Tag Archives: pain

04Jun/17

Headache

Headache is a leading cause of suffering

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

 

Headaches

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

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

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

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

A brief look at pain ~ what is it?

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

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

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

What can we do about pain?

The short answer: a lot!

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

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

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

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

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

“what is your vision of success?

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

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

RS

 

 

 

 

05May/17

Exams, stress and pain tips

Exams, stress and pain tips
Exams, stress and pain tips

Exam exhaustion | Felix Neumann

Exams, stress and pain tips ~ It is that time of year again when kids are preparing for their exams. With the emphasis on high grades reflecting success, the pressure on youth has increased. There is the sense that if they do not achieve all those ‘A’ grades, then somehow they are a failure. What a terribly damaging way to go about it, and indeed one of the major influences upon kids health. Levels of pain, anxiety and depression are on the rise. Social media also has a part to play, not the channels themselves per se but the way in which it is used and relied upon as a source of temporary reward ~ ‘likes’ etc. We can and must change this as a society.

One of the most respected and successful sports coaches of all time, John Wooden, made the key point that each person should be focusing upon what they can control and to do their very best. If your attentions are on doing your very best, you will be successful, for you. If you thinking drifts towards the grade ‘you must’ achieve, then your focus is not on doing your best, it is on the grade. Re-focus on doing your very best: maximum effort. Besides, if you are focusing on and doing your best, there is no worry or anxiety because you are doing. Those feelings only appear when we are thinking about being somewhere else, whilst embodying the feelings and hence suffering. That somewhere else is the past or future, and neither exist.

We can realise that this is not necessary as we learn to make other choices. Ask yourself: How am I choosing to feel? Could you choose to think about the situation in another way and feel better or good? Yes you can. Try it and see!

Read hereJohn Wooden ~ Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court
Choice

You could choose to think about something in life you face as a problem, that it is difficult, perhaps impossible or that your efforts are doomed to failure. How are you likely to feel? Or, you could choose to view the situation as a challenge, an opportunity to learn something and seek to find and practice ways to overcome the challenge. How would this feel? Very different. We feel better when we have understanding and a plan that we action because we are actually doing, and this includes writing a new inner dialogue or script. How are you pre-empting or expecting things to go? How often do they actually turn out that way? Well if so, why not water the seeds of positivity rather than anticipate the worst outcome or a miserable outcome? Re-frame your thinking that is always embodied, i.e. we experience our thoughts with our whole self including our bodies — where do you feel the feelings that you label as anxiety? They are remarkably similar to the feelings of excitement but which label are you choosing? Choose another and see what happens.

Here are some exercises from Mike Pegg on Positive Scripting: click here
The inner dialogue

What are you telling yourself? Are you listening? The two are different. You cannot stop thoughts popping in but you can choose what you do with them. The practice of mindfulness is a way of achieving this as you are aware and open to the different thoughts, feelings and emotions as they pass through rather than become embroiled.

Self-confidence relies upon the inner dialogue. No matter what you have achieved before, what you are telling yourself and listening to now is what determines your confidence. Create a positive script about what you can do and what you can control: my own thoughts, my own actions, where I focus, doing my best.

Developing insight into your own mind creates the opportunity to choose your direction. We are always changing, but which way do you want to go?

Some great reading on how to communicate with yourself and others: Thich Nhat Hanh
Movement and posturing

Movement and exercise are healthy. During periods of revision we need to move to nourish the body but also our thinking — the two are NOT separate but parts of you. Changing position, using some exercises, walking, jogging and other activities punctuated through the day help to keep the focus. Some exercise in the morning before starting, changing posture and position every 30 minutes or so and having a good break every 45-60 minutes can help to keep a certain freshness and concentration.

This is about performance and to perform we need to focus in the present moment. Refresh and renew then, are key ingredients.

