Tag Archives: pain

23Mar/15
Thirst to understand pain

I used thirst to help someone understand pain

I used thirst to help someone understand pain. He had been given the structural explanation for recurring low back pain (trapped nerve that runs all the way to the toes), which naturally leads to a tissue based focus on ways to get better. Whilst this is a common way to describe pain, it is wrong. Pain is a protective response to a perceived threat.

Yes, if a nerve is sensitised by inflammation or injury, it will transmit danger signals to the spinal cord and then the brain. All the while, signals are being sent down from the brain to mingle with these ascending signals, the sum of which will be scrutinised by brain networks to determine whether a threat exists. If there is a threat deemed tangible, then the body will protect itself with pain, altered movement, altered thinking and altered behaviours:

  • it hurts in a location
  • you limp or limit how far you move the painful area
  • you consider how bad it is and whether you can go to the party, game, work etc
  • you don’t go to the party, the game, work etc

This is all very useful at the outset, but becomes less so as time goes on and the body is healing.

Often there is a kindling or priming effect. The first acute painful episode calms down but then recurring bouts of pain become more intense and with less and less time between–familiar? In the first instance, the systems that protect do so effectively, slowing you down and enforcing action to allow healing. This would usually be in response to inflammation, and is all entirely normal whilst being an unpleasant experience. Not nice, but nothing to worry about. Of course, you would be wise to take heed and do everything that you can to fully recover, which means that the tissues heal and the protective systems switch back to normal modus operandi. There is a chance that you will need some guidance.

It appears that there are some people who maybe vulnerable to developing on-going pain, which is on-going protection. There is likely to be a genetic aspect to this, and certainly a prior experience that may have primed the systems so that they kick in more vigorously, or simply do not turn off when they need to. An over-protect or sensitivity. The priming event(s) may happen much earlier in life so that when the body perceives a threat some years later, there is recognition of the need to protect based upon what has been learned before. Detecting this potential vulnerability is really important in the assessment so that the right action can be taken to counter on-going pain.

Back to thirst.

Where do you feel thirst? Think about it for a minute. Where in your body is thirst? It is not a dry mouth; so it is not your mouth (a dry mouth is a dry mouth and that is all). Is it in your stomach or chest? We have a sense of discomfort that can include a dry mouth, and when we note that sense we give it a meaning. That meaning is “I am thirsty’. The point of this is to motivate us to take action and seek water to quench the thirst.

The same happens in pain. We have a feeling or sensation in our body that grabs our attention. This sensation is given a meaning: this hurts, and then we look for a cause, why does this hurt? What have I done? What is going on? What are the implications, now and in the future? Naturally this happens very quickly, in a split second. The pain then motivates us to take action, like thirst. We rub, cry out, seek help.

In both thirst and pain it is the meaning that defines the experience, and whilst we feel things in certain places, it is how we think about them that gives the richness and implication. We therefore have these experiences with our whole body and self. We feel and experience thirst with our whole body, the sensation not distinct from how we then think and act. The same in pain. To se the whole creates marvellous opportunity for change, growth and moving forward. In most cases thirst is easily overcome, chronic pain being far more challenging.

Chronic pain is about on-going perception of threat as body systems adapt, we adapt and the world around us adapts. We are on a continuous timeline of development that we can influence by our knowledge, understanding and use of skills. Understanding your pain is the first step, creating a foundation for overcoming pain.

Pain Coach

Pain Coach courses for clinicians and therapists: a practical way to coach chronic pain sufferers how to overcome their pain; small group learning and 1:1 mentoring. Call us on 07518 445493

20Mar/15
Stress, PTSD, pain

Pain and trauma 

The smell of freshly mown grass would be enough to trigger feelings of panic and pain in Clive. He didn’t know that this normally innocuous odour was a cue for protection and re-ignition of memories of a car accident that occurred several years before. This is a classic example of the co-existence of pain and trauma.

