Tag Archives: chronic pain

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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03Apr/16

Knowing about your condition

Knowing about your condition can be a double edged sword, as illustrated by Ian Jack in @guardian yesterday — read here. Jack describes his experience of anosmia, the loss of the sense of smell. However, he goes on to describe how reading an article about anosmia made him consider ‘that I was in fact a member of a disabled and neglected group’, which he was ‘happier not to think about’.

The piece raises a number of important issues. Firstly that losing one of our five senses has an impact on our ability to predict the world and hence our lived experience, secondly that this impact can be underestimated by the individual in some cases and by society looking in, and thirdly that knowledge about a problem does not always help per se. Everyday people are learning that they have a condition, generally more accurately from a diagnostician and more precariously via the Internet. The latter is of course quite able to ‘diagnose’ in response to a list of words (symptoms) but the danger is that the list of possibilities still require adjudication, and it is the same person choosing an answer. It is a little like your doctor giving you a list of conditions to choose from when you tell him your symptoms, and you then choose the most sinister. Oh yes, and the computer, device, phone etc. does not examine you or try to understand you as an individual.

I write and speak regularly on the fact that people need to understand their pain in order to know that they can overcome their pain, with an emphasis on both the quality of the explanation (teaching – learning scenario) and the context in which the information is delivered. Reading an article as did Ian Jack, or finding some information online, or someone else sharing their experiences must all be put into context. These are other people’s stories and not yours is the first point, so extrapolating to your unique story has its dangers unless you have someone to clarify and provide perspective — that’s my job. Spending time giving meaning to the person’s story is important, identifying the key points and explaining what can happen in order to arrive at the present moment. Nothing happens in isolation because we have had a prior experience to flavour this one. Looking back, however, can be done in an objective way, recognising the limits of the reliability of our memory, yet it is the question ‘what do I think and do now?’ that is important.

A common scenario in modern healthcare is the interpretation of the scan result for musculoskeletal pain. Back pain for example, frequently leads to an MRI scan to look for a structure to explain the pain. Yet pain cannot be seen. You can see the state of the discs and joints according to a picture taken in a moment (a snapshot), but what does this tell you about the person’s lived experience of pain? One is objective (a picture) and one is subjective (pain). But how often is the disc or joint used to explain pain as the healthcare professional shows the person (patient) the picture, pointing to the culprit on a screen? Now that the person has ‘seen’ the picture, it becomes part of the story with the solution becoming the need to do something to that disc or joint. They have new information that is now influencing their outcome, yet they will not be thinking this as it is all part of the subconscious processing that shapes our thinking and experiences. However, when a scan result is used within the context of modern pain science, we can use the information to sculpt a positive outlook but this relies upon time with the person to fully explain and answer questions as opposed to finding an article online or in the media when thoughts arise with no-one to qualify or ask. Thoughts interpreted as threatening have protective consequences from pain to feelings of stress and anxiety.

In summary, we need to be judicious about the information we expose ourselves to and use rational thinking to determine the relevance to ourselves. We are all utterly unique with our own stories and lived experiences, so when you pick up an article, bear this in mind. You would also be wise to write down any concerns or questions and ask a trusted adviser to put perspective on those thoughts so that they form part of how you overcome your problem.

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02Apr/16

Repetitive strain injury

Repetitive strain injury — it’s not just about the arms

Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is a blight on the working world affecting the individual’s ability to perform. Personally RSI can cause great suffering on a number of levels and financially there can be significant cost to both the individual and the business. For all of these reasons it is important that the understanding of RSI evolves. Similar to other persistent pains, when society realises that pain can change when you understand it and know what to do, there will be a vast shift. The shift will mean less suffering as people learn how to overcome their pain.

RSI often begins with mild symptoms that include pain, soreness, stiffness and altered sensation that build up over time. There is usually a point when the pain motivates the person to seek help or deterioration in performance enforces action when they are unable to do their work as needed. In the early stages, typically there is a search for an actual injury or evidence for inflammation with varying results. In other words, some people will discover that there is an injury but most will not. The reason for this is simply that pain does not accurately reflect tissue injury. So what is pain?