Recharging and sleep

You need good sleep patterns for healthy functioning. Make sure you have a routine that you stick to through the exam period. Many important healthy activities occur during sleep, including a kind of physiological cleaning in the brain. When this does not happen we can feel groggy and moody the next day.

If you are tired, focus on mantras such as ‘I need energy’ rather than ‘I am tired’. We notice what is on our agenda and therefore by telling yourself that you need energy, you’ll be orientated towards this as a goal: regular healthy snacks, fresh air, movement, mindful practice, periods of relaxation.

Through the day we need to plug in. Refreshing yourself allows you to focus well for bursts of time.

Pain and stress are body (whole person) states due to a perceived threat

People come to see me because thus far they have not been able to recover from their pain problem. This is inherently stressful, which adds to the biological and behavioural mix resulting in on-going states of protect.

~ pain and injury are poorly related and are definitely not the same

Pain is about protection and not a precise guide for tissue health or state. This is the common misunderstanding that leads to ineffective treatments. Pain and injury are not well related and they are definitely not the same. Pain is a unique perception emerging in the person and belonging to the person. This is one of many we experience but it is a dominant feeling, as it should be, to motivate action in line with getting better.

Persistent pain involves many adaptations that include those in the brain (emotional, reward and emotional centres in particular), the way we perceive the world and ourselves, the way we make decisions, behave and the way we act. The world appears to be far more dangerous than it really is and the rating of threat is applied in normal circumstances, just in case. For example, sitting is not dangerous yet it is often associated with back pain. The body systems in weighing up the evidence and based on prior experience, deem sitting in a chair to be actually or potentially dangerous. It is the result of the weight of this evidence that manifests as pain in the area of the body deemed to need protection and awareness.

Overcoming pain is about changing this weighting of evidence by taking new actions (habits) based upon new thinking (understand your pain), beliefs and expectations.

During exam times there is usually a change in routine. More sitting, less exercise, and potentially more stress depending upon how the individual views the situation. For optimising performance, this must be addressed whether there is pre-existing pain or not.

It is common for pain to increase during times of stress and pressure. This is not because the tissue state changes greatly but instead the perception of threat is raised and hence protection more likely. We can also tend to anticipate certain relationships. For example: ‘sitting will hurt’, which can become a predominant thought pattern unless we work to create a new way forward. We are always changing, it is a matter of which way you choose to go.

Simple practices during exam times can make a significant difference. Starting with understanding your pain, you can choose to use the strategies mentioned previously that include regular movement, appropriate exercise, practicing a positive script, refreshing & renewing, together with mindful practices (that actually enable many of the others), deep relaxation, imagery and visualisation. Making a plan of which to use and when through the revision and exam timetable can make all the difference.

Pain Coach and Wellness Coach ~ to overcome life’s challenges, live well and perform

For appointments or enquires about Pain Coach Mentoring and speaking events, call Jo on 07518 445493
01May/17

High Performance Sport Knowledge Exchange 2017

High Performance Sport Knowledge Exchange 2017

~ some comments following a really engaging day when I was delighted to be asked to speak at the High Performance Sport Knowledge Exchange 2017 held at the Sport Ireland Institute last week.

I was fortunate to share the speaking platform with Dr Brian Cunniffe, Performance Lead from The English Institute of Sport, and Jason Cowman, Strength & Conditioning Coach of the Irish Rugby Football Union.

It was a great day of discussion amongst people involved with optimising performance, both their own and athletes ~ S&C coaches, elite performance coaches, physiotherapists, support staff, doctors, military personnel and more. I say ‘their own’ because the success of an athlete or sportsperson is intimately related to the way in which the coaching and support staff operate. We are all seeking to do our very best, every day.

Here is a brief summary of some of the points that were raised and talked about in relation to my talk and Q&A. Some great questions were asked.