Equally in others the cue could be a piece of music, a particular place, a person or a taste. We are multisensory and at the time of a trauma, the context creates a multisensory (molecular) memory that has high emotional valency due to the unpleasantness of the situation. At the time of an incident we may cope but afterwards there can be a trauma response that is when the coping fails and the person becomes ridden with anxiety. The physical dimension of anxiety commonly manifests as tension, discomfort, feelings of unease and pain that can gradually become increasingly widespread. Initially localised to where an injury may have been sustained, often it does not take long for the sensitivity to increase and the pain map widen.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a relatively well known term and describes how a person continues to experience  the trauma despite that fact that it has passed. They continue to replay the tape and suffer the consequences: pain, tension, anxiety. The simple fact is that when we think about something, if we are embroiled with that thought, we live it out through our entire self: that is the physical feeling, the emotions and the thoughts all emerging as the one experience. The different dimensions are not in isolation to each other but rather integrated into the reality of that moment.

The problem appears to lie with the attempts to numb and avoid the trauma whilst repeatedly re-experiencing the event. This struggle causes great suffering whilst the body pain continues and often amplifies, vigilance to bodily sensations increase and other symptoms can begin to emerge: digestive problems, abdominal pain, headaches, disrupted sleep and concentration.

In essence the body is in protect and survive mode. All resources are being diverted to survival and hence the motor system is on alert ready to fight an opponent/wild animal or to run away (muscle tension, overactive muscles), the immune system is primed for healing initially but then drops off, digestion falters and vigilance is high for threat. With continuous feelings of anxiety, it seems like all life presents to you is dangerous.

Pain associated with PTSD is a good example of the need to think about the whole person and all the inter-related dimensions of pain: physical, emotional and cognitive. It is always about the individual as much as the condition, and the environment in which they reside. For pain to get better, the person must get better.  There are a number of newer approaches based on top-down mechanisms (brain focused), however my belief is that we have an embodied mind. In other words, our (physical) bodies are as much the experience as the thought itself and therefore we must consider this in any treatment programme. Promising techniques may exist in reprogramming memories or learning how to re-interpret thoughts, but where do we feel the sensations? In the body.

Example programme

Foundation:

  • understand pain and symptoms—the biology of pain and stress, what influences pain and stress, what triggers pain and stress, how thoughts and feelings are part of the pain experience, other influences such as tiredness, the environment, beliefs, gender and prior experiences. Setting the scene with modern pain science reduces fear and anxiety as the patient starts to see all the opportunities for change.
  • re-training body sense and normal movement that is commonly affected in pain and PTSD.
  • learn skills to ease muscles tension and over-activity, how to switch from sympathetic to parasympathetic to create the conditions for change, easing out of survival and into well-being in both thought and action.
  • create the vision of where the patient wants to be and plan how that will happen
  • check patient’s language (verbal, body and the ‘internal voice’) and change if necessary

From the foundation the above skills are developed alongside motivation and resilience training, focused attention training for clarity of thought. The patient must be able to problem solve moment to moment and use their skills and techniques independently whilst being fully supported and progressed along, always Molina at moving forward. There may be a need to plan a return to work, return to sports or increasing other limited activities gradually.

Clearly any programme must be individualised and monitored closely alongside treatment given for the purposes of pain relief. I commonly use my hands to desensitise and reduce pain, often teaching the patient how to do this themselves or how to involve their partner.  The notion that hands on therapy does not have a role in dealing with pain is wrong in my view. We need touch for normal healthy development and it plays an important social role. Judicious use of touch therapies can help to develop trust between care giver and recipient and change the processing of signals from the body, also having a top-down effect when explained.

We are complex, pain is complex, pain relief is complex; however this creates many opportunities for change. And our role is to facilitate change, to focus on our own natural ability to create health and wellbeing. We must acknowledge and validate pain, teach patients about their pain but then we must focus on moving on, so the less attention on pain the better. Let’s think about what we can do — the CAN mentality and start changing the largest global health burden. Because we can.

