Tag Archives: chronic pain

18Jun/16
Pain now

Biology of pelvic pain

Pain nowMost of the biology of pelvic pain does not exist in the pelvis. The same is true for any pain — back pain, knee pain, neck pain etc. Much like the screen turning blank in the cinema, the problem itself is not the screen but instead the projector or the power source. In other words, to think about pain requires us to go well beyond the place where it is experienced.

Pain is of course lived and whilst it must have a location, the relationship between pain and injury is unreliable. With a huge number of factors influencing the chances of feeling pain in any given circumstance, there is a requirement for a perception of threat that is salient and exceeds other predictions in terms of a hierarchy. Once felt, pain compels action much like thirst and hunger. Again, like thirst and hunger, context and meaning we give to the sensations influence that very experience, which clarifies to a greater extent the difference between on-going (chronic) pain and that of labour.

To feel pain we need a concept of the body, which itself is constructed elsewhere as the sensory information flowing from the body systems is predicted to mean something based upon what is already known and has been experienced, we need a nervous system, an immune system, a sensorimotor system, a sense of self and consciousness to name but a few. Where in the pelvis do these reside?

This is not to ignore where we may feel pain as this is an ‘access’ to the pain experience that should be used in terms of movement and touch. However, it is the person who is in pain and not the body part. My pelvis is not in pain, I am. My pelvis does not go and seek help, I do. My pelvis does not ease its pain, I do. So when ‘treating’ a person, we must go beyond the place where the pain is felt to be successful. And it is vital that the person is considered a whole; there is no separation of mind-body. The notion of physiological, body, psychological division etc. etc., just does not fit with the lived experience; I think, and I do so with my whole person — embodied cognition.

Locally one will usually find evidence of protection and guarding, which themselves manifest as the tightness, spasm, painful responses to touch and movement. This is all manifest of an overall state of protection, co-ordinated largely unconsciously accompanied by a range of behaviours and thinking that quickly become habitual — they are certainly learned from priors, our reference point. This is simply why delving gently into the story is important, as we can identify vulnerabilities to persisting pain such as previous experiences of pain, functional pain syndromes, stressful episodes in life; all those things that put us on alert when the range of cues and triggers gradually expand so now I am vigilant and responding to all sorts of normal situations with fear.

The start point is always developing the person’s working knowledge of their pain, which also validates their story. So many people still report that they feel that they have not been believed, which I find incredible. How can someone work in healthCARE and not believe what a person says? Baffling. Once the working knowledge is being utilised and is generating a new backstory, new reference points emerge. We create opportunities for good experiences over and over, moment to moment, day after day, in line with their desired outcome, the healthy ‘me’ that is envisioned from word go. This strong foundation that opens choices once more then permits exploration of normal and desired activities supported by sensorimotor training and other nourishing movements, alongside techniques in focus, relisience and motivation. Realising and actualising change in a desired direction must be acknowledged as the person lives this change knowing that they can.

Pain can and does change when you understand it, know where you want to go and how to get there, quickly getting back to wise, healthy action when distracted (i.e./ flare ups, mood variance, loss of focus etc). The biology of the pain is one aspect, hidden in the dark within us, and the lived experience is another. The two are drawn together to give meaning and to develop an understanding of the thinking and action that sculpt a new perception of self and pain, resuming the sense of who I am, as only known and lived by that person.

09Jun/16
Pain and injury

Pain and injury

Pain and injuryPain and injury are poorly related. Unfortunately most of society continues to believe in a stimulus-response relationship between these factors, but in reality it does not exist. This was raised by Pat Wall in his classic 1979 article entitled ‘On the relation of injury to pain’.

Since then we have learned an enormous amount about pain; what it is and the purpose it serves. Why should the relationship between pain and injury be so unreliable? The answer is because pain is contextual, motivating appropriate action for that moment depending upon a range of factors. These include the injury itself and what it means, prior experience, beliefs about pain, the environment, who is there, how one is feeling before and at the point of injury and what is going on at the time. Here are some examples:

* a carpenter hitting his thumb with a hammer — despite the fact it will hurt, this is not unexpected, an occupational hazard if you will, and soon dismissed.

