Category Archives: understand pain

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.

07Oct/17
Royal Parks 1/2 Marathon

Why I run

Royal Parks 1/2 Marathon

Team shirts for Royal Parks 1/2 Marathon

Why I run

Recently I was chatting to a good friend who asked me why I run. I had to pause and think because naturally I don’t class myself as a runner. Instead, I am someone who goes running.

Whether I am a runner or not is not particularly important, however the purpose is. I used to go out regularly just to keep fit. 30-40 minutes would suffice, I would feel pretty good afterwards, but it was often a bind beforehand. Then the Royal Parks 1/2 Marathon 2016 was on the agenda so I had to get a bit more serious. Somehow it became more enjoyable. There was a goal and a reason. The reason was to raise awareness of the problem of chronic pain and to raise money for UP, understand pain.

Purpose and mine as an example

Having a purpose or a meaning is known to be a key ingredient for a healthy and happy life. You may or may not know what it is, so it’s a great idea to write it out. We all have a calling, or as Seth Godin says, a ‘caring’. We can have a number of these in relation to family, work and other activities in life.

My purpose, which you could also call my ‘why’ in Simon Sinek’s language, is to inspire as many people as I can, to live well and overcome pain. This is by directly working and coaching with people who suffer chronic pain to date, and delivering The Pain Coach Workshops to clinicians and therapists who choose to become inspirers, educators, enablers and encouragers.

Here is Richard Leider on purpose ~ TEDX talk

UP & CRPS UK London Marathon

Next came the opportunity to run the London Marathon 2017. I was selected to represent CRPS UK, joining together with UP, and realised the excitement of taking part in an incredible day. The experience of preparing for a marathon was something I can now look back upon with pride. Somehow you manage to fit in the regular and long runs. Undoubtedly this required the support of the people close by. The 20 mile plus efforts would consume a Saturday with the recovery on return usually consisting of walking like John Wayne accompanied by much grunting and groaning until the next day.

What has running done for me?

There have been a number of effects of long distance running beyond the obvious fitness. At a time when I was driving understand pain onwards, the regular and intense exercising helped me to focus. In part this was from organising my time, prioritising and concentrating on completing tasks. There was no choice, because I had to fit in the long runs, but now this has become a habit. We have finite time and so wise use is important to me.

The ability to focus comes into its own when you are some miles into the run and your thinking turns to stopping, the pain, and plenty of other reasons why continuing is a bad idea. To keep going and ‘just run’ as my good (running) friend advised me was gold. You can and do just keep going, suddenly inspired by something you choose to turn your attention to, fortifying the attitude I describe below, which we can take into other arenas of life.

The most significant opportunity was building upon the ‘you can’ approach to life. Building up the miles with an attitude of ‘I can do this’, keeping my attention on a picture of success that I clarified from the start and following principles that take me in that direction resulted in completing the marathon. Looking back now, this was a mindset that pervaded the UP ethos and how grown immeasurably since. The more you work that approach, the more the approach works.

you can

Undoubtedly, focusing on one’s strengths means that you get results together with the development of clarity and resilience to face challenges that crop up. This is no different with a pain challenge to overcome, which is why I encourage people to adopt the strengths approach. It works if you have a purpose, principles to follow and a picture of success to work towards based on living a healthy and happy life.

So this is why I run. Not to keep fit — that is a great side effect and not at all separate from the way we feel and think; we are whole unique individuals — but to nurture and build an approach to life that is about possibility and fulfilling potential.

approach to life: problems or possibilities?

Tomorrow I run the Royal Parks 1/2 Marathon in London. This was a great day last year and I am very excited to be doing it again. I am running to raise awareness of CRPS UK and understand pain and the work we are doing to address the No 1 global health burden ~ see below. Please support my work. Chronic pain affects each and everyone of us either because we suffer, know someone who suffers or pay towards the problem via taxes, insurance premiums and long NHS waits. This can change. This is our work at understand pain, this is my purpose.

11Sep/17
Specialist Pain Physio for chronic pain

You are supporting meaningful change in society

Understand pain for social change

Supporting meaningful change in society

Chronic pain costs us more than any other health issue

Think about all the things that hurt and can go on hurting: back pain, knee pain, stomach pain (e.g./ irritable bowel syndrome), pelvic pain (e.g./ period pain, endometriosis, vulvodynia), headaches, migraines, sports injuries, chest pain and so it goes on. Pain is a universal experience, except in a very small number of people (congenital insensitivity to pain), and so it is no surprise that it can be such a significant social problem. It is a vital part of the way that we learn and protect ourselves, or survive.

“100 million Europeans suffer chronic pain, costing up to €441bn per year

This is a massive public health issue affecting millions of people across the globe. Pain is having a huge impact on society and society has a huge impact on pain. It is in society that the experience of pain is embedded and therefore why we must think of pain as a social issue. In changing the way society understands pain, we will transform this suffering. This is the reason for UP | understand pain, a purpose-led enterprise, to reach out to as many people as possible and advance the knowledge and practices in society to transform pain and live well.

Specialist Pain Physio for chronic pain

Richmond Stace | Pain Coach & Specialist Pain Physiotherapist

How are you contributing to this work? 

When you work with me to overcome your pain, part of your fees go towards the work of UP | understand pain. Similarly, when I run a paid workshop, this is matched with a free workshop for people locally. UP is also supporting the next generation by providing 2 free places at each professional workshop for local undergraduates. This is how you are supporting meaningful change in society.

