Tag Archives: chronic pain

29Nov/17

Getting the best of Christmas ~ top tips if you’re suffering pain

Top tips to enjoy Christmas

Christmas top tips to thrive rather than survive!

Getting the best of Christmas ~ here are some top tips if you’re suffering pain so that you can maximise your enjoyment and create some great memories!

“get the best of you

Christmas is not an easy time for everyone. There are numerous challenges that include preparing a lunch, buying and wrapping gifts and seeing relatives. Add a layer of persistent pain, and these and other challenges are somewhat amplified. Having a plan helps you to organise your part in the festive season, allowing you to enjoy the time in the best possible way.

How are you framing the Christmas period?

The inner dialogue or script we are running has an enormous impact on how we have that very experience. If I keep telling myself that it will be tough, or tiring, or painful, then it usually is and more so. In essence we are feeding the prediction plus our choice of behaviour will enact those thoughts. So, write a positive script that is rich with all that you want. This does not necessarily mean that it turns out exactly this way, but it will be much better than if we anticipate the worst. What we focus upon we get more of!

My Christmas will be ______________. Fill in the blank and keep focusing on this picture and how you can go about doing your best to achieve it. This is the basic model of success used by anyone who has achieved results, including you! Clarify the picture of what you want and then decide upon the principles to follow to do your best to get there.

Make a plan

For each day of the festive period make a plan. You will need to prioritise your activities and create space for ‘refresh and renew’ time. To prioritise you can make a list of all the things you want to do. Then categorise them A-C (A the most important), before numbering 1, 2, 3, 4 etc (1 the most important).

Your plan is flexible, meaning that if it does not turn out exactly as you wished, you can accept the changes. It is useful to have a set of principles to follow, which allow for flexibility within the plan. Here are some examples;

  1. Knowing that wherever you are, you can create calm by using breathing or imagery, either because you are aware of a more intense emotional state or just because you wish to plug in and recharge.
  2. Motion is lotion is a way of nourishing yourself with simple movements that you know are safe, despite how they may feel at the time. Pain and stiffness are both need states that we perceive in order to choose an action that will satisfy the need. This is much like hunger and thirst.
  3. Refresh and renew time is when you deeply relax, engage in something pleasurable, have a conversation, listen to music, look at a scene with awe, practice gratitude.

Write your plan out so that you are much more likely to commit. You may like to share your plan with someone as a further way of cementing your intended actions.

Motion is lotion

Movement is fundamental for our health as it is the way we nourish our body and our brain (the two are not separate–we are whole). Movement is part of the way we are and the way we represent ourselves to the world. Consider how you can recognise a friend from far away by the way that they walk.

Motion is lotion is the consistent practice of moving, little and often through the day. Stiffness is a common bedfellow of pain due to the guarding (overactive) muscles that become tense and tight. The feeling of stiffness is inferred as a way to make us move, much like pain is an inferred (whole person) state to make us protect ourselves and meet the impending need.

Repeated simple movements that are tolerable or feel good will build the evidence that we are actually safe. This momentum creates a new back story that informs the next moment in such a way as to drive easier and easier movements. This is a practice and must be used through the day, every day. As a guide, when sedentary, change position every 15 minutes, and stand up every 30 minutes. Part of your planning (see above) will be how you can integrate movement into your day.

Be aware of what is happening right now

Being ‘in the moment’ is not just a phrase. There is no rehearsal for life; this is it. ‘Life is long if you know how to use it’ is Seneca’s classic title. Using our time wisely maximises the opportunities we have presented to us each day, together with an openness to experience. The beginner’s mind illustrates this well, whereby we maintain a wonder about our perception of the world that unfolds each moment, much like a small child walking into a grotto, experiencing the impact of the lights and aromas of Christmas.

Mindful practice is about being present, aware and open to all experiences without judgement. Noticing emotions, feelings, thoughts and sensations as they come and as they go is at the heart of the practice, however they appear. Quickly we can become familiar with the impermanent nature of things, so no matter what you are feeling right now, it will pass. We can easily integrate mindfulness into our day with a simple ‘formal’ practice of 10-15 minutes together with moment to moment awareness through the day. The latter is achieved by paying attention to a few breaths, which bring you to the present moment rather than dwelling and embodying the past or an anticipated future.