* an electrician electrocuting himself — similar to the carpenter; the context is key

* spraining an ankle in a cup final — there are many reports of injuries being sustained whilst playing sport that are not painful at the time, because playing on is more important

* battle hospital reports — severe injuries but no pain initially; the same in many accident and emergency reports

* a concert violinist who cuts his left index finger the day before his most important gig — what do you think this experience could be like versus a chef?

These examples demonstrate the variability in lived experience despite the biology of healing being similar (effectiveness may vary depending upon existing and prior health) — the two lives, that of our biology and that of our lived experience. The clinician’s role is to marry the two for the person so that they understand the hows and whys before focusing on what needs to be done to get better.

When my knee hurts, or any other body area, the vast majority of the biology that is involved resides elsewhere. Pain is located to my knee, although I can’t possibly know from where exactly; where is the stimulus? Yet to feel pain in my knee I need the systems that protect me to detect certain sensory activity, predict that the causes are threatening and then translate this to a sensation that is pain; i.e./ the biology becomes ‘conscious’. Whilst there are signals from the knee to the spinal cord and onwards, this is not necessary for us to feel pain. Think about phantom limb pain.

There are many levels whereby signals and predictions are modulated until the most credible prediction emerges as a lived experience. This is why prior experience, beliefs, emotional state and our thinking play such a role in pain as all can modulate the meaning and level of perception of threat.

An analogy is watching a film at the cinema. The film is on the screen yet for this to happen and be experienced, there must be a projector, electricity into the projector, and this electricity comes from the grid. Most of the necessary elements are not where you watch the film. The same can be said of pain, when it is made up of many non-pain factors that come together to create that lived experience. The point there is that when we address these in a comprehensive treatment and training programme, we can change pain and get better. But to do this we must think beyond the structure (the cinema screen) and consider the person, their beliefs, their thinking, their lived experience, the phenomena of their life, in order to be successful, which we can.

Pain is not related well to injury, but instead to the level of predicted threat.

Pain Coach Programme for persistent pain | t. 07518 445493

 

08Jun/16
Space

Space

SpaceThere are things that we know are good for us: sleep, water and space. Of course then we need quality sleep, water and space. I’m interested in space, and not the kind that is out there, but rather the space we choose to place ourselves day to day and how this impacts upon us consciously and subconsciously. In particular I am keen to understand how we associate with certain environments and in fact how our brains predict the meaning of a given environment and the experiences that emerge.

Here are a couple of classic examples that I hear about:

1. RSI — repetitive strain injury: I am using this term for ease, although I have issue with it, but that’s for another time. I refer to pain and other symptoms that people attribute to repeated use such as typing, clicking a mouse and texting. In the vast majority of people I see with this burdensome condition, we can evoke their symptoms by just thinking about certain environments! Their desk at work for example. When we close our eyes and think about a place, we are in essence there and it feels like it. When a place or space becomes associated with a threat value because of a link that has been established, then it makes sense to feel a warning when we think about it. However, when this persists, this becomes an increasing problem due to the behavioural aspects — altered movement, restricted use and guarding, all of which perpetuate the threat value and hence the on-going pain. Thankfully, this cycle can be broken with the right understanding and training.

* This is not unique to RSI, but any pain problem is contextual and becomes associated with certain places, positions, movements, activities etc etc. A significant part of overcoming persistent pain is by creating new habits.

2. A place in nature: a pleasant image comes to mind, unified with feelings of comfort in the body to make it an overall calming and soothing experience. This is why visualisation is so effective as we can choose to shift into our resource state whenever we need: when anxious, stressed or in pain for example. This is a technique that I blend with others to create the necessary calm we need to refresh and renew, particularly if we are suffering pain or tiredness.

Placing ourselves in an environment has enormous effects upon us as we become part of that very environment. In fact, what you experience as that environment you are creating using at least your brain, your mind and your body, and importantly how they unify. Using a film analogy, you are the film maker, the script writer, the star and the audience all rolled into one. Wow! How do we explain that? Using the very same unified processes to explain themselves! So, in becoming part of threat environment, the importance of choosing the right space is vital. Each day we should absorb ourselves in a nourishing place such as a park, by a river, in a forest or at least in a space where there is plenty of exactly that, space! And if you can’t do this on a particular day, then you can use imagery and visualisation and feel the resulting great feelings.