Pain CoachContact us for details about the treatment, training and coaching programmes for pain sufferers and for clinicians wanting to become a Pain Coach (small group training and 1:1 mentoring): call 07518 445493

 

03Mar/15
Treatment of pain and injury

Joe’s pain story

Up LogoJoe’s pain story told by his mum Jenny as part of the UP | Understanding Pain Campaign that launches this Saturday with 700+ singers performing at Heathrow – follow us on Twitter @upandsing to show your support

It was the morning of Tuesday 27th November 2012 and the usual school morning rush was well underway when my son, aged 11, lent forward and picked up his school bag. Straight away he complained of back pain, he was unable to fully stand up straight but by no means was in agony. I explained to my son that I felt his muscles were in spasm and the best thing for him to do was to keep moving. I work in a sports injuries clinic and said that I would book him in after school for a massage. I’d only been in work 10 minutes when the school called to say that Joe had ‘got stuck’ bending down at this locker and could I come and collect him. Joe shuffled out to the car in a manner that I had seen many patients at work walk and knew he must be in a fair amount of pain. On the subject of pain I would like to point out that Joe was no stranger to pain, he’s broken bones in his foot and not even muttered anything about it until I noticed the lovely purple bruise. He’s been a keen cyclist since the age of 5 and has had crashes resulting in loss of skin and friction burns; crashing at around 30 mph dressed in lycra is always going to hurt! Thinking back over Joe’s life he had never complained of pain and he was always one of those people who would rather get on with it.

Joe’s muscles where indeed in spasm and the physio treated Joe as much as he could but he recommended further investigations at our local hospital. The local hospital listened to what had happened and sent us home with paracetamol. That evening Joe’s pain became worse. He was only comfortable lying on his side and struggled to walk, I started rotating paracetamol and ibuprofen every two hours but nothing was touching the pain. We tried every distraction technique we could think of, hoping that once Joe slept he would feel better in the morning. Joe was literally screaming with pain by midnight, we had no way of moving him to the car so we called an ambulance.

To cut a very long story short this first hospital visit was the first of many. Joe would be screaming in pain day in day out. It was the most heartbreaking thing to witness as I had no way of controlling his pain. Our local hospital had no way of controlling Joe’s pain either, they had tried everything they could think of but where unable to pinpoint why Joe was in so much pain. Our experience at the hospital soon became very stressful, we became in a loop of ambulances and ward stays. One day they sent us home and within two hours of being at home Joe started screaming, ‘blacking out’ and screaming again, it was relentless and we had no option but to call for another ambulance. Thankfully by now they were used to seeing Joe so started the morphine and we thought it would just be a matter of time before the pain was under control. Three hours later Joe was still screaming non stop and my husband and myself were at breaking point. Consultant after consultant came in to see Joe, they all did the exactly the same leg lift test and left. No one except the A&E nurses seemed to care that Joe was still screaming and that nothing was helping him. Eventually one of the nurses said she had had enough. He had enough morphine to knock out a rugby player and she was moving Joe round to adult A&E as she said they couldn’t ignore him there. Within five minutes we were surrounded by consultants who decided that Joe needed to be put under so that they could perform a lumbar puncture. The relief when he fell asleep was overwhelming. I cannot begin to describe what it feels like to see your child in so much unbearable pain. Every time Joe ‘blacked out’ for a few seconds it was a relief only for him to wake again and continue screaming.

Joe was awake when we next saw him and surprisingly in no pain. The consultant said that maybe his brain had forgotten to turn his ‘pain switch’ off and going under had ‘reset him’. At the time I didn’t care why the pain had stopped I was just so glad it had! Joe was admitted and over the next day his pain started to return. His results had come back negative so the hospital decided to refer him to Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH). After spending a very surreal New Year’s Eve in hospital we were transferred on New Years Day. GOSH started him on a different mix of medication that started to work within a coupe of days. Their physio’s worked with Joe several times a day with his first goal being able to sit up for 10 seconds. They re-ran loads of tests on Joe but they were also unable to come up with a definite answer. They explained that unfortunately as it was 5 weeks since the Joe had injured himself, the injury could have already healed. They felt that the best course of action was to continue with the medication, pain killers and tens machine and to go to our local hospital to continue the physiotherapy.