This is the ultimate question that needs answering and like most problems, to solve them we must ask the right question to create an opportunity for understanding. What is pain? Pain is all about protection. The amount of pain we experience in that moment (we can only experience pain in the present moment, the rest being a memory or an anticipation that something will hurt, both of which impact on what is happening now; i.e./ remembering a painful time can evoke pain now, and thinking that something will hurt causes us to experience more pain) is dependent upon the level of perception of threat. More threat predicted results in more pain experienced regardless of tissue damage. This is why a soldier can suffer great injury without experiencing pain because escape from danger is more important, hence feeling no pain allows for such escape to a safe place.

Pain that is attributed to RSI then, is all about the perception of threat to the arms and hands (sometimes as far up as shoulders, neck and upper back). In fact, it is a threat to the person that is pertinent enough for the brain (we are our brain of course, so this is just for convenient description) to predict that the self needs protecting in its entirety. I say entirety because we are a whole person, experienced moment to moment as the ‘self’, which is the brain, the mind, the body and the context (environment) blended and unified into this single experience now. It is this that takes the problem of RSI or any other pain emergent in the body beyond just where the pain is actually felt. Pain in the arm or hand is more than just the feeling, the sensation, the lived experience; it equally involves what we think about the pain (cognition), how we feel about the pain (emotion) and the meaning that we attribute. All of these dimensions create the experience we call pain. So, even from this brief insight into the modern blend of neuroscience and philosophy to help us ask the right questions to which we can discover answers.

The right questions also include posing those that allow the person to tell their story. Creating the environment for this is the vital first step in understanding the person’s lived experience, listening to their words and the way in which they express them. This picture that is drawn allows the clinician to decide how together they can form a partnership that forms the basis of the person overcoming their pain.

As the narrative emerges, the clinician is able to validate and give meaning to events and moments that have shaped the current context (many of which will not be realised). From thereon in, a comprehensive programme is created to address all dimensions of the problem in an interrelated manner. Pain being a lived experience moment to moment, the person needs to know what to think and what to do at any given moment. In effect they need to become their own coach, which is the Pain Coach concept — the Pain Coach coaches the person to become their own coach so that they successfully coach themselves to overcome their pain. We are change with every new moment that passes as our biology updates, and similar to a sports coach, we aim to optimise that change in the direction of health: the healthy vision of me.

The main areas that a comprehensive programme focuses upon are the person’s understanding of the problem (their working knowledge), addressing fears and worries to put these resources into developing the ‘healthy me’, normalising movement and body sense, and creating the conditions for a healthy existence. There are many different strategies and techniques to use alongside treatment that also creates the conditions for health (hands-on, movement and other desensitising ways). Overall though, the programme gives you the know-how to overcome pain and resume a meaningful life.

In summary, RSI similar to other persisting pain problems involves much more than the area that hurts. Pain involves the person, the whole person and hence to address pain comprehensively, the programme must also be whole person. In other words it must reflect the fact that we are thinking, feeling and moving as an expression of who we are, the self that we ‘feel’, emerging from the unification of these dimensions. The programme thereby creates a way forward.

Part 2 will look at what happens in RSI

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23Mar/16
Women in pain

Women in pain

Women in painI see more women in pain than men in pain. Naturally, it depends upon the individual as to whether they seek help or not, yet as a general observation it appears that women in pain are more likely to take some action.

The most common presentation is a female aged between 30 and 55 years, who has suffered pain for some time, months or even years, which is now impacting upon her life in a number of ways. Typically the pain is affecting homelife, particulalrly looking after young children,  and worklife, or both in some cases as the pain pervades out into every nook and cranny. Sometimes this happens over a few months but often it is a slow-burner that is suddenly realised. When we have a conversation about the pain, cafe style*, it becomes apparent that there have been painful incidents punctuating a consistent level of sensitivity, building or kindling. The pains emerging in the person include back pain, neck pain, wrist pain, knee pain, foot pain — any joint pain — muscular pain; and can be accompanied by a range of pains known as functional pain syndromes: pelvic pain (dysmennorhoea, period pain, endometriosis, vulvodynia), irritable bowel syndrome, migraine, headache, fibromyalgia, jaw pain. The person, whilst unique and has a unique story to tell, is often hard on themselves by nature, a perfectionist, anxious and a worrier.