On a moment to moment basis, where we spend a lot of time, perhaps home and office, these spaces need to be nourishing and promote the feelings we want to feel — e.g./ at work to concentrate, focus, think, write, communicate; at home to feel comfortable, warm, safe etc. This may take some thought and some re-organising but it will be worth it — see here, a professional organiser: Cory Cook. Remember that the environment you choose to put yourself in impacts upon you enormously: the way you feel, the way you think, the way you interact. Something similar could be said for the people you spend time with.

So, when you are at work, at home, choosing a new job or accommodation, think carefully about the environment in which you will be living moment to moment experiences, because they will be shaped somewhat by that very environment. Get out into a big open space and move around in it, see it, smell it, feel it, using all your senses. And if you can’t, then take a deep breath, slowly let it go, do it again, close your eyes and take yourself to a space where you will feel great.

Pain Coach Programme for persistent pain | t. 07518 445493

07Jun/16
Pain, loneliness, poverty and health

Depression and inflammation

Depression and inflammationFor some years there has been thinking about depression and inflammation being related in as much as when we are in the throes of inflammation, our mood changes. Think about when you feel unwell and how your mood drops, which is part of the well known sickness response. In some people, probably a large number, these sickness responses are the norm. In other words, they endure a level of this sickness response consistently that is underpinned to an extent by on-going inflammation.

Reports today about a study at Kings College London describe how inflammatory markers in the blood could identify a ‘type’ that would benefit from a certain antidepressant drug — read here. This would make the prescription specific for the person, so rather than trialing a drug, we would know which would be most likely to be effective for that person by identifying the blood markers.

Many people I see with persistent pain are low in mood and some have been diagnosed as being depressed. In my mind, it is entirely understandable why someone suffering on-going pain, who cannot see a way out, would be in such a state. In simple terms, the person with chronic pain may well be chronically inflamed. We know that people who perceive themselves to be under chronic stress will be inflamed as the body continues to protect itself via the immune system and other systems that have such a role. Typically and understandably, someone in a chronic pain state is stressed by their very circumstance and hence can be inflamed.

It is very common to suffer an enduring pain state and generally feel unwell; a sickness response. We all know what a sickness response feels like — we don’t feel ourselves, aches and pains, loss of appetite, irritability, emotional, sleepy, tiredness, poor concentration etc. This is underpinned by inflammation and how this drives a range of experiences and behaviours, all designed to create the conditions for recovery. In the short term this is adaptive but if prolonged, the symptoms are enormously impacting and potentially maintaining a cycle of stress and anxiety.

Like any problem, understanding its nature is the start point so that problem solving can be effective; i.e. think about it in the right way and take the right action, congruent with recovery and the desired outcome. Realising the links between health state, depression and inflammation helps to distance oneself from the lived experience, being less embroiled with that particular ‘film’, instead focusing on what needs to be done to overcome the problem.

A loss of the senses of self is often a part of a persisting condition such as chronic pain or dystonia. The overarching aim of a followed programme is for the individual to resume living their life with a sense of self worth which they can identify: I feel myself again. This self feels normal to that person, and only that person knows how that experience is lived. As best they can, I ask them to describe that experience, and this forms the desired outcome. The sense of self is at least a unification of body sense, interoception, exteroception, the inner dialogue and our past experiences. Improving body sense with exercises, some general and some specific, is a simple way of stepping towards that outcome. And of course there are all the other benefits of exercise to consider.

It will undoubtedly be very useful to identify who will benefit from which antidepressant drug, yet we must still consider each (whole) person. A comprehensive programme of treatment for pain for example, includes developing working knowledge of pain so that the person can independently make effective choices as well as eradicate fears, specific training, general activities, gradual progression of activity, and mindfulness to name but a few. However, it is not just the exercises that are important. The person also needs to be motivated, resilient and focused, all strengths that they have likely used before in other arenas but now need to employ here and now with their health — this is the strengths based coaching aspect of the Pain Coach Programme. In cases of depression, the chosen drug maybe more specific and hence more efficacious, yet there are other actions that are also important such as understanding the links as explained and consistent physical activity. Great work in the aforementioned study; it will be interesting to watch how this progresses.