A further practice is to notice positive feelings and emotions through the day as they arise. ‘What we focus on, we get more of’, is a phrase I repeat to clients, as they train themselves to build awareness of all perceptions, in particular those that feel good. The broaden and build effect of noticing positive emotions has been well studied by Barbara Fredrickson, and it only takes a short period of practice for the impact to grow. Good feelings can often be subtle and pass by quickly, whereas negative emotions often hit us hard and linger for long periods. Paying attention to each moment as often as you can, permits the awareness of the positive in its many forms, building your wellness and ability to notice more. There will be plenty of good feelings to notice if you choose to create a positive approach to Christmas, pay attention and address your ever changing needs (see below).

Meeting your needs

We can strongly argue that feelings arising in the body are the conscious emergence of need states. I feel thirsty, I feel hungry, I have an itch, are all common examples. Pain and stiffness are also need states that motivate us to take action to meet the need, perhaps more urgently that some of the others.

When we feel thirst, this is a user-friendly representation of complex biology (sub-personal), which we only need consider as a percept to address by drinking. Pain can be considered in the same light to a degree. The variance comes from the desire to know why we are in pain. Is it something really dangerous? Clinicians must do their best to answer this question for the person.

Much of the suffering comes not from the pain itself, but the way in which the person interprets and thinks about the pain. This is why understanding pain is so important, and why many people feel immediate relief on knowing the answer. If you consider that pain is based upon the perception of threat, understanding pain is a way to reduce this threat together with knowing what can be done.

On feeling thirsty, we drink until the feeling appears to pass. On feeling pain, we must keep using our practices to create the conditions of ‘safety’ until we start to sense an easing, which will come. This may be repetition for a good period of time along with consistent practices we are using to get better overall. We must also address the reasons why, if we know, the state may have arisen. For example, a situation that is perceive as stressful, tiredness, anxiety, different or new movements, or a change of environment to name but a few. Pain is embodied and embedded in the context of your life, hence all factors need attention and new approaches engaged where existing ones fail.

An example to illustrate: I have neck pain sitting at my desk. I must move and stretch to nourish, and keep doing so until there is a sense of relief (this may need to be consistent through the day). I must also address the reasons why it could be painful. For example, I have sat here for a long time repeating the same posture and movement, I am feeling anxious about this piece of work or a forthcoming meeting, my mind is wandering, I am tired. Without considering all influences as well as the actual perception, there is not adequate reason for your body systems that protect you to shift gears. We actively shift gears with new thinking and new actions.

Summary

Here I have outlined some simple practices and approaches that you can decide to adopt for not only the Christmas period, but in a way to overcome your pain. The Pain Coach Programme is a practical approach to living life and building wellness as a buffer to the challenges that arise for each person. We can choose our style of ‘doing life’, and this has a significant impact upon whether we reach our potential or not. The Programme is about getting the best of you, or peak performance in different areas of your life. Each day presents a range of opportunities. Which will you engage with?

Here’s an equation:

(My current physical ability – my tolerance) + my approach = what I achieve

“How can I be the best me, and enjoy the process? 

** Please note that these practices should not replace your existing treatment or therapy programme. You should always check with your healthcare professional if unsure.


To start your Pain Coach Programme, to organise a Pain Coach Workshop or for clinician 1:1 mentoring, contact Jo 07518 445493

13Nov/17
Whole person to treat chronic pain

It’s not your mind, it’s not your body, it’s you!

Whole person to treat chronic pain

Its not your mind, it’s not your body, its you!

Mind and body — what do we mean?

In essence it is good news. Loud messages in the media about mind and body being connected (read article by Rachel Kelly here), thereby trying to update society’s thinking from dualism to what actually happens. To philosophers, neuroscientists, cognitive scientists though, this is familiar ground. Mind-body has been the subject of discussion and investigation for eons.