“Each of your sessions is helping society positively change. 

If you would like more information about workshops, you can click here

If you would like information about the Pain Coach Programme to live well, you can click here

If you would like any other information or to book a session, please email us ([email protected]) or use the contact form below:

04Sep/17
CRPS Conference Cork 2017

Notes from Day 1 CRPS Conference in Cork

Notes from Day 1 CRPS Conference in Cork

CRPS Conference Cork 2017

Welcome to my observations from Day 1 of the CRPS Conference in Cork last week. The notes from Day 2 will be with you shortly, but for now you can check out what went on in the room and beyond. I was there in a dual capacity: representing Understand Pain and keen to make connections with others who want to drive social change with regards pain, and as a trustee for CRPS UK.

‘no pain no gain’ — really??

There are always key moments in a day’s full programme, and there was one that stood out yesterday. More on that shortly.

We started with a walk through of the known predictors for CRPS by Dr. Andreas Goebel. Over the years, Dr. Goebel has become a well known figure in the world of CRPS, so it was good to see him kick off proceedings after an introduction from Dr Dominic Hegarty.

Risk Factors pre-trauma include age over 50 years, being female, suffering migraine, osteoporosis, asthma and taking ACE-inhibitors. Immediately post-trauma we should assess for the pain intensity (more pain, more risk), a lack of exercise, the fracture type, musculoskeletal co-morbidities and perhaps pre-existing PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).

This is a key area for clinicians and our ability to recognise the likelihood that a person could develop CRPS. In honing the awareness and skills, this can only get better, which would translate into less suffering. Jumping ahead to the last part of the day, CRPS UK launched their new information leaflet that specifically targets the lack of knowledge and understanding.

CRPS UK Leaflet

CRPS UK New Leaflet

The morning rolled on as we were treated to performances from the CRPS pop-stars. A gig typically gets going with the headline act at the end of a day of progressively bigger bands taking the stage. We started with a ‘main event’ as Lorimer Moseley entered the room via a video link.

Lorimer’s urine

Having shown off about his white, urine coloured wine as he described it, Lorimer gave us a typically witty yet informative talk. Always entertaining, LM is equally sharp in his observations from data, thereby keeping a firm foot in science. Admirably, he emphasised one of the often neglected aspects of being human in these situations — bias. Our declarations when speaking set the scene and let the audience know who we are (a bit).

The focus of Lorimer’s excellent work is certainly the brain. He has a way of transmitting the information in such a digestible way that most presenters would pay for a few of his (brain) cells. Together with the ability to make the listener feel on a par, this makes for easy listening whilst looking at some dots on a graph. I would not make head nor tail of those dots, but LM makes it engaging and everyone comes away knowing what they mean as well as an insight into the rigours of doing science well.

If there was a criticism it would be about the focus on the brain rather than the person. However, it is up the the clinicians and therapists to gather the presented information from the different speakers and form a bigger picture. Regular readers will know that my beliefs (and there will be bias in these of course) sit with the whole person approach, which is why Tim’s (Beames) talk softened the blow of data by bringing the human element to the room.

Tim and I have emerged from a similar place and whilst we will have our unique take, our interests lie in the person and that person learning to reduce their suffering. We both know that people can do this with the right ‘know-how’.

“The whole person approach is a must”

GMI (graded motor imagery) has been a big mover in CRPS. Tim was keen to point out that this is not a method to use in isolation, which I am sure everyone would agree with. In the physio world, over the years, there has often been the search for the recipe, the one treatment mode that will help. Littered with ‘gurus’, physio education has suffered as a result. I think and hope we are moving beyond this now. Integrated education when we share platforms with different disciples must be a way forward. Certainly in the Pain Coach Programme I want a range of clinicians and therapists so that we can create super teams with a shared vision, a focus on our strengths and each person knowing why they do what they do as a minimum.

Shock of the day goes to Robert Van Dongen as he described an approach whereby the person with CRPS receives hands on manual therapy that looks agonising. I say ‘looks’ because he treated us to a video of a foot and ankle being massaged and moved with audio. The noises coming from the recipient suggest it was not pleasant. The folk on my table who have CRPS winced and looked away, I felt something in my foot. It was provocative viewing! But, this is what is happening so we should discuss the treatment philosophy and work out whether it does have any long-term benefits. I am not sure. I will not be adopting this mode readers may like to know.

“Watching someone have a painful experience triggers real emotions and sensations in me”

The patients receiving the therapy were clearly motivated to undertake the programme. The short term pain of the treatment out-weighed the ‘pain’ of trying something else. There was a reward somewhere — maybe the relief of the heightened pain easing off! A key point here with a motivated patient is that they are likely to do well with any functional programme because they have prioritised and committed to taking actions in line with getting better. Would these people do equally well with a standard programme?

The shock wore off and we settled into a solid and well thought out talk on the team approach from Candy McCabe. I am into ‘teams’ and in particular ‘super teams’ so I was very pleased to hear Candy speak about some of the important principles. Great teams do great work but this necessitates a good leader, a vision, a recognition of individual and team strengths, engagement, and compassionate communication at the very least.