There are many, many women suffering a number of these problems that appear to be unrelated, but this is not usually the case. Upstream changes, or biological adaptations, play a role in the symptoms emerging, yet of course the way a condition manifests is dependent upon the individual themselves, with the uniqueness of each person, their tale, beliefs and life experiences.

Nothing happens in isolation. In other words, there is a point in time when we experience a sensation that we label and communicate, but this is not in isolation to what has been before. The story that the person tells me is vital because it reveals both the unfolding of how the individual comes to be sat in the room and allows me to begin giving some meaning to the experience; i.e. helping the person understand their pain and how it sits within their lifestyle and their reality. I say within because pain should not define who we are, yet it often appears to and hence needs to be put into perspective; the first step to overcoming the problem.

So, there are priming events that often begin much earlier in life than the pain that eventually brings the person along to the clinic. These priming events are biological responses to injuries, infections and other situations that are also learning situations. Learning how to respond at time point A then ‘primes’ for time point B as a response kicks in based on how our brains predict the best hypothesis for what ‘this all means’–what we are experiencing now is the brain’s best guess about what all the sensory information means based upon what has happened before, probability playing a role. One of the reasons for a good conversation is to identify the pattern of pain over the years, how it has gradually become more intrusive as the episodes intensify and become more frequent. The pattern can then be explained, given meaning and then provide a platform to create a way forward.

We are designed to change and each moment is unique. This gives us unending opportunities to steer ourselves towards a healthier existence and leading a meaningful life. To get there though, we must have a belief that we ‘can’ and be able to hold that vision. This vision of the healthy me is one that allows us to ask ourselves the question ‘am I heading towards the healthy me with these thoughts and actions, or not?’. If we are not heading in that direction, then we are being distracted and need to resume the healthy course, actively choosing to do so. How are you choosing to feel today? This is an interesting question to ask oneself.

We still have a certain amount of energy each day and a need for sleep and recuperation. Exceeding our capacity means that we are not meeting our basic needs — security, nutrition, hydration, rest. There is only a certain amount of time that we can keep drawing on our energy before we must refresh. Failing to attend to the basic needs leeds to on-going stress responses that are meant only for short bursts. Prolonged activation begins to play havoc in our body systems as we are in survive mode, not thrive mode. In particular, systems that slow down include the digestive system and the reproductive system. Many, many of the women I see have issues with both — e.g./ poor digestion, bloating, sensitivity, intolerances, fertility problems. The biology that underpins behaviours of protection (fright or flight) are preparing you to fight or run away. Having a meal or trying to conceive are low on the biological agenda when you are surviving.

Too much to do, too little time. Modern day living urges us to be busy being busy. Demands flying in from all quarters, yet it is the way we perceive a situation, the way we think about it that triggers the way we respond, not the situation itself. This gives us a very handy buffer. By gaining insight into the way we automatically think and perceive, this being learned over years (i.e. habits), we can become increasingly skilled at choosing different ways of thinking, letting thoughts go, and focusing on what enables us to grow. This very quickly changes our reality, our body, our environment and the sum of all, which is the lived experience.

With on-going pain we develop habits of thought and action, including the way we move that is integral to the way we sense our bodies. Our body sense and sense of self changes in pain, as does our perception of the environment (things can look further away when we have chronic pain or steeper when we are tired), all of which add up to provide evidence that we are under threat. More threat = more pain because the amount of pain we suffer is down to the level of perception of threat and not the amount of tissue damage. We have known this for years, yet mainstream healthcare and thinking remains steadfastly into structures and pathology. It is no mystery then, as to why chronic pain is one of the main global health burdens when the thinking is wrong! So what can we do?