Today there is further reporting upon schizophrenia research, highlighting the limitations of a dualist perspective, which continues to predominate within our health system. The system and huge swathes of society persist in divvying up the so-called ‘mental’ and ‘physical’. We even have different buildings dedicated to each bit of us, and within those buildings, and rooms that divvy us up even more. We have a liver location, a heart hub, a bones bit, and other parts of the institution that focus on a mere piece of us. Where is the room that puts it all together and acknowledges a human being who thinks, feels, moves, and perceives in distinctly human ways? Let’s talk qualia, and here’s Dan Dennett talking about consciousness.

need states

There are reasons why this maybe convenient, however the separation is not how it works in reality. And try being an end user: ‘Hello, I’m the knee patient’. Within our language and thinking must be the start point of the whole, for it is the whole person who perceives a need via a variety of bodily sensations: thirst, hunger, pain, discomfort and anxiety as examples. What do I need to do here?

‘In the past, we’ve always thought of mind and the body being separate, but its just not like that’ said Oliver Howes, professor of molecular psychiatry. Too right! Its never been like that! He goes on to say that the mind and body ‘interact constantly and the immune system is no different’. I would propose a step further that there is no connection per se because they are one and the same: me and how I experience me and the world. If you are doing a maths puzzle for example, you could argue that this is a mental task. However, there is always the ‘you’ doing the puzzle and you are there, present and embodied. Your mind does not slip out and do the job and then slip back in.

The recent schizophrenia research findings suggest that treating the immune system could be a way forward. I think that society maybe surprised by this news in certain quarters, yet people will understand how this can work. I have great faith in society;s ability to learn, grow and evolve because that is what we have always done, naturally. There is much greater ‘attunement’ to the completeness of being human, although we still have a long way to go before the scientific and philosophical understanding is mainstream in society. Again, this is not news to people who have been studying and following the work of brain-body-person-immune interactions over the past 15 years. A notable example was Dantzer’s paper in 2008 on inflammation and the brain.

inflammation is a likely biological mechanism that links up many common problems: e.g./ pain, depression

It sounds simple to ‘treat the immune system’. Of course in reality this is not the case because our body systems work as a whole and interact in many, many ways. Modern society is very familiar and comfortable with the notion of taking medication to solve a problem. Indeed this is one case when a pharmacological agent is needed. However, this still fails to teach a person how to live or to live their best. This take understanding, practice, time and perseverance. In the rush-rush world we live in, people often want the quick fix that simply does not exist. Getting real means we pay attention to the data that now tells us that certain practices or skills each day are what we need to do to be well. This is non-negotiable. You make a choice.

I finish as I start — this is good news. It is another way in which society can see the changes in understanding afoot. Our thinking needs a drastic update, certainly in terms of chronic pain and chronic health. For years we have been led to believe that pills are the answer, yet they are not. They may have a role, but the main role is the person and the choices they make in how they ‘do life’. Their life-style if you like. We have so many known ways of building health, no matter where you start, no matter whether you have a condition or not, we can decide to live our best. And to do this needs recognition of the fact that we are whole. There is no mind-body separation, instead just ‘me’.


Pain Coach Programme to get the best of you, overcome pain and live well; t. 07518 445493
12Nov/17
Overcome stress and pain to live well

The worried world and what we can do

Overcome stress and pain to live well

A recent article by Oliver Burkeman entitled ‘Anxiety bites. How to keep calm when world events are freaking you out’ highlighted the impact of Brexit and Trump upon people’s life perspectives. He states that levels of anxiety and being troubled have gone up, quoting the American Psychological Association as finding 57% of those surveyed to feel stressed by the political climate. There has also been a rise on the UK. We are, it seems, as a society, worrying about life and the future. Are we in a worried world?

We can argue that anxiety, like all perceptions, are inferred states as we try to make sense of the possible and most likely causes of the sensory information. After all, we are a bag of chemicals, and depending upon where they are and what they are doing, our brain has to make a best guess as to what they could mean based upon what we already know (priors). It is interesting that the ‘feeling’, the ‘what it is like’ of anxiety is similar to excitement. The key is the interpretation and what you tell yourself: I am excited or I am anxious. Try it.