Bring a touch of the real world to the end of the day, we heard from two clinicians who described their experiences. Together with Victoria from Burning Nights, these stories brought the day to a conclusion as we moved from data, science and theory to what actually happens and the phenomenon of the lived experience. At the end of the day, it is this lived experience that is important. A person suffering CRPS, do they need to know about chemicals, brains, nerves etc, or do they need to know that they can be ok and that they can get better? For me that’s a no-brainer.

Whilst I agree that people must understand their pain (of course I do!), this is a practical knowing. The Understand Pain & Pain Coach Workshops deliver the knowledge, skills and know how, with the last element a vital part of the make-up. Without know-how, we don’t know. Not knowing results in fear, worry, and a hit and miss approach versus a knowing that leads to confidence, control and an outlook of being well.

Through the day there was acknowledgement that this is a difficult condition to treat and address for the person and clinicians. Traditionally thinking, yes this is true. But as with anything, if we start by saying how hard it will be, we are pre-empting. We are creating a lens of ‘difficultness’ through which we push everything else.

There is a choice to be had. What would happen if we used the lens of possibility and opportunity? We are designed to change and have inherent mechanisms of getting better. The offerings of a whole person approach tap into our potential as amazing human beings as opposed to focusing on a body area, a brain, a particular treatment approach. The reality is that we are all unique (see blog here on WUPs) and hence there is no single way of dealing with a condition. And that is because we are not dealing with a condition, we are helping a human being overcome a challenge and how that manifests in them. The plea here then, is to stop trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. See things for what they are and address each person in the ‘personalised’ way that they need and deserve. I will write more on the ‘how’ of this subsequently.

So, with that all in mind, we move onwards into day 2……

16Jul/17
Andy Murray hip pain

Andy Murray’s hip

Wimbledon 2017 ~ the growing injury list

Andy Murray hip pain

The Wimbledon Championship has featured a significant number of injuries this year. On the same day we lost Djokovic and Andy Murray, the former retiring through injury, the latter struggling with hip pain. Sadly for British fans and tennis fans, the intensity of the pain prevented him from progressing. Murray was obviously struggling to move normally as his body shifted into a state of protect.

Why do players breakdown at the tournament?

There are several reasons. The game has become increasingly physical together with the pressure to perform in tournament after tournament. Everybody needs recovery time, and some players may simply have figured in too little within their schedule. It is not just the game time that requires subsequent recovery, but also the training: on court, strength and conditioning etc.

One must ask about the pressures to play, both financially and to achieve a ranking. To earn money, and this is a job that pays the bills, and to be ranked, players need to play. They are also driven to be the best that they can be, which means pushing oneself. The cultural meme in sport ‘no pain no pain’ exists and anyone involved in any kind of physical activity knows that intense play hurts. So when is it normal and when is it a problem?

It is somewhat easier to make that judgement in amateur sport when the stakes are not so high. Your career does not depend on playing that extra game. In professional sport, understanding pain is absolutely key in making this all.

This week a commentator pointed out that all players have some kind of injury and that no-one is 100% fit. What is 100% fit anyway? This will mean different things to different people. Do players feel aches and pains everyday? Yes, everybody does to a greater or lesser degree. Life hurts! But in many cases, the pains come and go, and do not impact upon life or performance. If a pain repeatedly occurs and does have an impact upon performance and life, this is something that does need to be addressed.

Acute injury vs persistent injury vs persistent pain

It is interesting that most of the injuries we have seen this year have not been acute. In other words, the players knew about the problem beforehand as it has been rumbling on for some time. Murray reported that his hip has been something he has been dealing with for years.

This is with the exception of Bethanie Mattek-Sands when her knee injury happened there and then, taking everyone by surprise. This is one of the reasons it was so shocking, because no one expected it, least of all Bethanie herself.

There is a difference between an injury moment and a pain moment. Pain and injury are not the same. Pain is part of the way we are alerted to being in a state of protect, a great motivator compelling action, and an injury is when there is a disruption to our body. An injury can often hurt but it does not have to, and the extent of the pain varies enormously depending upon a number of factors.

Andy Murray's hip

Pain and injury are not the same – read here

The terms pain and injury are often used interchangeably and this is not correct. Persistent or chronic pain and chronic injury are not the same. A chronic injury would mean that the healing process has not completed, taking longer than would be expected. Persistent or chronic pain is not well related to the tissue state, instead being a reflection of an on-going state of protect. There are a number of reasons why the state of protect persists and these are a main focus for the treatment and coaching programme to overcome the problem.

Murray’s hip pain

Whether Andy Murray has an injury or a pain problem we do not know. I hope he knows because this will determine the treatment and the training needed. Undoubtedly when a player is training and playing as often as Murray, there needs to be down time. Has he had this time? Federer took time off and appears to have benefited.

No-one can keep going at a high pace in life without recharging. We all must figure in refresh and renew points through each day, learning how to switch to ‘care-giving’ mode. In this state, our body systems are doing all the vital things for long-term health and well-being. Without this we burnout: chronic pain, poor sleep, low mood, depression, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, fertility issues etc etc, many of the common, modern day ills.

A person who presents with a long term hip pain needs to tell their complete story. From there the key points and ‘primers’ are identified. In essence the person does not feel themselves and the aim is for them to be able to say, ‘I feel myself’. In fact, when we feel ourselves and get what we expect, we are in flow and do not really think too much about how we are doing things. They just happen. We do not normally think about walking, but if my hip hurts I will scrutinise every step, the pavement, others walking towards me, hills, steps etc. The world looks different and I feel different. Normalising these is key.