We returned home after a week in GOSH with Joe’s pain under control with medication and plenty of telephone help from the Pain Team. After our experience with the local hospital I felt that attending physio with them would be a waste of time. I started searching on the internet for private physio’s and Richmond Stace came up again and again. I spoke with the GOSH Pain Team and they were happy for us to attend a private physio. I contacted Richmond and briefly explained our story and asked if he could help, ‘Of course’ was his reply. I remember putting the phone down half smiling and half in shock. Had I just heard right? He knew how he could help Joe. I was so shocked as apart from the staff on Koala ward at GOSH no one, I repeat no one had any idea what was going on with and how to deal with it.

Our first meeting with Richmond was such a positive experience, he listened and understood Joe’s pain. He explained that Joe was not the first person he had seen with that level of pain and it was something he could help us with. Joe started to improve over the weeks that we saw Richmond and we started to lower his medication. He was also managing more school that ever before and I could finally see a glimpse of the future and Joe being well. Richmond has this amazing ability to calm you, take the stress and worry out of the situation and just help you focus on the here and now. We learnt that our surroundings, state of mind, belief in what is wrong etc all have such a major impact on how we perceive pain and how we deal with it. For me, as Joe’s mum, I felt in control for the first time in months and I have no doubt that the feeling of being in control rubbed off on Joe. Listening to Richmond speak to Joe made me realise there was hope. I had truly started to question whether Joe would ever be pain free, how can no one know what caused the pain? How can they not know how to stop it? If we didn’t know what caused the pain could it happen again?

After everything that Joe had been through it had changed him. No longer was Joe my fearless boy, he was now cautious, carried himself differently and seemed different from his peers. In my opinion there is no doubt that pain changes you, makes you aware of your immortality and causes you to protect yourself when, most of the time that protection isn’t actually needed. Maybe our brains are too clever for their own good! Richmond helped Joe realise he was ok. In fact his was better than ok he was Joe again. Not Joe who screams in pain, not Joe who is fragile and unable to do much more than lie in bed but old Joe — Joe who loves school, riding his bike, playing football, going out with friends and playing his guitar. Richmond helped Joe see that and he helped him see that he can control his pain, giving Joe the belief in himself again, proving that he was not at the mercy of a painful back, destined to take painkillers and other medication for the rest of his life. The belief and the tools Richmond gave Joe changed his thought processes, enabling him to progress through his physio, lower and eventually stop his medication.

If anyone reading this is suffering with pain please, please see Richmond. Your life doesn’t have to be ruled by pain. Pain is exhausting and all consuming and it doesn’t have to be that way.

05Feb/15
Persisting sports injuries

Today’s talk at QMUL | pain in sport

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

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

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

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

09Jan/15
Bono's injury

Bono’s arm

Bono's injuryAnyone who has read Bono’s recent post will know that he believes that he may not play his guitar again. As a rock and roll icon, this is a strong message that reveals the mortality of man.

Many times I have heard people tell me that they cannot do what they used to do. This is usually because of pain or a physical limitation. Often this pain and limitation has been in existence for some time before they come to see me, and hence the body has physically adapted, thinking has narrowed and avoidance assumes the default position. For this reason, the early messages about pain and injury are a vital because they set the scene for the action taken.

I do not know the full details about Bono’s arm aside from reports in the media. The injury sounded complex and nasty, requiring surgery to fix the damage. Healing always ensues, pain usually accompanies healing as do a range of other biological mechanisms such as change in movement, change in thinking and responses to different environments. Additionally we can feel unwell (the sickness response), our mood can vary, sleep is disrupted with knock-on effects, appetite may change and thinking can lose clarity. There is a very individual response to an injury, especially when it affects something very important to our self.