Pain Coach Programme | t. 07518 445493

26May/16
UP | Understanding Pain

Children, pain and school

UP | Understanding PainPeople are usually shocked to hear how many children suffer persisting pain, and quite naturally there is an impact upon school as much as the school environment plays a part in the pain experience. The education system needs to acknowledge this fact and institute a change of thinking that of course begins with understanding pain. Pain is a societal issue not a medical issue in isolation. Maintaining pain in the medical realm is one of the reasons that it is such a big problem. Looking at pain through but one lens means that the bigger and truer picture is missed and the natural opportunities for change are minimised when reliant upon limited options.

Children, pain and schools

Maybe 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 children suffer persistent pain. That is an awful lot of kids struggling along with their families. If there was greater understanding then the right thinking and actions could help these individuals to improve their lives by overcoming pain — not just managing or coping.

The current education systems place an enormous and continual strain upon children. Many rise early, spend all day at school and then come home to do homework. Hours and hours. Then there is the pressure, the unspoken pressure to achieve the best marks and anti thing else is failure. The greatest demands are usually placed upon oneself but this thinking emerges via the system and the culture. We should be doing the best we can and putting in effort of course but not just into schoolwork. Carrots are good for you, but would you eat them all day, every day? The internet is useful but is it healthy to be doing this every day, all day? The continued strain shifts the child into protect and survive mode so no wonder we are seeing the following list of ailments and issues: tummy pain, IBS, headaches, migraines, painful periods at the onset of this development, widespread musculoskeletal pain, anxiety, sleep disruption, low self-esteem, altered body sense and image…..just to name a few. Will we look back and ask ‘what were we thinking?’

So as we hit revision time and kids are preparing for exams, we need to make sure they are being nourished — meet the basic needs: food, drink, rest, sleep, exercise, movement, belief in themselves…you are good enough!!!! We want good marks, you may say. Of course you do. But you also want a child who believes in themselves, feels good enough and is not scared of getting things wrong. This can only be fostered within society.

Going to school is normal and healthy. School offers a context for learning how to be you — communicating, laughing, playing, problem solving, thinking clearly, changing state, how to be healthy, how to be a good citizen in a community, insight into the way I think etc etc. Wow, what a wonderful time and opportunity. So when pain is a problem (and it almost always comes hand in hand with more anxiety than is helpful — some anxiety is of course normal and a motivator to take action), missing school becomes part of the issue. The school environment can become a threat when the thought of returning to the busy corridors, the demands, sometimes unsympathetic staff, is enough to trigger pain and anxiety. However, this can be overcome with a comprehensive approach and indeed gradually building up time at school is part of the way that the child gets better. Much like an adult returning to work; this is part of getting better instead of waiting to get better to go back to work. The thinking needs to change with understanding of why it is important. It is important because we want normal; the resumption of normal ‘self’ and this self is the one who goes to school and become part of that environment.

To enact this needs understanding and communication between the child, caregivers, the school and parents. There is no reason why this cannot happen. Gradually building time whilst working on a programme that is making the child feel better and better — this includes working knowledge of pain to create a sense of safety, movement, exercises, mindfulness, relaxation, but the child becomes their own coach, knowing what they need to do at any given moment. Their confidence builds, they feel better and head towards their desired outcome.

We all know that our world is fast changing and the life that a child leads now is very different to ours when we were growing up. But there are still the same biological needs and these are being impacted upon by connectivity on social media, the devices themselves, the demands from society and their thinking that is being mounded by all of the aforementioned. In relation to the problem of pain and children and schools, we can start by helping all those to understand pain. It should be part of their education as we all feel pain at some point and our understanding of it and what it means frames how we behave and react. That would be a great start.

22May/16
Sports injuries

Sports injuries brewing

Sports injuriesHaving seen a couple more cases of sports injuries brewing this week, it reminded me how common this issue is amongst the active population. It goes something like this…..

A minor tweak that improves somewhat, but not entirely, hanging around and occasionally reminding you that there’s something going on. Often dismissed as a pain that will get better in time if I forget about it and think about something else. It goes away for now.