Burkeman raises some good points. He mentions the contagion of anxiety as we are tacitly capable of sharing our emotions with others whereby both you and I feel anxious together despite being distinct organisms. Consider how quickly the atmosphere changes in an office or the mood of a football crowd. We are supposed to do something about the problems we perceive, but what should that action be? A feeling of outrage, powerlessness, isolation, and despair can prevail when we become over-focused on problems. This is some protective biology at play that results in us drifting into that state and maintaining it by continuing to attend to certain thought patterns. Burkeman also picks up on the notion of fear, with one of the therapists he interviewed mentioning the deep rooted and basic fear in life that stems from childhood. Without the safety of reliable parents, a child is destined to fend for herself, making the world appear to be a very dangerous place. Of course this can be hugely amplified if suffering or having suffered abuse when the protect systems are deeply provoked and remain active.

This is a serious issue. We have progressed remarkably as a species and the momentum is building, yet we appear to be falling behind when it comes to the so-called mental health. Regular readers and followers will know that I have an issue with this term, which I feel implies a dualist approach to the human experience. Experience is embodied (Varela et al. 2017). Everything we think and do is embodied, meaning that suffering depression and anxiety, the common and increasing problems previously identified, emerge in the bodily self. Where do you feel anxious? Most people will say in their stomach or chest.

Consistently being in a state of protect has health consequences as our resources divert towards defence rather than nourishment. This in turn raises the chance that the person will suffer a plethora of conditions, including those of an inflammatory and auto-immune nature. In my view a serious consideration for society (and policy makers), this is likely one of the reasons for the uptick in chronic pain, remembering that pain is also a mode of defence inferred from the existing circumstances.

what can we do?

This all seems a bit grim as we quickly forget the possibilities in life and the beauty that we are surrounded by in nature and human beings. So what can we do? Certainly knowing what we can control and focusing upon this rather than what we cannot control is a good start point together with a picture of what we actually want. This is the basic model of success. In terms of chronic pain, this is the first step we take when addressing the problem(s) before coming up with the principles to follow in order to achieve wins and overcome pain.

Here are a few simple tips, beginning with the creation of inner calm. Why is this so important? Because it gives us a perspective, making contact with our reality, allowing us to see things for what they are instead of being caught up in emotions that are the fabric of thoughts past and future. We learn to sense that inner calm, a feeling in the body akin to a deep peace and knowing. I would argue that this is a natural state, and one we can learn to access routinely each day, through the day, as well as when we need to be calm, clear and to see things as they really are. Biologically speaking, when we know and live this calmness, we are in parasympathetic mode, the branch of the autonomic nervous system that nourishes us.

Two simple ways to create inner calm: (1) take 3 breaths and slowly breathe out, paying attention to the breathe all the way in and all the way out. (2) take 10 breaths, following your breathing from the entry into your nose or mouth into your body and then letting go naturally, not trying to control or change your breathing at all. Note how you feel.

Further practices that can be integrated and implelemented into daily living include the practice of gratitude (Mccullough et al. 2002) and acts of generosity or kindness (Layous et al. 2014). Both are now known to be distinctly healthy and easily practiced each day, much like learning a musical instrument. We are not only considering the healthy effects, but also buffering against life’s challenges and the approach that the person takes to life–how do you do life? Possibility our problem?

Two easy ways to practice gratitude and generosity: (1) each day write down 5 things that you are grateful for in your life. (2) choosing to do something for someone else, including people you do not know, such as giving up your seat or letting someone go first. There are many opportunities through the day, however we must be aware and take note of how we feel, noticing the positive emotions as they arise. The more we notice, the more we notice, establishing the build and broaden effect (Kok et al. 2013).

Despite the world events and those closer to us in our days to day lives, it is our perception that is key–my own unique interpretation. As Shakespeare wrote: ‘there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so’. These words highlight the importance of how you choose to approach life and the situations within your life. The practice of daily skills such as those outlined above are simple habits we can create to develop our thinking and our style of ‘doing’ life. Like other habits they become part of what we do with greater and greater ease, building our wellness that does not simple happen without effort and persistence.