When helping patients to understand their pain I often tell them about the pain threshold differences in violinist’s hands — lower on the left because of the meaning of the left hand in terms of playing. If a carpenter cuts his finger, this may not be a great problem. It is certainly not unexpected. If a violinist cuts his left index finger, this could be a significant problem in terms of being able to play. Same type of injury, different meaning, therefore a different outcome: more pain, more negative thinking, more worry. This would be similar for a professional vs an amateur footballer who injures a knee ligament — the financial consequences, the loss of a place in the team etc.

The way in which Bono’s body responds to the injury will be unique to him, will reflect his health and the way he views his situation. This is the same for everyone. The uniqueness of the injury, the context, the environment and the person. For treatment and rehabilitation, this is how it must be viewed to optimise the outcomes.

Hypothetical case study

When a patient comes to see me with a complex injury, I focus on the person as much as the problem (this is one of my overarching principles). This is because it is the person who tells and lives their story, and it is the whole person I am treating, training and coaching back to a state of well-being.

Assessment would include:

  1. Exploring the narrative: gathering all the information about the injury — e.g./ the circumstances, how it happened, health status, lifestyle status, past experiences, beliefs about pain and injury
  2. Pain types: e.g. nociceptive inflammatory (possible neurogenic), neuropathic
  3. Protective measures that have been adopted: e.g./ guarding, avoidance
  4. Adaptations: e.g./ altered body sense, altered movement patterns
  5. Influences upon pain: stress, thoughts/beliefs, fatigue, emotions, other health factors, rumination

Then —

Pain understanding:

  1. This is the start point. Making sure that the person understands their pain, relevant to their condition and the action needed to overcome the pain.
  2. Getting their thinking in alignment with what we really know about pain and what it means to them to overcome pain. Achieving success is about the meaningful return to living; what is this to the patient?
  3. Cultivating the belief that their pain can be overcome and that they CAN do things with the right knowledge and ‘know how’. This is the pain coach concept.
  4. Develop the growth mindset — you may not be doing things YET; NOT YET rather than ‘I will never’. Never say never. Give it your best shot. Dedicate yourself to the fullest recovery and a return to wellbeing. Sign a contract stating this is need be, and know that you will be supported and motivated at every step.

Treatment & rehabilitation:

Depending upon the pain types (biology) and the influences upon pain, specific training is designed to achieving normal body sense, normal movement and confidence in being active and engaging in life again.

If playing the guitar is what they want to do, from word go that is how the training begins; even in plaster! Sensorimotor training begins immediately, or even before an operation. Working the sensorimotor areas is vital from a top-down perspective with specific exercises and can be started whilst immobilised with a range of imagery and visualisation techniques that work the motor centres.

When the immobilisation period ends, actual movement begins to nourish the stiffened, healing muscles and joints. After immobilisation it is normal for the area to appear different — perhaps red and swollen, a different skin quality, hair and nails can change too. Movement and sense of the area is altered and needs specific attention in the early stages because a normal perception of the body is key for healthy movement.

An early focus on function for a guitarist would include thinking and training dedicated to the fine control required to play. The actual movements are part of a sensorimotor feedforward-feedback loop that must be addressed. Adopting the right mindset is key for rehabilitation and should be practiced from the outset: a coaching model for a growth mindset.

We often do not know our full potential, so until you have given it your full dedicated attention, never say never.

09Nov/14
Pain specialist clinic in London

My top 5 pain myths

In my view, it is the lack of understanding that causes so many problems with pain in terms of how pain is viewed, treated and conceived as being changeable. Pain can and does change when you understand it and think about it in accordance with the modern (neuroscience-based) viePain specialist clinic in Londonw and have a definite plan that is followed with big action towards a vision of where the you want to be. Having seen many individuals put this into practice, I am confident that the start point is always how we think because this is from where the action emerges. The right thinking begins with understanding your pain.

In the light of this, here are my top 5 pain myths:

1. Pain comes from a ‘structure’ in the body — e.g./ a disc, a joint, a muscle.

2. The amount of pain suffered is related to the amount of damage or the extent of the injury.

3. Pain is in your mind if there is no obvious cause in the body — i.e./ via scans, xrays etc.

4. There are pain signals from the body to the brain.

5. Pain is separate from how you feel or think.

There are many others.