Let’s hope that the nature of the problem can be truly established and then dealt with effectively and with long-term results in mind. Hips, like any body area, are not in isolation to the whole, and typically relate closely to the back and pelvis. Murray has had back issues before, a very common problem in both athletes and the general population, so I am sure this will be considered as part of the bigger picture.

What is your picture of success?

We all have our picture of success and should know what that looks like. This vision becomes a reference point and an orientation as we follow the necessary training programme and learn along the way. One can check in and ask: ‘Am I heading in my desired direction or am I being distracted?’. For Andy Murray, I would imagine his picture involves him consistently playing his best tennis. The key is to focus on what we want rather than what we don’t want. When I ask patients ‘what do you want?’, they often reply at first, ‘I don’t want this pain’.

Whilst this is an understandable response, the pain is actually what you do not want rather than what you do. This may sound all rather semantic, however there is an important practical difference. What we focus upon, we get more of. Think about what you actually want, crystallising the image and doing your utter best to get there.

“Don’t think of red elephants

Andy Murray, like all sports people, has a coach. His coach will work together with him to tap into his ‘greatest self’ so that Murray can achieve his best results. It is no different with overcoming pain. The person suffering chronic (on-going) pain is coached to be their greatest self. They are coached to become their own coach. In other words, because the person is with themselves consistently, they need to know independently how to orientate their thinking and what actions to take to get the best results. On the strong foundation of understanding paincoaching provides a structured way onwards, carving out a fulfilling life.


Pain Coach Programme to live a fulfilling life ~ t. 07518 445493 mailto:[email protected]
04Jul/17
Pain and injury

Andy Murray fit for Wimbledon ~ pain in sport: 3 key points

Andy Murray fit for Wimbledon ~ pain in sport: 3 key points

Andy Murray fit for Wimbledon ~ pain in sport: 3 key points, but first…

What does Andy Murray have in store for fans this year?

Undoubtedly Andy Murray is resilient. He declared himself fit for Wimbledon 2017 and he has just beaten Alexander Bublik to take a step closer to the final: one game down, six to go.

There were concerns in the media about Murray suffering left hip pain during the build up to Wimbledon. Apparently this is a problem he has had for many years, however he is not going to let this stop him from giving his best. We have become used to his determined attitude, one that he has had to develop towards pain and injury in particular.

Clearly performing at the elite level has an impact upon the body, which is why the conditioning must be right to check the physical stresses. But, we are more than a physical shell. We are a ‘whole person’ and hence being resilient to life’s challenges is a key skill. This is an exciting time for Andy Murray as he embarks on his defence of the title whilst expecting a second child with wife Kim. Being able to put aside the hip pain, he could even be using this wonderful news as an inspiration.

In 2013 I wrote a blog about Andy Murray, back surgery and microdiscectomy. It still gets a fair few hits, particularly at this time of year when people are reading about him and Wimbledon. I stated that the rehabilitation “is not just about exercising. It is about understanding, learning, motivating, creating the right context for movement with confidence and many more factors that can lead to optimised outcomes”. Since then Murray has had a remarkable time, currently holding 45 titles.

“rehabilitation is not just about exercising

Murray fans now hope to enjoy (is that the right word?) the next two weeks. The pinnacle would be next Sunday watching a closely fought final with a Murray victory. Who knows? Sport these days chucks out surprises that ultimately keep us all riveted. Look at the Lions last Saturday!

Now, my blogs would not be my blogs if I didn’t somehow turn the thinking to pain. One of my favourite areas of discussion is pain in sport, in particular chronic pain in sport. Yes it exists! (Some people seem to think it may not….). Many times I have given my lecture and talks on the topic, encouraging modern thinking about pain to emerge in the sporting realm. There are some simple principles to begin with, and we can use Andy Murray to illustrate the points.

3 key points

Pain and injury are neither the same nor well related

We have known this for many years. The famous lecture and paper was in 1979! So when you see Murray in pain on the TV, this does not tell you much about the state of his hip. It does tell you that his body systems are in protect mode, compelling a range of behaviours and actions that can be seen. Pain on the other hand, cannot be seen. Pain is a lived experience. Can you see funny? Can you see hunger? All these experiences are whole person, which is my second key point.

“pain has only a weak connection to injury but a strong connection to the body state

Pat Wall (1979)

Andy Murray fit for Wimbledon ~ pain in sport: 3 key points

Pain is whole person

This means when we are treating pain and overcoming pain we have to think about the whole and not reduce it to a body part or some physiology. If my knee hurts, it is ‘I’ who feel pain and not my knee. Much like thirst. It compels action by me, the agent. Think for a moment: where do you feel thirst? Some may say in my mouth or throat. Think again. That is a dry mouth, which you may interpret as a sign suggesting that you need a drink. Pain always exists in a context. The context is the person, the environment, the action, the perception, and prior experience. Of course this changes all the time, as are we, the dynamic and ‘updating’ humans that we are. This gives great hope because when we tap into our incredible ability and resource, we realise that we can chnage pain and transform our experience. And that is my third point.

Pain can and does change, beginning with truly understanding pain

This has become so important to me over the years that I have set up a social enterprise in that name: understand pain or UP. Understanding pain gives you the foundation that you need to be able to take the actions that get results. Build upon a model of success and using the tools of coaching, in particular strengths based coaching, you set out your vision. What do you want? Then you orientate your thinking and attitude towards this picture of success and do your utter best. This is the route that Andy Murray has taken and continues to pursue, just like any elite athlete or person who has achieved.