If you are a woman suffering widespread aches and pains, tiredness and frequent bouts of anxiety, there is good news! As I said earlier, we are designed to change, and change is happening all the time. We need to decide which way we wish to change and then follow a plan, or programme, that takes you towards your vision of the healthy you. Pain is a lived experience and hence the programme must fit your life and unique needs as the techniques, strategies of thought and action interweave your life, moment to moment, taking every opportunity to create the right conditions. The blend of movements, gradually building exercises, mindful practice, sensorimotor training, recuperation, resilience, focus, motivation and more, together form a healthy bunch of habits that are all about you getting healthy again, which is the best way to get rid of this pain. No threat, no pain.

* the cafe style conversation is my chosen way of unfolding the person’s story. How do we chat in a cafe? It is relaxed and open, allowing for the full flow of conversation.

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24Feb/16
Dystonia

Chronic fatigue syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndromeAn excellent article by Jo Marchant addressing chronic fatigue syndrome recently appeared in The Observer. Interestingly, the following question was posed, “Is it physical or mental – or a combination of the two?”, highlighting the on-going dichotomy that is seen to exist in both society and in healthcare.

I spend a fair amount of time helping people to understand their perceptions and experiences, usually involving pain and suffering. This is about giving a meaning to their pain, validating their lived experience before looking at the ways in which they can change direction towards a healthy and meaningful existence. Importantly, a vital part of this working knowledge is understanding that there is no body-mind separation. There is a general shift towards people’s acceptance of this fact, yet there is still some way to go before this could be seen as mainstream thinking across society. However, this is certainly not alternative thinking, as we have a significant amount of scientific and philosophical literature that is dedicated to this very question.

To answer the question quoted at the start of my blog, chronic fatigue syndrome is not physical, it is not mental and it is not a combination of both. Chronic fatigue sydrome is a whole person experience, much like pain, when the symptoms emerge in the person, in a location or in locations felt and described anatomically for convenience. Yet the biology of both CFS and pain exist well beyond where the feelings are felt. Similar to the notion of mind that does not only exist in the head, or the brain or behind the eyes as can be thought. There are no controllers pulling knobs and turning dials behind our eyes, although there can be the sense that we ‘see’ the world, the perceived world, through these eyes, creating the illusion that the thinker is in the cranium. Fascinating.

However, my mind exists in me, the whole person. I think and I am my whole body and my whole body is the thinker, hence there being no separation. As a simple example, anxiety is usually viewed as a psychological state of mind, yet where do we feel anxious? The stomach, the gut, the chest perhaps. Not in my head, that’s for sure. Same for pain — it is not in the head!!! I am sure many readers have either heard this about pain, either as a patient or a patient tells you that is what they have been told because no ’tissue’ or structure has been found to explain their pain. This is actually because structures do not explain pain as many now know.

Accepting the notion of a whole person opens a range of avenues for therapeutic purposes as we seek to give the person suffering symptoms the knowledge and skills to resume a meaningful and healthy life. The key principle and underlying thinking (with my whole person as the clinician or therapist) is that the individual in front of you is complete and the sum of parts that only exist as a whole — e.g./ as we are conversing or exploring movements (also known as tests, assessments etc.), seeing how the that person moves and experiences movement or expresses themselves with certain words and gestures that illustrate the meaning that they wish to convey.

The aim of a health-giving programme is to provide the individual with the knowledge and skills he or she need to overcome their problem and steer their change (we are designed to change; it is one of the very few definites) to a meaningful life. There maybe treatment within this programme, but in essence it is about giving the person the independence with regard to thought and action, which they understand are emergent from themselves as a whole person, enabling and empowering decisions that lead to action that is congruent with health. Understanding this means that the individual knows which levels they can use, combining movement and thought for best outcomes. This would include working knowledge of symptoms allowing for wise thought and selecting best action, specific techniques and strategies that promote the meeting of basic needs (i.e./ nutritional intake, fluid intake, security, movement, rest), movement and exercise for health and building tolerance for activity, resilience and motivation, and skills to deal with unhelpful and distracting thoughts (e.g./ practical mindfulness). These are some of the key elements of the Pain Coach Programme, when you become your own coach, conceptualised as a compass that one can use to determine current direction and motivate a shift in direction when needed, moment to moment. Essentially, with chronic fatigue and pain as lived experiences, it is the moment to moment thinking and actions that are vital in heading towards the healthy you.