Now, this all sounds rather negative and I like to turn this on its head and look at how we can positively influence health in order to change pain. The programmes that I create with individuals for them to follow are all about creating the right conditions in the body systems, all beginning with the right thinking that often challenges existing ideas and notions about pain.

Struggling with pain? Persisting pain? Call me 07518 445493 | Specialist clinics for pain and persisting pain in London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

29Aug/14
Conditions

There is no pain system

Pain is whole person

Pain is whole person

Many writers in health journals and magazines continue to refer to pain systems, pain pathways, pain signals, pain messages and pain receptors. There is no pain system, there are no pain pathways, there are no pain messages and there are no pain receptors.

Pain emerges from the body (or a space that has a representation in the brain in the case of phantom limb pain) and involves many body systems and the self. Where does pain come from? Well, it comes from the person describing the pain. Does it come from the back or the knee or the head? That is where you could feel it, but in order to feel it in a location we need our body systems to be in a protective mode and to be responding to a potential threat.

Pain is allocated a space where the body requires attention, and whilst this is a vital survival device when we have an injury, it is less useful when the injury has healed or there is no injury. This is the case in chronic pain, although there are reasons why the body continues to protect based on the fact that the perception of threat exists.

Pain is part of a protective response. Many other systems are also working to protect us: the immune system, the endocrine system, the autonomic nervous system, the sensorimotor system etc. — and all the systems that these impact upon, such as the gastroenterological system (how many people suffer problems with their gut at the same time as having persisting pain?).

So, in chronic pain we need different thinking because tissue or structurally based therapies do not provide a sustained answer. Instead we need to address the fact that persisting pain is as a result of the body’s on-going perception of threat. It is this that requires re-training alongside any altered movement patterns and a shift in body sense in order to successfully deal with pain and move on.

Specialist Pain Physio Clinics – transforming a life of pain to a life of possibility 

Call us to start now: 07932 689081 or email [email protected]

 

 

27Aug/14

Murray’s attack of the cramps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25Aug/14

Greatness, smoothness & injury

In response to @simonrbriggs excellent article in the Telegraph (see here) contrasting Federer and Nadal in respect of their physical longevity on the court, I wanted to agree with Simon’s subsequent tweet about the many factors involved with an injury — the line I frequently quote being: ‘no injury happens in isolation’. Whilst I am no tennis expert, I understand that these two masters have very different approaches on the court that define their games. The wicket is more familiar territory, and I would equate this observation to the games of Tendulkar versus Gilchrist. Both masters of the willow, yet styles that illustrate very different means and modes of dominating the ball. 

Sport enthusiasts and pundits alike gush with awe at the ease with which a stroke player caresses the ball. The expert appears to have all the time in the world to position themselves in perfect balance, to be able to effortlessly time the touch, and send the ball at a speed that is vastly out of proportion to the effort applied. Federer fits this mould, and whilst he undoubtedly trains to be fit and strong, he has a technique that is so efficient and so thoughtless that he can focus entirely upon the whole game as if viewing from a point up above. And to take nothing away from the skill of Nadal, his explosive force delivers excitement as he thunderously strides across the court in Zeus-like fashion. As Simon points out, if Nadal were to maintain a physical wellness, his dominance would surely prevail. Who you would most like to be conqueror would then be down to a preferred style, and we love to talk about style.

Returning to the construct of injury that is always embedded within a context and never in isolation to a range of factors that create a situation — no injury happens in isolation. The meaning of an injury is tantamount, and certainly impacts upon the intensity of pain. Cast your memory back to Messi believing that his career was over after he collided with the goalkeeper. He had merely bruised his knee yet the pain was so intense he had to be carried from the field of play in hushed silence.  A violinist who cuts his left index finger will suffer more pain than if I slice the skin on my same digit. There is a different meaning attached to his finger, even with a paper cut. 