These 3 key points are fundamental and continue to feature in my talks and writings. They do so because they are vital ingredients in the clinic. There are many others, but to start with these orientates the person in the right direction. As clinicians we may think ‘treatment’ but we offer so much more. We do treat and this is important. We also coach: we coach people to coach themselves in their world and to immerse themselves in the practices that result in living as best they can. Together we create the understanding and conditions for the person to flourish and feel themselves. They live fulfilling lives with all the joys and pleasures that exist whilst developing the resilience and skills to face challenges and learn. We can do this at any age, and we should be teaching kids these skills right now in schools ~ that’s for another time.

So, good luck Andy Murray and all the others chasing the Championship! We will enjoy watching you all over the next two weeks.

RS


Pain Coach Programme ~ treatment, training and coaching to overcome pain and live life 07518 445493

 

 

22Jun/17
CRPS UK

Delighted to be a trustee for CRPS UK

delighted to be a trustee for CRPS UK

CRPS UK ~ a charity supporting people suffering Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) and their carers

I am delighted to be a trustee for CRPS UK. In recent years I have spoken at the conferences and this year was invited to run the 2017 London Marathon for the charity.

CRPS is an example of a condition that can be excruciatingly painful. The Budapest Criteria lays out the necessary signs and symptoms, which is important in terms of a diagnosis and for research.

There are several issues that need urgent addressing and I will help CRPS with their endeavours.

As with other painful conditions, the first problem lies with the misunderstanding of pain. The predominant model remains biomedical, however this approach does not offer answers for persistent or chronic pain. The biomedical model relies on finding a pathology or structural basis to explain the pain. Pain is poorly related to tissue state because it is part of the way that the body protects itself. We have known this for many years, the famous lecture and paper being published in 1979.

“society does not understand pain despite it being the largest global health burden

Early diagnosis is important for CRPS as it guides treatment and prevents unnecessary suffering. This means that CRPS needs to be recognised by healthcare professionals. A common scenario is an incident resulting in the development of the condition, which is not recognised, thereby treated inefficiently, the symptoms worsen and so the cycle goes on. An important note is that poor treatment outcomes and low expectations affect the outcomes. However, the third point is that pain can and does change.

The predominant messages in society (and healthcare) are negative and suggest that the person has to merely cope or manage their pain. With the bar set so low and teeing up the person’s expectations at such a meagre height, no wonder there is minimal improvement. Why would you bother? This is all wrong and certainly not in line with what we really know about pain and people.

We have remarkable potential and need to know how to tap into it. What is getting in the way of recovery and getting better? What are the barriers to living? In exploring these by using our own amazing resources, we can achieve success and change. We are designed to change; you cannot not change! It is a matter of choosing a direction.

“what do you want in life? How does it look?

My Pain Coach Programme stemmed from understanding and believing in people’s ability to change, their resourcefulness (that they may not know they have because of negative messages to self and from others) and the latest pain sciences.

delighted to be a trustee for CRPS UK

Richmond Stace

Who am I?

For those who don’t know me and who are wondering why I have been asked to be a trustee for CRPS UK, here is a brief background. I am a physiotherapist with a background in pain neuroscience, rehabilitation and nursing. For many years I have worked with people suffering chronic and complex pain, giving them the understanding of pain that they can use to get better. In 2015 together with Georgie Standage, who came to see me with CRPS, we created UP | understand pain. Starting as an awareness campaign, UP was launched with a huge singing event.

delighted to be a trustee for CRPS UK

UP is now focusing on delivering the right messages about pain via the new website due to be available as a resource this year, and workshops for people who need to understand pain: sufferers, their families, clinicians, policymakers, patient representative group and other stakeholders.

I am very excited to be working with the team at CRPS UK, driving forward to change the way that the condition is recognised and treated. At the outset, people need to understand pain and know their role in getting better and their potential. Setting the scene from the beginning is vital and then using the right approaches so that the person can overcome their pain and live a meaningful life.

RS

 

 

13Jun/17

Steps forward at SIP 2017

Positive work done at SIP 2017

There were some important steps forward at SIP 2017 last week when stakeholders got together to discuss the societal issue of pain and agree ways forward. Positive work was done by the collective, consisting of patient representative groups, policy makers, clinicians, scientists and others.

It is rare that all the stakeholders meet, making this a very special conference. Here is an initial summary.

Societal Impact of Pain

Steps forwards at SIP 2017

The problems

The title of the interest group itself, ‘Societal Impact of Pain’ or SIP, drew me to the 2017 conference. I firmly believe pain to be a societal issue that has enormous consequences for individuals and the world in which we live. Whilst there are many meetings dedicated to pain, most focus on a scientific programme. This is only part of a much bigger picture that includes socioeconomic factors, culture, beliefs, gender, access to healthcare, understanding of pain and lifestyle, to name but a few. SIP, as far as addressing pain as it needs to be addressed is ‘on the money’. And speaking of money….

Chronic pain is a huge economic burden. The cost of pain to the EU each year is up to €441 bn — today that is £387 bn.

Wake up policy makers, yes that is £387 billion.

Back pain alone costs €12 bn per year in Europe although the most staggering figure is the €441 bn think about all the other conditions that hurt) and the source of immeasurable suffering for millions. It is estimated that 100 million people suffer in Europe.