Then another body part or region chimes in, sometimes replacing the first tweak, sometimes in concert. You tell someone who will listen that the pain has moved from A to B, as B now demands some attention now and again. Except now and again becomes more frequent, being more now than again, subtly creeping up on you as a more consistent pain. You may notice that your running style has changed, or that you are not concentrating so much on the activity but instead wondering if it will hurt or why it is hurting. Performance suffers.

I have described a two step story when in fact in most cases the person tells me about their pain and as we look back, there are multiple aches and pains. It is not unusual for there to be a slight change in general health, and most definitely lifestyle patterns influence the problem. This is simply because none of the issues are separate or in isolation. It is the person who lives the experience and hence they are the perceivers of their body and environment (unified) as well as the producers of that perception and the action taken.

What is happening?

Some refer to kindling, like a fire building up over time. There is an injury or inflammatory response during a time of vulnerability (e.g. perceived stress, tiredness, illness), or the person is vulnerable to experiencing an amplified protective response due to prior learning — how their protective systems have learned to interpret the possible causes of sensory input. So each time there is a protective response, the effects grow, the impact increases and all quite gradually in many cases.

How did this happen? This is frequently asked as the gradual nature means we forget about the priming or kindling events on the way to what is happening now.

This is why it is important to fully recover from injuries and illnesses so as not to carry over the effects. To do this, one must restore the normal healthy mode, re-train body sense and movement, develop confidence and technique; in essence feel yourself again, which is to say that the focus is on the performance.

Pain Coach Programme to comprehensively overcome persisting pain and sports injuries | t. 07518 445493

** Common persisting pains from sports injuries include back pain, tendon pain, knee pain, ankle pain, shoulder pain, tennis elbow, wrist pain.

14May/16
Pain distraction

Kids know about pain distraction

Pain distractionI overheard an interesting conversation this week that demonstrated kids know about pain distraction.

Driving my kids to swimming, my eldest daughter was giving us an update on her wobbly tooth and the fact that it hurt. She was concerned that it maybe too painful to go swimming. My youngest daughter, 6 years, then piped up with an insightful suggestion: don’t worry about your tooth because when you are in the cold water you will forget about it’.

To me, as a pain-head (a term sometimes used to describe someone who is obsessively interested in pain and what it is), this was fascinating. Life in action, a natural comment based on some experience that my youngest must have had at some point, or at least heard about. I would think the former is more likely as the message surely stuck with her to the extent that her model of the world in relation to safety-threat has been updated to consider distraction as a way of changing pain and reducing the threat value — pain is a lived experience, compelling action in the face of a prediction of a perceived threat based on the hypothesised causes of the sensory information in relation to prior experience.

RS

10May/16
Pat Wall Lecture 2016 | British Pain Society ASM

Pat Wall Lecture 2016

Pat Wall Lecture 2016 | British Pain Society ASM Listening to Professor Stephen Hunt give the Pat Wall lecture 2016 this morning at The Pain Society ASM evoked a number of thoughts. The meat of the talk addressed recent molecular experiments that could provide new forms of treatment; very much a mechanism-based approach to modifying peripheral and central adaptations (sensitisation) — of course the two are not exclusive, instead being part of a spectrum of changes in respect of an initial insult (usually), and in those vulnerable, a state of persistency ensues. Whilst fascinating and relevant of course, it was the references to Pat Wall that really interested me due to the insights that still hold true.

I was struck by Professor Hunt’s point that many do not consider pain to be a need state. A need state that is a conscious means of motivating action that is the thin slice atop biology in the dark that prepares and operates the healing process, most of which is unbeknownst to us — we feel pain, note swelling and the feel of swelling as it occupies space, changes in the way we move, feel and think. The notion of pain being a need state has been a big part of my thinking over the years, and to me it would seem strange not to consider pain this way. Having been educated by Dr Mick Thacker, who spent a great deal of time with Pat Wall, it is no surprise that these messages have been handed down.

Everyone has examples of the unreliable relationship between injury and pain if they stop and think for a minute. Often quoted are phantom limb pains, paper cuts and battlefield wounds to illustrate the enormous variance. The tissues themselves simply do not explain pain. So what does explain pain? The meaning, the context and ultimately the level of perception of threat (predicted top-down): more threat = more pain, which is why it usually hurts more when you don’t understand your pain and worry about it! And why pain feels better when you, the person feels better. Again it was Pat Wall who provoked this realisation.