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13Feb/16
40+60 Feet | Bark |https://flic.kr/p/7rvmbB

Tendon pain

40+60 Feet | Bark |https://flic.kr/p/7rvmbB

40+60 Feet | Bark |https://flic.kr/p/7rvmbB

Tendon pain has been a big topic for some years. The problem is seen commonly in the clinic and frequently poses a challenge because so often tendon pain persists. Local factors and nociception are typically blamed, yet when treatment is focused at the tissue level, the limitations are exposed. As an aside, tissue based strategies are cited, yet there is really no such thing as a tissue based treatment simply because the tissues are not separate from the person. They are the person, and of course the person knows that something is being done to them and hence emotions and thoughts are at play, affecting the outcome — consider the person who observes your hands whilst you mobilise or massage whilst remaining calm and curious versus the person who is anxious, guarded with their hand poised and ready to grasp your hand as you start treatment; the latter person demonstrating why it is vital that the threat value be diminished before starting any intervention.

Pete’s excellent blog about tendon pain acknowledges the person, perhaps for the first time in tendon literature, which is music to my ears. Having been heavily influenced by Oliver Sacks, my philosophy has always been to consider the person as much, if not more than the condition as it explains how a particular issue manifests uniquely in that person. Certainly in my mind, the ‘initial assessment’ for me is about getting to know the person, which then rolls into their own experience of pain.

I first started looking with interest at tendon pain some ten years ago as an example of a persistent condition in sport. With an interest in chronic pain, it appeared that the discussions about tendon pain remained within the boundaries of where the pain emerged, yet our understanding of pain had advanced to the higher centres and many body systems involved in the experience of pain. Even nociception was discovered as being an incomplete picture as this biological process can be afoot with or without pain. Detection of threat does not mean it has to hurt, and indeed nociception itself is not something we actually feel. However, when the brain (which is of course part of the person and not separate, although our language does sometimes suggest this) predicts the need for protection, pain emerges in the person in a location deemed under threat or potential threat. This complex activity, which includes consciousness and the mind (these are both small subjects……..), is a whole person experience that is lived moment to moment and hence a focus on what happens in the tendon is only part of the picture. There is still very little acknowledgement elsewhere within the hierarchy, so here are a few thoughts I would like to share.

Previously I have expressed the view that we treat, advise and educate a person; a whole person. The approach that I favour is one that delivers the (working) knowledge and skills for the individual so that they can overcome their pain problem and resume a meaningful life as defined by themselves. Fragmenting for convenience is common, breaking down a whole into parts, yet this can never give a full picture. Medicine and healthcare typically specialise and whilst this has value, in the case of a persisting pain that often means that people fall between the cracks. For example, a female with fibromyalgia, IBS, migraines and pelvic pain may be seeing a rheumatologist, a gastroenterologist, a neurologist and a gynaecologist, and whilst elimination of anything pathological is important, there is an understood common upstream biology. Interestingly, many of these cases also have tender tendons that can be a surprise to the person when the tendons are pressed, especially considering that they are not the primary reason for seeking help.

Nothing happens in isolation (is one of my favourite phrases), and hence the biological expressions in and around a tendon are not separate from the mechanisms that underpin how pain arises in our consciousness. We cannot explain how this happens — how do chemical reactions in our body become a lived experience? Despite the lack of an answer, it clearly involves more than the tissue or structure alone.

This is not to say that the brain and the mind alone are responsible. Where is the mind? Where is the seat of the mind? Again, we do not know. Yet surely the mind is not just in the brain, an argument put forward by supporters of embodied cognition. It is me that thinks, not my brain or my mind, but me. And I think with my whole person because I am a whole person, and indeed when I feel pain, it is me that feels pain and not the body part where I feel it. Because I am more than that body part, the experience of pain must involve the whole person in that moment in that context. It is also true to say that to be in pain, we must be thinking that we are in pain as much as experiencing the sensory qualities of pain. Thinking draws our attention to the said experience, otherwise it is subconscious and hence not occurring to me.