~ Make each day a masterpiece ~ John Wooden

Despite the talks appearing to be very different, there were in fact some common themes. The emphasis was upon how the team can best function to deliver results, considering communication, facing challenges, developing relationships and trust, and creating a team that delivers. At the heart of this of course, are people with differing backgrounds, views, beliefs, experiences, knowledge, cultures and professions. Everyone has strengths and something to bring to the table, which is where the potency arises once these are clarified.

** As you read and take note, consider that these skills of performing and well-being are as relevant to the coach, physio, doctor, support staff as to the athlete.

Language & the inner dialogue

Language is powerful ~ the language we choose to use with others as well as the language we use to ourselves, the inner dialogue or script. Certainly in my talk and in the Pain Coach day on Tuesday I put an emphasis on developing skilful use of our inner dialogue. So much of what we experience and how we experience it comes from what we are telling ourselves. Realising this and harnessing the potential from running a positive script is hugely empowering. This is a skill that a performance coach, a strength and conditioning coach and a physiotherapist (anyone actually!) can foster and nurture in themselves and those they work with, the athletes and colleagues. Here are a couple of great questions to self that allow you to calibrate and make a new choice:

How am I choosing to feel? How am I choosing to think?

What you are telling yourself right now impacts upon your emotional state and quality of life. Which seeds are you watering? The ones that foster positivity, understanding, compassion, openness and patience or the ones that harness anger, frustration, impatience, and resistance? Developing one’s awareness of the workings of the mind and how thoughts are embodied creates a great opportunity to live increasingly well. This includes the ability to focus and hence perform. There is only this moment in which to focus and perform, whereas the inner dialogue can tend to take us off into the past or future. Of course this will happen but there is a difference between the drift away from the now with awareness and on autopilot. We do not have to be slaves to the wanderings of the mind. Simple attentional training and mindful practices help to develop this skill. We know that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind, so this kind of training is a key skill.

Super-teams

Super-teams can be created to nurture the abilities of the athletes. One of the problems of chronic pain is that people can fall in the cracks between different disciplines. This need not happen with a super team in place that has a clear vision of success that has been clarified and stated. This is known by all team members who have identified their strengths, their reason and purpose and their individual roles. Communication is effective, regular and uninhibited. Strengths are developed and areas of improvement identified and worked upon with a complete focus upon growth together. Naturally this includes the athlete ~ there is no separation between team and athlete, athlete and team. Regular meeting and clarification maintains momentum. The team is steered by a leader who is prepared to truly lead and inspire action by exhibiting courage, authenticity and compassion. This takes time but is of course worth the effort in terms of outcomes.

The problem of pain & pain in sport

Pain is a huge global health burden. Pain costs society because of investigations and treatments, many of which are unnecessary or ineffective, and loss of productivity. The suffering for individuals is immeasurable and of course those close by also suffer the consequences.

The existence of such a significant problem in society means that this is a public health concern of major proportions. Without new thinking this will likely worsen. Arguably we are seeing this in the younger generation as they grow in a world that validates materialism, unhealthy communication (e.g. social media), thinking that the individual supersedes everything (i.e. selfishness), success based on ‘A’ grades or income and pressures to conform to practices that do not nourish self-compassion. 1 in 5 children suffer chronic pain and the statistics on mental health are horrific. I do not use that word by mistake.

I do not believe that the term mental health does justice to the reality that the ‘mental’ condition is embodied, which is why in most cases chronic pain and depression or mood changes come hand in hand. Thoughts are embodied, which is why practices that develop healthy use of the inner dialogue are vital. 

This problem reaching across society means that it does exist in sport. One of the challenges is to differentiate between the pain of being an athlete, the pain of a new injury (expected and understood) and the persistent pain that is due to a range of biological and behavioural factors. This will need athletes and coaches to learn about pain and communicate together with the athlete to establish what is happening and what needs to be done. The super-team vision will include these scenarios in the planning.

