more suggestive of a systemic biological response is then, less likely to be explained by an issue of ions through dietary or liquid deficiency. However, we cannot totally eliminate this factor as the demands of any particular game are unique, both physically and psychologically — the two being inextricably linked as the whole person responding to a situation. As Murray says, you cannot really prepare for a game via practice. Practice is just that, practice. Hence the requirements are always different.

Nothing happens in isolation. The cramps did not just come on. They were the end result of a mass of biological activity in many body systems before emerging as a response by the whole body and person in an attempt to stop Murray playing at that moment. Inconvenient as this was at the time, Murray’s biology prevailed as it must, and he is subject to his biology as are we all. This biology is influenced enormously by cognition, that is, the way we are thinking, and the way we are thinking about our thoughts (metacognition), how we feel, and how we are thinking about how we are feeling. Understood? For there are chemical underpinnings to thought as much as movement, and movement is far more complicated that one may think. Our motor system is really a sensorimotor system. Actually, it is a ‘sensorimotorimmunoendocrinogastroautonomomusculoskeletal system’. That is no joke either. We are complex.

A thought, ‘I am thirsty’ initiates action in this system because the plan begins at that point — to get out of this chair, walk to the cupboard, pick out a glass etc etc. You may not even do this, but the plan is enacted. In some people with sensitivity, these thoughts and plans alone trigger pain. The system responds to watching others move as well. This is usually
below our conscious level but affects the way we move. In fact, movement is affected by where we are, who we are with, what we are thinking about doing, what we have done, how we are feeling and many other factors. Fortunately this data is scrutinised by the brain on our behalf before producing the required movement. When all is well, the systems work magnificently. When things go awry, it can range from inconvenience to catastrophic. And if it is at the inconvenient end of the spectrum, catastrophic thinking can have a dramatic effect upon the pain. I wrote about Messi’s experience of severe knee pain in 2012 when he collided with the goalkeeper. He thought his career was over because of the intensity of the pain. Examination revealed a bruise. He was playing again the next week. Pain is moulded by the situation, past experience and immediate thoughts.

Having seen huge numbers of people with chronic pain, complex pain and dystonia (a movement disorder that is characterised by unwanted and involuntary movements), one could think of a sportsman’s cramp as a transitory form. In rare cases, paroxysmal exercise-induced dystonia (PED) is diagnosed. This is a type of dystonia that is triggered by physical exertion and characterised by a sudden onset of dystonia movements: involuntary, painful spasms, torsional movements. They come and they go.

Another problem that is familiar is the yips. Arguably best known in golf, this is when a well rehearsed and automatic movement becomes conscious and falls apart. This can only happen if you are an expert. On addressing the ball, the ensuing swing is so natural, honed via thousands of rehearsals and practices, under normal circumstances. When the yips grips, this is forgotten and literally, the player does not know what to do. This is a problem of conscious thought and focus but also an issue of movement, an example of how mind-body are so integrated and bidirectional in terms of influence.

Hopefully Murray will not suffer a further bout of widespread cramping. I am sure that the medical team are looking at the footage and talking to him to establish the possible explanations and causes. It may be a one-off but thought needs to be given to why this happened and what has happened to learn and then reduce the risks of recurrence.

25Aug/14

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. 

24Jul/14

It’s time to bring what we know about chronic pain into sport

I recall a time when a consultant told me that chronic pain does not exist in private medicine. I was somewhat dumbfounded that an intelligent person could have such a thought. As a far as I was (and am) concerned, pain is classless. This was some years ago, however I am reminded of this when I think about the lack of recognition of chronic pain in sport.

Injury and pain are part of sport and we all know this well. Healthy people engaging in regular physical activity gain the physical and psychological benefits of exercising, but there is a risk of injury. And whilst many people who are injured will heal and recover, resuming their sport, there are a cohort who do not return to full participation and suffer on-going pain. Persisting pain affects one’s ability to perform, self-confidence, self-efficacy and in the professional case, a career. This is no different to the situation with a non-athlete with chronic pain.