For tendon pain, practically speaking, we must of course consider the health of the tendon itself and surrounding tissues, but also the person’s general state (who are they, how are they), prior experiences relevant to the problem (e.g./ tendon pain, pain, general health), beliefs, expectations, vulnerabilities to developing persistent pain, their story of how the pain emerged, their movement patterns (and why they are moving in such a way; both at the planning stages of movement and actual movement), body sense and sense of self at the very minimum. This information is gathered within the first conversation, setting the scene as trust and rapport develops naturally from exploration of their story that validates and empathises.

This is a mere and brief overview of my thinking about tendon pain, which poses a significant clinical problem, often persisting for longer than is expected. Whilst the focus remains on the tendon and nociception, there will be limited results in my view as this only tells a part of the story of the person in pain. This is true for any pain, and not just tendon pain. Pain emerges in the person and all that that person means and embodies, hence we must address the person as much, if not more than the condition. As Oliver Sacks wrote on his father, a GP: ‘He knew the human, the inward side of his patients no less than their bodies and felt he could not treat one without the other’. So true and this has always been my abiding principle.

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08Feb/16
Cold shower by Thomas8047 | https://flic.kr/p/oi7RaM

Lingering colds

Cold shower by Thomas8047 | https://flic.kr/p/oi7RaM

Cold shower by Thomas8047 | https://flic.kr/p/oi7RaM

A number of people have described their lingering colds, which have been persisting for a few weeks. This is longer than anticipated, and of course rather annoying and inconvenient. Daytime sniffling and night time disturbance whilst low on the list of ailments in terms of seriousness, they do impact upon life: tiredness, aches and pain, disrupted appetite, reduced concentration for example.

Beyond the normal symptoms, someone who has a degree of sensitivity at play, in other words a pre-existing painful problem, will frequently endure an amplification of their pain. It is common for the body to ache when we have a cold, and when we have an existing painful body area, it will typically hurt more during this period as the immune system pumps out pro-inflammatory cytokines (messengers) that increase sensitivity. A further noteworthy observation is that of prolonged symptoms when the person tries to exercise, discovering that their usual post-gym or post-run soreness is worse and continues for a few days. The overall symptoms of the cold can persist for longer as well unless the conditions for recovery are met, and this means meeting basic needs: what we eat, what we drink, enough rest and recuperation, enough sleep and dealing with situations that cause stress and anxiety.

Some people believe that we catch a cold by being cold. As far as I know this has never been the case. The feelings and sensations of having a cold are the body’s responses to a virus (no need for antibiotics then) or bacteria (may need antibiotics but not always — judiscious reasoning needed by your doctor). You cannot feel a cold, only the emergent experiences of the body that are mortivators for action to rest, recuperate, hibernate, protect etc etc. If you ignore these clear motivators, you are probably going to prolong the cold and your suffering as well as all those around you at home, at work and on the tube (ever had someone with a cold next to you on the tube? And when I say next to you, I mean squeezed right up to you).

So, loPain Coach Programmeok after your basic needs. In fact, this is vital anyway and will reduce the risk of catching a cold in the first place! And from suffering the effects of survive rather than thrive. Wouldn’t you rather flourish, engage and perform? Be wise. Be health wise.

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08Feb/16
mindfulness by swampland | https://flic.kr/p/k3t1k

Practical mindfulness

mindfulness by swampland | https://flic.kr/p/k3t1k

mindfulness by swampland | https://flic.kr/p/k3t1k

Practical mindfulness is for everyone. It is for everyone who wants to develop insight into their own mind, and in so doing will relieve an amount of suffering that is significantly impacting upon their life in a number of ways: pain, anxiety, ill health.