It is always valuable to go back to the original lectures and writings as they remain so relevant. We desperately need to address pain globally, it is the reason for so much suffering. New questions to provoke new thinking and research will add to the already gathering hope, steering society towards a modern understanding of pain: what is pain? What is it’s purpose? Knowing that it changes and taking action to enact that change. The coming together of philosophy and neuroscience is really helping us to see pain in a different light, explaining it to patients so they can understand how they have got from A to B and then how to coach themselves to overcome their suffering.

09May/16
GB: Get Better

Get better

GB: Get Better

GB: Get Better

Regular readers will know that I firmly believe in getting better when it comes to pain and persisting pain. This should be our aim with each person. This thinking also needs to underpin research, policy making and clinical decision making across the board.

Recently I was asked to speak at an event that considered the question ‘how do tendons get better’, and my area of focus was the brain and pain. More on this shortly, but it was a pertinent question because for some time I have been pondering why people do get better (from persistent pain), what does getting better actually mean and who gets better?

To answer these questions experientially, I thought through many cases that I have seen to identify the common features. Not especially scientific, but a start point. People getting better meant that they would report that they felt more like themselves. A common phrase that we use, ‘I don’t feel myself today’, tells the world that all is not well, and equally saying ‘I feel myself again’ reports that what is happening in my world is what I expect to happen; a match up in other words. And who are these people who get better from a persisting pain state in the face of messages from society that chronic pain is here to stay and needs to be managed or coped with?

In short, these are people who take on board the true messages about pain and what it really is based on our modern understanding. Not only do they listen and put in into perspective within their lives, but they use the new information as working knowledge to be applied consistently, challenging previous thinking to drive new actions that are congruent with being healthy. With this working knowldge, moment by moment they are able to make clear decisions and groove new habits, pointing themselves via their perceptions and actions towards their desired outcome, as defined by themselves at the outset.

Everyone has experienced success in one or more arenas of their life, whether at home, at school, in work or playing sport. This success is achieved by focusing upon the desired outcome and then taking every opportunity to get there, even if things go wrong along the way. Distracting (unhelpful) thoughts and unforseen events are dealt with as learning experiences, and soon enough the person is back on the path towards their vision of success. Take a moment to recall a success and note how you did it. What strengths did you use? How could you bring them into this arena? The people that use their strengths and focus on their vision consistently, get better.

The tendon debate resulted in agreement that people needed to understand their problem and pain as a foundation from which different strategies could be used. The strategies chosen for the individual must reflect their needs and desired outcomes. I was asked if brain and pain could explain why a tendon gets better, and I argued that we are more than a brain, and in fact the construct of self is made up of a number of facets: my physical presence, how I experience that presence, the story I tell myself about me, the sense of the environment in which I reside in this moment, my past (perhaps unreliably retold to me by me) and my anticipation to name but a few. It is the person who gets better and not the tendon or the back or anywhere else in the body, because we are that body as much as we are the mind (the mind does not just exist in the head or brain, instead we are our mind, often using our body to think — embodied cognition). We are necessarily all of these things together: body-brain-mind-environment.

The overaching aim must be that the person gets better as defined by themselves as only they know what it is like to be better. And when the person is better, they feel themselves again, which in terms of pain emerging from me (felt in a body area), it exists less and less in the thin slice of awareness that is consciouness — most we are unaware of; externally and internally (the biology in the dark). When we are better, we don’t think so much, if at all, about our body until we have an itch or have sat too long and become uncomfortable. Then we scratch or move and resume a state of non-body awareness, just focusing on what it is that we need to in that moment.

Pain Coach Programme to get better: t. 07518 445493Get better

 

11Apr/16

Hands-on treatment for pain

Hands-on treatment for pain should form part of the therapy programme for painful conditions including chronic or persisting pain. A line of thought exists that the hands-off approach for chronic pain is best yet there are some clear ways that clinicians can use their hands with great effect. It is also expected when a person goes to see a physiotherapist that they will receive manual treatments as a way to feel better, and indeed people often do feel better when such therapies are used wisely.