There are a number of reasons why an athlete fails to recover including the context of the injury, early management, the development of fear, the understanding of the pain and injury, and the intensity of the pain at the outset. When lecturing on this subject, I tell the story of Messi who believed that his career was over because of the pain he experienced in his knee having collided with a goalkeeper. He was immediately taken for an MRI scan that revealed no injury. Recovery was swift when Messi knew he had not damaged his body. The pain he experienced on the field when he thought his footballing days were over was intense with a meaning that drove into the heart of his emotions, and that of the silenced crowd.

The reasons that pain persist are no different in the non-sporting person: the context of the injury, the state of health at the time, prior pain and injury and how they were dealt with, initial management etc. This being the case, we can bring the modern thinking about chronic pain into the sports arena for two reasons. One is to look at how injuries are dealt with in the early stages, and the other to take a broad perspective in tacking the on-going or recurring injury.

The early management of sports injuries is well known. The aspect to which I refer is the communication about injury and pain. In fact, even before an injury, providing education for players and athletes would impact upon those first vital moments that can prime and set up the recovery. At the point of injury, a whole body, all-system response kicks in, and recognising these processes in their entirety will maximise the recovery potential from the outset. All the necessary processes for recovery are in the human body. The main proponents of disruption are over-zealous treaters, fearful potential recoverers and those who ignore what the body is orchestrating. A careful explanation of the injury, pain and what will happen to aid recovery goes a long way to calming excited protective body systems.

Changing a pain state is entirely possible. Understanding that pain emerges in the body but involves the whole body is vital when considering all the factors necessary to set up recovery. When pain persists there are many habits and behaviours that become part of the problem. These need identification and re-training as much as the altered body sense, altered movement patterns, altered thinking, altered emotional state, altered immune responses, altered endocrine responses, altered autonomic responses, altered self-awareness, altered perception of the environment — we are altered in this state and it involves a host of responses, not set in stone but instead, adapting and surviving. On spraining a knee ligament, it’s not the ligament as much as how the body is responding to the detection of chemicals released by the injured tissue, the perception of threat and how the individual responds to the conscious feelings created by the whole body that drive thoughts and behaviours.

In the light of this knowledge (that has existed for many years), far more comprehensive treatment and training measures have been devised in small quarters. This approach delivers vastly improved outcomes because the problem is being addressed in a way that recognises that pain emerges from the whole. This notion was crafted from the merging of neuroscience and philosophy and is now taking our thinking forward (thanks to Mick Thacker and Lorimer Moseley for bringing this mode of thinking to physical therapy and beyond). I no longer refer to ‘pain management’ as this implies we are not trying to change pain, and I believe that we can and do change pain.

Pain is changing all the time as is every conscious experience. What patients believe is what they will achieve: “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right”, Henry Ford. Let us draw upon the psychology of success, create a clear vision and go for it. Every action and thought can be challenged with the question, “Will this take me towards my vision?”. This is the same in sport as it is in the general population and we can use exactly the same principles, just with different end points — everyone has a different end point, hence my push for recognition that chronic pain exists in sport and remains a huge and costly problem for individuals and clubs.

How can we go about this? Initially we must create awareness of the extent of the problem, recognising that a wider approach is needed and subsequently implementing contemporary treatment and training methods that work with the whole person. Understanding the pain mechanisms, the pain influences and the context of the pain for the individual orientates thinking that creates a route forward toward the identified vision. Blending specific training (e.g./ body awareness, sensorimotor control) with techniques that boost self-efficacy and maintain motivation for the necessary steps towards recovery. The recovery is part of the vision and is determined by prioritising the programme and working consistently.

Using comprehensive measures and thinking, we can create the conditions that allow for pain to change in the whole person by allowing body systems to do their work. Our role is to facilitate this biology by what we say, do and advise. Drawing upon the contemporary way persisting pain is approached in the general population, sportsmen and women can access the same benefits, optimise their potential to return to exercise and reduce the risks of recurrence.

Richmond specialises in creating the conditions for people with chronic pain and injury to recover and move forward. When he is not seeing patients, Richmond spends his time writing and talking about pain with the aim of bringing the modern understanding of pain into the public domain for better treatment

Specialist Pain Physio Clinics, London