~ pain and injury are poorly related

There is no single clinician or therapist for pain. This is a problem and indeed perhaps part of the wider problem (the misunderstanding of pain in society), as the person suffering receives many different ideas about the possible causes and suggested solutions. This is the reason for Pain Coach, which is a blend of the latest understanding of pain together with known coaching methods that work to maximise learning and potential. The over-arching aim of the Pain Coach Programme is to change the way society thinks about and hence addresses pain. And there are exciting times ahead on the basis that we need to be talking about and enacting overcoming pain, not just managing and coping.

#upandrun

In relation to sportspeople, we can focus upon an understanding of pain that works for performance coaches, S&C coaches, clinicians as well as the athlete himself/herself. Working together to understand will be key and there is no reason why workshops cannot be run with the super-team that includes all these people. In fact, everyone needs to understand pain ~ the reason for UP | understand pain.

Chronic pain in sport is a blight upon the careers of many. Open discussion and an open forum for athletes to talk and express their fears is important as this provides an opportunity to face the problem, or rather the challenge, learn and overcome. Only by facing our challenges can we truly surmount them and move on. Distracting, avoiding and circumnavigating do no good in the long-term. I acknowledge that there is a place for a ‘patch up’ before an event if need be, but thereafter the challenge must be addressed. Again, the super-team creates the environment and context for this to happen.

Communicating

Language and the content of the inner dialogue has been mentioned but what about delivery: Who? When? How? And there’s the vital part, active or deep listening. Only through listening deeply can we truly hear what is being said. Paying the fullest attention (there’s the practice of paying attention again!) to this moment and what the other person is saying creates a trusting bond and an opportunity to gain insight. This insight delivers all you need to know right now. Sometimes just listening is all that is needed right now. The gifts of ‘you’ and time are two of the most valuable in life. This is easily practiced both at work and at home and soon enough you find yourself to be proficient and increasingly effective.

Some good questions for self:

~ after a training session, who speaks first? Who does the most talking? Who has the key information? 

Summary

There was much more discussed through the day and in the Pain Coach day on the Wednesday before. Hopefully this has provoked some new thinking and realisation. The beginner’s mind is open to possibility and opportunity. We are designed to change and grow as each moment passes. It is a matter of choosing which direction, which begins with realising that we have a choice. The awareness of choice is empowering and exciting but comes with responsibility.

All of us in the room have great jobs that we are passionate about and feel inspired to perform each day. We have meaning and purpose. This drives us to be successful because we always strive to be the best that we can be. That is exciting and fulfilling.

Choose to feel excited.

RS

For further information about Pain Coach training and mentoring, please do get in touch: [email protected]

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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

13Mar/17

3 ways to ease suffering

We all suffer. Suffering is part of living and so is unavoidable. There are many reasons for suffering and they are unique to that person and the way that they view life. The Oxford Dictionary defines suffering as “The state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship”. We are all subject to these states regardless of age, gender, culture or class. In fact, we could say that humanity is connected by the universal experience of suffering. Bearing this in mind and essentially normalising suffering as part of life, it would be prudent to develop some skills that allow us to face suffering, transform, learn about, and ease it. Here are 3 ways to ease suffering.

These are simple practices for everyone that can be integrated into day to day life. Moment to moment awareness creates the opportunity to practice healthy habits resulting in living well.

Acceptance

Accepting what is happening right now dissolves any resistance. Resistance results in suffering because we are not happy with how we are or where we are or what we have. This is a common cause of discomfort and resistance can certainly drive tension and pain in the body. Accepting is NOT giving up. Instead it is actively being open to what exists now as a lived experience, allowing it to transform as it always does with each passing moment. Acceptance allows us to move forward in a chosen direction whereas resistance does not.