There is no certainty as to why hands-on treatment works but it is safe to assume that touch has an effect that is likely to be underpinned by a change in the interpretation of sensory input from the body. Modern concepts of brain function suggest that what we experience is the brain’s best guess about what the sensory information in that moment means, based on prior experience. This based upon probability that the sensory information infers something, i.e. something pleasant and hence the touch feels good, comforting, soothing etc., or something unpleasant and therefore the touch can feel painful or uncomfortable.

Touch is deemed important for healthy development and is certainly an act that is used commonly to communicate. In the same way then, touch can be used to communicate in the therapeutic setting as well as create an opportunity to change pain and sensitivity. We are changing constantly with each moment being fresh and new — in fact, this is one of only a few definites in life, is that we change. We are designed to change and hence the feeling we are feeling now is only temporary. The sense of ourselves, ‘me’, is something that we feel is constant yet it changes as time passes and we gather new experiences, learning and developing.

It is worth pointing out that the mention of brain does not mean that we are only a brain. I am a whole person made of my body, brain, mind and environment, none of which is any more important as it is the sum that makes me and who I feel I am at any given moment. The false division of mind and body certainly does not hold up. My mind is not in my head or my brain, I ma my mind, which is why when I think I use my body and my brain together as ‘me’ within a particular context (environment) in a particular moment (that has just passed). This may seem like play with words, yet it is fundamental to successfully addressing pain because this understanding gives both hope and a practical way forward as we use this knowledge to create a programme of treatment, training and movement to overcome pain so that it does not dominate but instead has its place as a survival mechanism. Briefly, pain is a motivator to take action on the basis that I am predicting the need for protection against a perceived threat. More threat, more protection, more pain — not more pain = more damage as was traditionally thought. Hence, the reduction of threat is our aim.

Now back to touch: how we can use it and how it plays a role in reducing pain. Preparing the recipient of the hands-on treatment is important, priming them with an explanation and positive expectations. This can be done by simply describing why it is useful, saying that it is usually a pleasant experience to ease symptoms whilst dropping in calming, soothing words into the conversation. Addressing concerns, especially if they have had a painful treatment beforehand, is also part of the preamble, in essence ploughing the field before sewing the seeds. Then the contact begins.

The clinician can do a few things to prepare him or herself so that the first contact is felt to be compassionate and soothing from the outset. This is of course the aim — to be soothing and to create calm, changing the way that the recipient’s brain is predicting what the sensory information means, i.e. it means safety. And safety in turn means less, or no need for protection, and no protection = no pain.

  • Prepare clean, warm hands
  • Take a breath or two and let muscles relax on the out-breath (we are not always aware of how much tension we are holding, especially if we have been using manual therapy often through the day)
  • Let go of any distracting thoughts and be entirely focused on the touch and responses of the person; again, the out-breath is good for focusing on the present moment

On starting the hands-on part of the session, having prepared the recipient and being present oneself, the first touch allows the therapist to note how guarded and protective the person is in respect of the body. The image of pushing a cork in a barrel of water is a useful visualisation of how to ease into, and respond to the person. It is worth considering that it is the person experiencing the touch and not the body part itself. It is the person who is conscious and gives meaning to the touch, and hence it is the person to keep in mind as you lay hands on. The treatment then becomes a dance or an art form as the hands and the body form an alliance that aims to transform sensory signals into the experience of relief; soothing, calming and peaceful. This would be the same whether the technique more soft tissue (the many forms of massage) or mobilising a joint.

  • Prepare the person
  • Prepare yourself
  • Apply the treatment
  • Conclude the treatment, making it obvious with the hands before uttering a few soothing words (consider tone, volume etc) that allows the person to realise the completion
  • Give a few moments for orientation and shift of state before inviting them to sit up or change position

Of course, hands-on forms only part of the programme with the other facets addressing the different dimensions of pain in an integrated manner: addressing the whole person. However, a key point made here is that in order to be as effective as we can, recognising our role as individual clinicians with our own characteristics and style, we must pay attention to the person, ourselves and the context in equal measure.

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  • Pain Coach Programme — complete care for persistent pain
  • 1:1 Pain Coach — mentoring for clinicians
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