It is important to point out at this juncture that the mind does not exist purely in our heads but rather we are our mind, and our bodies are an extension of our minds as they reach out to both sample and create the world that we perceive. We think with our whole self. And if you are befuddled by this, just for a moment consider where you feel hungry or thirsty? Is it in your head? Does your mouth go off for a drink? Or do you feel thirsty and you go and get a drink to quench your thirst?

Practical mindfulness, for me, is about creating the conditions for health. We have everything we need to be healthy, yet life seems to get in the way. Consider: too busy to exercise or move? I want that cake because I am hungry and fancy a snack. I feel stressed because of what that person has said to me. I am anxious about _______ (fill in the gap).

Mindfulness is about being aware of what is happening in this moment, noticing the temporary nature of things and letting go (are you still thinking about what that person said? Who is left holding the burning coal?) in a non-judgmental way. This flies in the face of how we have been brought up in our society: judge! Blame! Dwell on the past and re-play that tape of that event you think that you remember — except you don’t well at all you just think you do! Crave! Want! No awareness runs through these common choices of thought or action. How are you choosing to think right now? Is there a better choice that would make you feel better? If you are aware of your habits of thought, then you can make a better choice to shift your perception and hence your conscious experience of what is happening right now.

Being present does not mean that you do not recall memories but rather that you do it with skill, noticing how it makes you feel and living the full richness without suffering, whilst letting go of unhelful thoughts. Being present does not mean that you do not plan, but instead means that you plan the future (that never comes because there is only this moment) in the present moment and therefore do not suffer the anxiety of an undesirable future. How often do you tell yourself that it will not work out? Or that you will fail or that you are not good enough? Is it true or are you just telling yourself that story. It is just a story, or a train of thoughts that you embody, live and enact and so it goes on. But it does not have to keep going on like this as we are all changing, all of the time. It is the direction we must choose: shall I keep on listening to that inner voice or let it go and be mindful? That is your choice.

Mindfulness does not require one to become spiritual or religious. It does not require any equipment. The principles are straight forward. It is only when someone keeps telling themselves that it is hard, is it hard. Why not choose to say to yourself that you will, or that you can rather than you can’t or you won’t?

There are two main practical practices: the moment to moment taking a breath to become aware, developing a sense of what is happening now and the sitting or lying practice for a period of time (usually 5-10 minutes initially) several times a day. In the regular practice you are putting down the heavy bags of past and future, and the suffering from living out the thoughts that keep passing through, especially those that you hold onto and resist. Resistence causes tension and other protective predictions that zap our energy and bring on aches and pains that are so common — migraine, headache, irritable bowel syndrome, back pain, neck pain — as our bodies try to keep up with the wandering mind. Taming the mind by gathering insight and cultivating curiosity makes way for calm times to plug-in, refresh and renew as you create the conditions for a healthy, performing, engaging you amidst the multitude of continuous stimuli in the world around. By the way, it is our embodied minds that are creating that reality, so there’s another reason to look after it, just like you do your body. You get fit in the gym, clean your body, groom your body, clothe your body. What do you do for your mind that gives you the sense of everything including that body?

Practical mindfulness is part of the Pain Coach programme for persisting and chronic pain, stress and anxiety. t. 07518 445493

 

07Feb/16
Lego Family by the great 8 | https://flic.kr/p/9z3rus

Family and friends

Lego Family by the great 8 | https://flic.kr/p/9z3rus

Lego Family by the great 8 | https://flic.kr/p/9z3rus

Family and friends are vitally important in a person’s overcoming of their pain. For this reason, I have outlined some of the key reasons before moving onto the common advice that I give to individuals and their loved ones.

We are each enormously influenced by the people we grow up with and spend time with, as they have a role in shaping our beliefs about ourselves and the world in which we live. This includes of course, our thinking about health and pain that drive our choices of behaviour and on-going thinking. And therein lies an important notion, that of the choice we have to develop our thinking and take on a different perspective, thereby creating new perceptions and realities.

The influence referred to above can, if used wisely, be of immense value in overcoming pain. Wise use relies upon all parties both truly understanding pain and how it emerges in the individual, in other words a working knowledge that can be used practically to inform best action that is congruent with health.