Mindful practice

There are simple mindful practices that give us insight into the way we think and feel, help us to be acceptant, allow us to let go of unhelpful thoughts and to be open to experiences as they unfold. By the very nature of these practices, a sense of well being emerges as we fully engage with the joys of life as well as think clearly about how to surmount the inevitable challenges we face. Here are a few examples:

  • take 4-5 slightly deeper breaths at regular intervals during the day, being fully aware of the ‘in’ and ‘out’
  • pay full attention to what you are doing, whatever that happens to be
  • formal practice of mindfulness meditation ~ this is best done with a coach or instructor to start, or in a group
Practicing gratitude

There are great benefits of practicing gratitude as a skill of well-being. Next time you are feeling glum, in pain, feeling anxious, try thinking about something you are grateful for. This does not need to be anything momentous, instead something more day to day such as the clothes on your back, the sun in the sky or a text from a friend. It needs to have some kind of meaning to you. Practicing gratitude can change the way we relate to an issue of concern. We release some important and healthy chemicals by actively generating the feeling (the feeling is underpinned by those chemicals as best we know), which creates the conditions for more clarity. Clarity of thought means we can focus on the thinking/actions that can result in face a challenge successfully.

The Pain Coach Programme to overcome pain and to live well | t. 07518 445493

08Mar/17

Find peace

In a sense I think that we are all trying to find peace. We week to find peace within ourselves and the world in which we find ourselves — the two are entwined.

We often hear the word peace nowadays. This is because peace is a state we strive for globally in the face of threats that are often purported in the media. There are fewer who seek the polar opposite; people who appear to welcome violence, war and other destructive states. This can only be because of wrong perceptions of the world resulting in wrong thinking and wrong actions.

In terms of chronic pain, perhaps we can say that we strive for a state of peace. This is an idea that came from a conversation with a learned friend some months ago. It was based upon thinking about the ‘opposite’ of pain, which cannot simply be pain free. When we are pain free, we are not thinking ‘I am pain free’, instead just acting, thinking and perceiving as a blended trio within each moment. To find peace seems to be a good place to start overcoming pain.

What is a state of peace?

By definition, peace means ‘quiet, tranquility, mental calm, serenity; a state of friendliness’ (Oxford Dictionary). Consider how we feel and think when in pain. We are suffering, fighting, surviving, emotionally turbulent, living the storm of physical sensations and the turmoil of the thoughts and feelings about these sensations. The former appears to be a good place to be in comparison. There is however, one issue, and that is the effect of resistance to what is happening right now.

Resistance itself causes great suffering. Not wanting to be here, instead wanting to be there. Not wanting to look like this, instead wanting to look like that, are two common examples. This is being non-acceptant and fighting the present moment. But it does not necessarily seem natural to do anything else other than resist. Why would you not want to feel better? Look better? etc etc.

This is an issue of desire and the grip that it can have upon us that causes suffering. The problem is that if you are strongly focusing upon how you want to be and resisting how you are or what you have, you are missing the opportunity that exists now. This is in the form of acceptance, which is simply acknowledging and being open to what is happening right now without resistance. Accepting what is happening right now relieves the suffering and allows us to take the right actions to find peace. These actions can only happen now because now is the only real moment. Thinking about what you might do or what you did only exist in your (embodied) thoughts. Concrete action can only be in this moment.

By being present we can find peace. This emerges from simple practices such as mindful breathing and mindful activities that mean you are present, aware, open, insightful and accepting in a compassionate way.

Where is peace?

There is only one place that we can find peace. That is within ourselves. I recall a pertinent moment a few years ago when a friend said to me ‘I hope you find peace’. It is something we appear to look for, yet we don’t need to look because it is right here. We simply need to create the conditions for peace to emerge and be felt. Does this mean no pain? No, not necessarily. Can you feel pain and be at peace? Yes, absolutely. And in this state, the pain transforms and our suffering eases. So, when we find peace that was already there, just overladen with our day to day fears and worries, the pain rents less and less space. Then we can concentrate our efforts on living well, which is the way to overcome pain.

How can I be present and find peace?