“Pain causes a problem for individuals as well as a challenge for healthcare systems, economies and society (SIP 2017)

Clearly, what we are doing at the moment does not work. There are reasons for this, including the fact that pain is misunderstood in society: healthcare professionals and people (patients). This results in the wrong messages being purported, low expectations and poor outcomes. This must change and the SIP 2017 meeting was a perfect breeding ground for positive work in the right direction. There were some significant steps forward, emerging from the synergy of different groups gathered together.

What was my purpose?

Representing UP | understand pain, I was attending SIP 2017 to gain insight into the current thinking about pain from a societal perspective. In particular I was interested in the language being used, the messages being given about pain, and the plans for positive work to drive change. Listening to the talks, being at the meetings and talking to different stakeholders, I was inspired. My passion has been strengthened by what I heard. I know that UP is absolutely on track and my aim now is to contribute to the on-going work, primarily by changing the way society thinks about pain — see workshops here.

The message that I deliver, and that of UP, is that pain can and does change when it is understood thereby empowering, enabling and inspiring the individual to realise his or her potential. The individual is part of society and hence with so many people suffering, this means society is suffering. Drawing together the necessary people to create the conditions for change was the purpose of SIP 2017. From the outcomes (see below), this is what has been achieved.

See the SIP 2017 Impressions here: videos and photos

Who was there?

One of the features of the meeting was the range of people in attendance. For fruitful discussion and action it is essential that stakeholders from the different sectors get together. This is exactly what SIP 2017 created. In no particular order, there were clinicians, academics, scientists, policy makers, MEPs, patient groups and organisations, patient representatives and others who have an interest in the advancement of how society thinks about and addresses pain.

Understand pain to change pain

The right language

The focus was upon the person and their individual experiences of pain within the context of modern society. We all need to understand pain for different reasons, although we are all potential patients!

  • People suffering need to understand pain so that they can realise their potential for change and live a purposeful life
  • Clinicians need to understand pain so that they can deliver the treatments and coaching to people in need
  • Policy makers need to understand pain so that they can create platforms that enable best care

I was pleased to hear and see recommendations for coaching, although the term was not defined. Having used a coaching model for some years, I have seen this bring results, as it is always a means to getting the very best out of the individual ~ see The Pain Coach Programme.

Within the biomedical model, which does not work for persistent pain, the person is reliant upon the clinician providing treatment. We know that this approach is ineffective and in turn, ineffective treatments result in greater costs as the loop of suffering continues. Giving the person the skills, knowledge and know-how enables and inspires people to make the decision to commit to the practices that free them from this loop. People do not need to be dependent upon healthcare to get better. With a clear vision of success and a way to go about it, people can get results and live a meaningful life. This is the philosophy of UP and I was delighted to hear these messages at the meeting.

An issue raised by many was the measurement of pain. The way that pain improvements are captured and the desired outcomes differed between people (patients) and policy makers. The Numerical Rating Score (NRS) is often used, but what does this tell us about the lived experience of the person? Pain is not a score and a person is not a number. If I rate my pain 6/10 right now, that is a mere snapshot. It could be different 10 minutes later and was probably different 10 minutes before. The chosen number tells the clinician nothing about the suffering or the impact. It is when the impact lessens, when suffering eases does the person acknowledge change. No-one would naturally be telling themselves that they have a score for pain unless they have been told to keep a tally. We need to understand what is meaningful for the person, for example, going to work, playing with the kids, going to the shop.

Understand pain to change pain

Valletta panorama, Malta

Steps forward

SIP have issued this press release following the symposium:

‘MARTIN SEYCHELL, DEPUTY DIRECTOR GENERAL DG SANTE, FORMALLY ANNOUNCES LAUNCH OF PAIN EXPERT AND STAKEHOLDER GROUP ON THE EU HEALTH POLICY PLATFORM AT THE SOCIETAL IMPACT OF PAIN SYMPOSIUM’

Mr Seychell gave an excellent talk, absolutely nailing down the key issues and a way forward. This has been followed by with positive action. The SIP statement reads:

‘The European Commission is following SIP’s lead and has launched the EU Health Policy Platform to build a bridge between health systems and policy makers. Among other health policy areas, the societal impact of pain is included as well and will have a dedicated expert group.’

From the workshops the following recommendations emerged:

  1. Establish an EU platform on the societal impact of pain
  2. Develop instruments to assess the societal impact of pain
  3. Initiate policies addressing the impact of pain on employment
  4. Prioritise pain within education for health care professionals, patients and the general public
  5. Increase investment in research on the Societal Impact of Pain

A further success has been the classification of pain

Building momentum

Following this inspiring meeting where so much positive work was done, we now need to take action individually and collectively to get results. I see no reason why we cannot achieve the aims by continuing to drive the right messages about pain. This is a very exciting time from the perspective of EU policy but also in terms of our understanding of pain. The pinnacle of that knowledge must filter down through society, which is the purpose of UP.

To do this we (UP) are very open to creating partnerships with stakeholders who share our desire for change. UP provides the knowledge and the know-how that is needed for results, because without understanding pain, there can be no success. Conversely, understanding pain means that we can create a vision of a healthier society that we enable with simple practices available for all. Society can work together to ease the enormous suffering that currently exists. We all have a stake in that and a responsibility to drive change in that direction.