The skills of being well are an intrical part of The Pain Coach Programme that is not only about overcoming pain, but living well, the best you can.

 

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:

24Jul/17

Improve staff fitness

Improve staff fitness

Call to improve staff fitness by the Chief Executive of Public Health England, Duncan Selbie

To improve staff fitness is a great idea all round. According to The Observer yesterday, the cost of staff sickness is £29 billion a year. Denis Campbell reports upon Duncan Selbie’s call for companies to encourage healthy practices. Imagine freeing up some of that cash for education, including educating the next generation to look after themselves. We may laud ‘great results’ in A*’s and A’s but at what cost? We continue to see the figures for mental health rising in kids? I would rather my kid had a D, had tried his best and was all-round healthy. What use is an A if you are suffering depression?

“To improve staff fitness is a great idea all round”

The main target for this message seems to be small and medium sized businesses. Naturally this draws responses about the costs and limited opportunities within such firms compared to bigger companies. However, this problem can easily be solved by creating guidelines and providing support ~ see below for some ideas. It would be well worth the investment.

We can look at the trend in big businesses of building gyms on-site, having physiotherapy and doctors available, bringing sandwiches to the desk and even a neck massage while your pour over your spreadsheets. However, you could also argue that this merely keeps people at their desk or in the workplace for longer, often in the very environment that is causing most of the problems!

“The skills of wellbeing easily weave into the day”

There are a vast number of different options for healthy practices and skills of wellbeing. Teaching people such practices each day, I am very familiar working with individuals who have decided to create new patterns (habits) to supersede existing patterns that cause pain and suffering. Most people I see have chronic pain together with varying degrees of anxiety, depression and other persisting ills (e.g. migraine, headache, IBS, pelvic pain, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue). Usually this is accompanied by perfectionism (expectations are never met resulting in ‘I am not good enough’ and consequential stress) and self-criticism to a unhealthy degree.

Many people spend their lives in protect mode. Occasionally they experience care-giving mode, but not often. Biologically these people are likely to be ‘inflamed’ much of the time, which explains many of the common complaints in the modern world for which medicine has no answer. The endless search for a medical explanation leads down a slope of decreasing expectations and hope. In essence, like chronic pain, this is not actually a medical problem. Once any sinister pathology has been excluded, the biomedical model offers nothing here as the problem is embedded in society; i.e. it is a public health issue.

To address a public health issue, we need society’s thinking to change. For thinking to change, existing beliefs must be shaken as we update our understanding. Understand Pain is a purpose led enterprise that works to change society’s thinking about pain. In the same way we can build upon the strengths in society with regards to being active. The ‘already active’ can become champions, spreading the right messages about the healthy practices that they have adopted. These people are living examples of the benefit.

“Staff fitness benefits business and society”

Staff fitness

Turning this on its head as I like to do, let’s think about living well and meaningfully. In other words, what can we do and what can we focus on? What positive action can we take as individuals and society? This is not just about small and medium sized businesses creating opportunity for healthy practices. Businesses must collaborate with staff who they themselves need to be motivated to live well. We all have this responsibility to ourselves, our families and society.

There is too much knowledge to sit back now, we all have a role to play, not just the business owners. However, if owners and executives take the right steps and lead from the front, they will inspire action. Do we have good enough leaders to do this and recognise the benefits for the business itself and society as a whole? That’s another question!

What could we do at our place?

Consider how staff will engage with the business and colleagues when the right environment and ethos exists. What are the company values? This is a great opportunity for small and medium sized businesses to engage deeply with its people. Even if this means re-writing the values in an effort to keep growing.