Whilst both Federer and Nadal will be accustomed to the pain of hard training and playing, the pain of injury is different. The way we think about the pain at the time of injury sets up the on-going responses and how we chose to behave — it is not the injury itself, but the way we think that counts. Spraining an ankle usually means limping, and this is a sensible behaviour as partial weight-bearing reduces the strain through healing tissues, and is more comfortable. When we know that all is well, in other words that the injury is healing normally (and this is meant to hurt, however unpleasant or inconvenient), there is an acceptance of the necessary steps back to normal movement and activities. The early messages after an injury then, are vital to set up a positive route forward. Excessive fear, anxiety and incorrect messages at the start can set up a pathway of obstacles to recovery. 

Drawing together the smoothness of action that interweaves with other characteristics that construe the greatness of Federer: the technical self-efficacy, rehearsed movements that require no conscious processing and a baseline of fitness and mobility, all of which create a context that minimises the risk of injury. The sublime control, gliding easily across the surface and a ‘oneness’ with the occasion offers only the smallest opportunity for breakdown that most can only dream of, including Nadal whose vigorous assault upon ball and opponents opens the door for stress and strain to emerge, persist and potentially dominate.

Whilst we can swoon over the masters of any game, the vast majority of us play amateur sport. At the level of the masses, I always feel that the risks of injury are outweighed by the benefits of participation — physical fitness, the offsetting of cardiovascular disease, the cathartic outlay against stress and of course the social element (after the game: the 19th, the clubhouse, the curry house…). Equally, whilst the professionals are honing their skills and prowess, amateurs spend a great deal of time around their occupations and families to improve on the fields and courts, imagining achievements on the great meadows of Lords and Wimbledon. I too dream and envision, but returning to diminishing the risk of injury, as the principle is the same whether pro or amateur. And there is no reason why the latter should not acquire the same knowledge and receive the same principled care.

One of the first actions I take is to ensure that the injured person’s knowledge and thinking are in alignment with what we know about pain and healing, and that their choices of behaviour always take them toward and not away from recovery, no matter the start point.  My fundamental belief in our ability to change pain drives my over-arching mission to deliver pain education to all. Understanding pain will inform positive and healthy actions across the board from professional athletes to children to stakeholders (more on this in subsequent blogs). 

Recovering from an injury is straight forward. Most of the problems arise from the wrong early messages and a desire to move on faster than the healing process, thereby disrupting mechanisms that have inherent intelligence. We literally get in the way of our own recovery. We are the problem, yet the injury is blamed. Know the injury, know the pain, know the time line and know the action to take. Simple. One of the issues that Nadal may suffer, as do many professionals, is the rapid return after injury without full recovery, or a lack of time for the body to adapt. This latter problem disrupts the balance of breakdown and rebuild that is constant in the body. Tipping towards breakdown, inflammation persists and causes persistent sensitivity, even at a low level. This manifests as the on-going niggles, gradually becoming more widespread as time progresses and often without an obvious injury. Familiar? Perfectly solvable when you know how and respect the time lines of healing and recovery. Time is money some may argue, but then stepping back and thinking about the longevity of a career provides a different perspective. Deal with this bout of aches and pains completely and create the opportunity for more years of competing as opposed to the stop-start, partial recovery that affects performance and confidence, the two being utterly related. Over-thinking movement and lacking confidence both affect quality of movement — manifesting as the yips in some cases. Is Nadal smashing his way through because he fears that one day he will finally breakdown? Only he knows. Feeder on the other hand as we have seen, has a smooth style that glides him across the courts of the world. 

In summary, to look at the differing styles of play that define Federer and Nadal, it is clear that the smooth approach taken by the former has played a role in his longevity in terms of fitness (lack of injury) and success, the two being related. Simply, the more games you are able to play without a physical hinderance or even the thought that you may have a physical hinderance, for mere thinking affects the way we move, the greater the opportunity for winning titles. So surely, the planning of any athlete’s training and career must consider the ways in which maximum participation can be balanced with time required to adapt and recover. This is the same for both the professional and the amateur athlete, beginning by understanding pain and injury.