~ A huge thanks to the organisers and Norbert van Rooij


Please do get in touch if you would like to organise a meeting or a workshop: +447518445493 or email [email protected]

 

12Jun/17

What is pain?

What is pain?

Thoughts from the SIP 2017 Conference

Societal Impact of Pain

“Society needs to understand pain ~ what is pain?

Last week I attended the SIP 2017 Conference in Malta where a meeting of stakeholders deeply considered the issue of pain in society. Pain is a societal problem and the way forward will emerge from considering pain in this light. Significant and exciting steps were taken, which will be covered in a forthcoming article on this site and the UP | understand pain site.

Chronic pain is the number one global health burden. The approaches used for pain are not working. We are seeing the figures increasing over the years as more and more people suffer ~ 100 million people in Europe. Why? The main reason is the misunderstanding of pain that results in unnecessary investigations, treatments that don’t work and low expectations. The predominant thinking remains ‘biomedical’ both in terms of healthcare delivered and society’s expectations. Pain is not a medical problem. It is a public health, or societal issue. We are in it together, all of us. Even clinicians are patients!

Where do we start?

The UP enterprise has a purpose, and that is to change the way that society thinks about pain, hence Understand Pain. From the point of understanding comes new belief and commitment to reach one’s potential. The vision is a world where people understand pain so that the focus is upon the practices that foster a healthy, meaningful existence within the context of the person’s unique life. This emerges from co-operation between the person and the care-giver, working together to achieve results. This is the essence of Pain Coach, grounded in pain sciences, modern philosophy and strengths based coaching, delivering results based on what works.

Pain Coach not only gives individuals unique knowledge and skills according to their needs, but also the all-important know how. I may have the best drill in the world, but without the know-how I will still make big holes in the wall as I try to hang a picture. The Pain Coach coaches the person to coach themselves to overcome pain. Conversely, interventions and medicines are ways to circumnavigate the problem. This is not to say that they do not have a role, however, the person learns nothing about facing it and transforming the experience and therefore will continue the loop of suffering. Only by learning about one’s existing patterns and creating new patterns in line with a vision of success, can the person overcome their pain.

“What do you focus on?

What do you focus on? What language do you use to yourself over and over? What story do you tell yourself? You can make the decision to change your story. What can you control? Your attitudes, your thoughts, your day to day decisions are all yours. What do you do consistently? What do you think and embody consistently? That becomes the story of you. You can choose another script. That is the role of a coach, to help you realise and actualise your choices. To help you make decisions but ultimately you make them and commit to doing positive work to move in a desired direction. You decide the direction.

What is pain?

Pain is part of the whole person state of protect. Pain is poorly related to any stage of injury, tissue damage or indeed tissue state. This is the common misunderstanding, that somehow pain and injury are the same or related. This is not the case and indeed Pat Wall, the father of pain science and medicine, stated this in his 1979 paper. Why then, is this not practiced as mainstream? This is one of the key messages for all.

What are we protecting against? Initially there may be some kind of actual threat such as an injury or disease state, which is rightly interpreted by body systems as dangerous or potentially dangerous.  That’s the whole point of pain in a sense, to be so unpleasant that it compels us to take action. It is a vital survival mechanism without which we have no way to detect actual or potential danger. But, the pain itself remains part of a protect state in light of a perceived threat.

“Pain is a feature of a state of protection

When pain persists, aka chronic pain (not everyone likes this term or wishes to be labelled as such), it means that a state of protect is persistently emerging as the prediction of threat frequents each day. The range of cues or patterns interpreted as potentially dangerous seems to widen and widen so that normally innocuous situations are deemed to be dangerous. This does not mean it has always to be at a conscious level as most of our biology operates in the dark, ie/ there are hidden causes. However, expectation does play a role in as much as when we expect something to hurt it does and often more as we prime, raise the threat level, predict to ourselves that it will hurt and guess what?

Pain is not a constant state. There is no constant state, instead we are continuously ‘updating’, dynamically exploring the environment with the aim of meeting our predicted needs. When a person suffers chronic pain, they will experience a number of episodes in a given day, with a more challenging day featuring more frequent or longer episodes, and a better day featuring less or shorter episodes.

We are changing by design. No moment is the same. Like a foot placed in a river, it is never the same water that passes by. So change is not the question, rather which direction will you go? Which direction will you choose? To coach yourself towards a vision of success? To decide to commit to the practices of well-being? When people realise that they do have a choice it is empowering, inspiring and enabling.  We can decide to reach our potential.

Who suffers chronic pain?

Work is being done to discover more about who would be vulnerable to a chronic state of protect. Players include genetics, past experience (e.g. prior pain, early life events) and gender. One way to think about this is that we are on a timeline, so nothing happens in isolation. When I stub my toe, my existing health and sense of well-being will influence how I react both ‘myself’ and my biology. In other words, if I am very tired and stressed, my experience will be very different to if I were relaxed and happy. Getting the person’s story is key to understanding the context.

You can think of life’s events as priming. From day dot we are shaping ourselves and being shaped, right up until this moment. Every experience and everything learned sculpts us, our body manifest of the sum of all the things we have done and felt. The body systems that protect us evolve and become highly efficient, predicting that the causes of the sensory information mean that danger exists. Actively changing the sensory information with new practices, new habits and patterns of thought and action take us on different path. A path onward in a chosen direction. Our attitude to change and belief in our own abilities are both key factors — and both can change in themselves!