  • Create a space for exercise
  • Create a space for meditation
  • Link with local teachers: yoga, Pilates etc. ~ also an opportunity for staff to bond by doing something together
  • Encourage meetings that are mobile ~ where can we go? Let’s walk and talk
  • Encourage conversation over email/text ~ walk to that person’s desk
  • Compulsory lunch break away from the desk
  • Education programme for the skills of wellbeing

Using your imagination, you will be able to come up with some great ideas for your place. Your people are your greatest resource. Looking after them means looking after your business.


If you would like to know more about healthy practices and skills of wellbeing, please contact us. See what we can do for you as an individual and a business

Individual coaching and workshops ~ t. 07518 445493
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]

 

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

 

 

 

 

05Apr/17

5 ways a partner can help you

Chronic pain can be the source of huge strain upon a relationship. Partners and other people close to the suffering individual can be at a loss as to what they can do to help. Sometimes their assistance is welcomed and other times not. It can be confusing and stressful. There are many ways that a partner can help and some will be individual to those involved. Here are 5 ways a partner can help you:

Be an extra pair of ears and eyes

During consultations with specialists or therapists, it can be useful for a partner to come along. Beforehand you can decide upon their role. The possibilities include:

  • listening and note taking
  • offering observations about what has been happening
  • watching and learning exercises so that they can provide feedback at home
  • just being there for moral support

Sometimes having someone else in the room, even a loved one, can be distracting depending upon what is being practiced. So do discuss this with your clinician for the best outcome.

Understand pain

When your partner understands pain they will be able to further empathise and act through compassion rather than fear and worry. We do respond and are influenced by the people we are close to, meaning that if they have a working knowledge of pain they will better provide support and encouragement.

Pain can and does vary as each pain experience is as unique as each unfolding moment. Knowing that pain is related to perception of threat rather than tissue damage or injury, along with some of the main influences (e.g. emotional state, context, tiredness) helps to navigate a way forward. To overcome pain the person learns to coach themselves, making best choices in line with their picture of success. Sometimes we need help or someone to listen to us whilst making these choices.



A hug

Touch is healthy, especially from a loved one. Someone recently told me about how a hug from her children relieved her pain. Why? The release of oxytocin for a starter. The feelings of compassion and love can cut through all other emotions and feelings, which is why the development of self-compassion is one of the key skills of well-being.

Sometimes a hug can be painful of course, depending on where you feel your pain. If this is the case, then simple touch somewhere else is enough. Seek to notice the good feelings that emerge in you: what do they feel like? Where do you feel them? Concentrate on them. And if you are not with that person, just imagine a hug or a loving touch. This triggers similar activity, just like when you think about that beautiful scene in nature, your body systems respond as if you are there ~ our thinking is embodied.

Practice the skills of well-being together

A good example is metta or loving kindness meditation that cultivates self-compassion. It is best to gain instruction 1:1 to start with and then use a recording as a prompt until you are familiar with the practice. Group practice is also good when the collective or community creates a soothing atmosphere in which to practice.

At home, practice metta with your partner. Doing it together, you form a bond as you spend meaningful time together. You can also practice the exercises together. These are nourishing and healthy movements with the purpose of restoring confidence as well as layering in good experiences of activity to overcome pain.

Spend time together doing something meaningful

We are designed to connect. The chemicals we release and experience as that feel-good factor, do so when we have meaningful interactions. Pain all too often appears to limit choice and our tolerance for activity. However, on thinking about what we CAN do rather than what we cannot, we begin to build and broaden the effects of choosing positive action.

Positive action is all about focusing on what we can do: e.g./ I can go for a coffee with a friend for half an hour to gain the benefits of connecting, moving, a change of scene etc. and I will concentrate on these benefits. Make some plans, working within your current tolerance level, knowing that you are safe to do so, and follow them through by keeping yourself pointed towards the picture of success*. You can then gradually build your tolerance by pushing a little with increasing confidence.

There are many other ways that a partner can be involved. The key is to communicate openly and make plans together ~ here is a great insight into communication by Thich Nhat Hanh.


* Clarifying your picture of success gives you a direction and the opportunity to check in and ask yourself: am I heading in that direction or am I being distracted?

Please note: Whilst the practices above can appear to be straightforward, you should always discuss your approaches with your healthcare professional