The individual bears their pain, suffering the lived experience moment to moment, yet those around the person also suffer in different ways and for different reasons. In this sense, the fact that we are not existing in isolation, when the person gets better, so do those around them. It is a potent realisation that when we choose to take healthy action, the people around us appear to change, as do the world and our overall reality. This is exemplified by the character played by Bill Murray in the film Groundhog Day.

In short, an individual’s pain experience is flavoured somewhat by the attitudes, behaviours and actions of those around, and indeed those around are influenced by the way that the pain of an individual emerges. For this reason, a treatment programme should embrace these dynamics, which could be studied and described in far more detail than I have here, and lever effect for the benefit of all.

How? There are some simple steps and practices that can be taken, which I have outlined below:

  • Both the individual in pain and his/her family and friends have a working knowledge of the pain emerging in that person, noting the individualistic nature of their pain. A working knowledge permits clear and wise thinking in any given moment, continuing to choose a direction congruent with overcoming pain. Family and friends realise the changeable nature of pain, recognising the influences upon pain and how the intensity and suffering fluctuate moment to moment.
  • With a plan in place, encouragement, support and motivation can be provided by family and friends, using the right language, gestures and actions. The plan points toward the vision, giving direction and a steer to recognise whether the person is being distracted or heading towards health. The plan is devised with the clinician who advises upon day to day, moment to moment strategies and exercises.
  • Family and friends can play an active role in a selection of the treatments, including sensory work, touch based therapies, mindfulness and simply providing company whilst the exercises are performed little and often through the day.
  • Learning when to help and when to promote independence is an evolving skill that blends the practical with an understanding of the person.

People often ask whether family and friends should be involved in their recovery. I would suggest that it is not a case of whether, but rather how they can be involved.

 

06Jan/16
UP | understand pain

Onwards in 2016

UP | understand painOnwards in 2016 is my thinking. This is not a New Year’s resolution, but instead a commitment to developing the work thus far, upon raising awareness of the vast problem of pain across the globe. Whilst many organisations, governments and charities are focusing on particular conditions, and fine work many are doing, there is an overarching problem that needs addressing — the problem of pain: what it is? What it means to the individual? What is the impact? What can we do to overcome pain? This leads on to simple questions that we must answer swiftly: why am I in pain? What can I do? What are others going to do? How long will it take?

Pain appears in injury, in stress, in anxiety, in cancer, in heart disease, in diabetes, inUP | understand pain schools, in homes, in workplaces, on the playing field, in men, in women, in children, in the existence of disease, in the absence of disease, it comes in a moment and passes in a moment. Pain is everywhere, and whilst it plays a necessary role in our learning and survival, in many cases the pain is prolonged, amplified and causing on-going suffering when it need not. We have an obligation to change this situation because we can. We have the knowledge, we have the skills and we have know-how and it needs to be used across the board. This is a societal problem that we can tackle together, starting with understanding pain.

The UP campaign that we started last year has gathered great momentum, capturing our imagination and those who were touched by the events at T5 Heathrow, and creating a platform for our plans in 2016 and beyond. This year we will gain charity status and be taking our message as far and as wide as we can — each new person who knows about UP and that pain can change will be a messenger, and this way we can reach out across society. The facts that I give people each day, the knowledge and skills that we work upon together to create the conditions for change in a direction that the person desires, steers them towards sustained health and a life well lived. We are changing all the time, every moment is new and an opportunity, so we can learn to embrace this and keep moving onward!

Onward for me is continuing to develop the blend of pain sciences, philosophy and coaching to get the best out of each and every individual. We all have great potential that is to be realised, and this includes people overcoming their pain. There are too many negative messages given, wrong messages given and subsequent self-talk that predicts poor outcomes. This is not necessary at all and needs to be reversed. Let us talk of health and feeling good as much as we can! There are always challenging times, yet we can view these as difficult or as an opportunity to learn. We will not always be happy, but we can learn how to recognise thought viruses and old beliefs that we can update and change perspective upon in order to view things differently and hence feel differently as our embodied mind evolves.

So, with great gusto, onwards and UP!