“Pain is whole person — it’s not my back in pain, I am in pain. Me

The perception or experience of pain is coloured by many factors in that person’s life, including past experience, beliefs, context, environment, actions (current and predicted), emotional state, attentional bias (what I am focusing upon), other people and more. Pain undoubtedly emerges in the person. In other words, it is the person who suffers pain, not the body region where it is felt. Much like it is the person who is thirsty, not their mouth.

In summary

  • It is the whole person who feels pain
  • Pain is part of the way we protect ourselves in the light of a perceived threat
  • Pain can and does change
  • Understand pain to change pain
04Jun/17

Headache

Headache is a leading cause of suffering

Headache and migraine are in the top 12 of the Global Health Burden of Disease Study (2011)

 

Headaches

If you watched Doctor in the House on BBC recently, you would have gained an insight into the terrible suffering caused by cluster headache. This is one of the many conditions characterised by chronic pain. In this case, there was significant improvement as the family made some important changes. More on this shortly.

Chronic pain is the number one global health burden, costing more that cancer, heart disease and diabetes put together. There are millions of people across the globe enduring chronic pain states. They have little or no understanding of why they continue to suffer and no knowledge of how to overcome their pain. This can and must change, and to do so means that society needs to understand pain ~ this is the reason for UP | understand pain. Pain is a public health problem of huge significance.

The programme hosted by Dr Rangan Chatterjee highlighted the impact not only upon the brave lady Gemma, but also upon the family. It was their shift in thinking that resulted in new habits, which create the right conditions to get better. That was a choice made based upon new understanding. Realising that we have a choice is a key first step. We can make the decision to commit to doing the things that will change our health, our relationships, our performance and our pain.

Pain always occurs in a context and involves life’s habits. On realising the range of influences upon pain, the person can instigate changes that make a huge difference. In the family setting, this involves all members, including children. There are huge numbers of children who suffer pain (1 in 5) and huge numbers who support a parent. This is a vast problem in itself.

A brief look at pain ~ what is it?

Pain is a whole person state of protect based on the existing and prior evidence that there is a threat or possible threat to the person. Much of the processing is subconscious, our biology in the dark (e.g./ you don’t know what your liver is doing right now), emerging as a lived experience or perception. Anything that poses a possible threat can result in pain. It is important to consider that something only becomes a threat when we think it so, and hence the meaning we choose to give a situation makes it what is it.

It is not only when we are thinking that something is a threat to us of course. Our biological systems interpret sensory information and predict that it indicates possible or actual danger. Working on a just in case basis means that we can get it wring. When we are sensitive,m this can happen more often than not, which is why pain can become so dominant. The range of contexts and situations widen and we notice the pain moments over and over. This does not have to continue. We can actively infer something else with new understanding, new actions, new habits and new patterns — that’s the programme.

Pain and injury are words often used synonymously, but they are simply not the same. Pain is part of a protect state, very similar to that of stress, and injury is something you can see. The former uniquely subjective and a perception constructed by the whole person

What can we do about pain?

The short answer: a lot!

The first step with any change is to make the decision to commit to practicing new habits that lead towards your desired outcome. This decision comes off the back of understanding pain because then you realise that there is plenty you can do to change and overcome your pain.

This always starts with developing a working knowledge of your pain so that you can coach yourself: the right thinking and the right actions to get the best outcome. Initially you are likely to need advice, treatment and coaching to ensure you remain on track.

When you understand pain, you do not fear it or try to avoid it, instead you face your pain, learn about your pain and overcome your pain. This is different to taking a pill or having an injection, which circumnavigate the issue. Only by facing the challenge can we transform the experience of pain. Many messages in modern society encourage us to avoid the difficult things in life but they are unavoidable. We are not typically taught skills to face the challenges that will come up, and so when we do have something to deal with, we suffer. This does not need to be the case, certainly when it comes to pain.

This is not to say that pain is not unpleasant. Of course it is, but we can learn how to minimise the impact and work to create a happy and meaningful life, by living and practicing the skills of well-being. By living I mean that you try to do the things that you want to as much as you can. More dated thinking about pain suggests that you have to get better in order to resume living, however I have turned this on its head and said that you get back to living by getting back to living. Getting back to living IS the way to get better.

In a sense there is a template of how your life and you should be, and there is no real separation between the two. When the template of what is actually happening is different to the expected one, this mismatch creates a drive to bring them together. Pain is one of those drivers. So, if we try to live as best we can, we are in fact bringing these two templates together. Of course there will be a certain tolerance, even perhaps a few moments in some cases, but this is the start point or the baseline. Working from your baseline, you can get ‘fitter’ and healthier with the practices you commit to, and thereby point yourself in a desired direction.

“what is your vision of success?

A treatment programme is therefore weaved into your life. You are in the driving seat. This is an important concept as healthcare often puts you in the passenger seat, or as one patient told me, ‘in the boot’. This is not right and will certainly not help the person to get better. The modern understanding of pain tells us a very different story, which is exciting, but must be told as far and as wide as is possible, which is the reason for UP | understand pain.

If you are suffering headaches, you should consult with your healthcare practitioner as a first port of call. You will want to know the possible reasons why you have headaches, but then you will want to know what you can do, what they will do to support you and roughly how long this will take. With an understanding and a direction, with a decision to commit to practices of well-being and determination, it can be transformative.

RS