Everything that ‘happens’ does so now, in this moment. It is called being present and we can be fully aware, attending to this moment to gain all the rewards. To be present we can start with a few simple practices:

1. Take our attention to our breathing, even just 4-5 breaths, and do this regularly through the day ~ set a reminder

2. Fully attend to what we are doing, whatever that may be. ‘An unhappy mind is a wandering mind’ was a recent study title. We are happier when we are attending to what we are doing in this moment.

You may also choose to regularly practice mindfulness and other meditations such as metta, or loving kindness meditation. The formal practice each day develops our ability to accept, let go, be open, be tolerant, gain insight into our own and others’ thinking. In so doing, in the wake of the practice comes a sense of peace and calm that deepens in time. There are well described healthy benefits of regular mindfulness practices yet it is important that we practice for the sake of practice and not to ‘become’ something else. This is a challenge but you will recall that trying to be someone else or be somewhere else creates resistance. By far the best way to begin practice is with a teacher but there are some excellent apps and videos aplenty on you tube; for example Thich Nhat Hanh, The Dalai Lama, Matthieu Ricard, Ajahn Brahm, Jon Kabat Zinn.

Pain and peace

Pain is as complex as any other lived experience. It involves the whole person, their biology, their consciousness, their past experiences and their genetics to name but a few factors — it is complex! Equally as complex is pain relief that involves all the same factors. Where we feel pain is not where pain is ‘generated’, instead this is where there exists a perceived threat.

Regular readers of modern pain science literature will know that pain is related to being threatened or potentially threatened, acting in the name of survival. The location of the pain is really a projection of all the biology involved with protecting us, emerging in a specific place where we are compelled to attend. If there is actually an injury there it seems to make sense. Often in cases of chronic pain there is no obvious injury or pathology. This is because pain and injury are poorly related. Despite this, the pain felt is the pain felt. Pain cannot be seen so we must listen to the person as it is the individual who feels the pain.

“Pain and injury are poorly related

Existing under a state of threat results in a range of thoughts and behaviours that can be combatant in nature. Consider what we have said about peace. To find peace we must be acceptant, open and demonstrate compassion towards ourselves and others. If we ‘fight’ the pain, we are only fighting ourselves. Creating a sense of peace allows us to choose to focus on the actions (e.g./ exercises, re-framing our thinking to reduce fear, socialising, practicing mindfulness, gradually becoming more active, and many more) that create the conditions for living well.

Overcoming pain is an active task. The person needs guidance, motivation and support but the to begin with the basics to sustainably move in the desired direction. This includes a working knowledge about (your) pain with skills and practices to use day to day, moment to moment. The new knowledge about pain creates a sense of safety rather than threat, peace if you like. This clarity that emerges from understanding pain means that the person can truly focus on what they need to do to get better. This starts with thinking like the healthy person who is living well: ‘what would they think and do here?’ you can ask yourself, before doing exactly that, albeit with certain limitations at the start. These limitations can and will be worked upon: ‘can I?’ turns to ‘I can’ and ‘will I?’ turns to ‘I will.

From a place of peace and clarity come right perceptions about oneself and the world. To find peace is to find it in oneself. It is there and may need uncovering. When you do, the world looks to be a different place. One that is far less threatening and one in which to thrive and to live a meaningful life.

The Pain Coach Programme to address suffering by learning to live well | t. 07518 445493
20Feb/17

Pain is whole person

Pain is whole person

There is only one way to approach the problem of chronic pain as it emerges in the individual, and that is by addressing the whole person. This way demonstrates a true understanding of pain: the lack of any pain system, pain signals or pain centres and that the vast majority of the biology of pain is not where we actually feel it in the body or body space in the case of phantom limb pain. Much like when you watch a film in the cinema, most of what you need is not on the screen.

With pain being absolutely individual, coloured by the context, the environment in which it is being phenomenologically experienced, prior experience and beliefs (about pain, health, danger, ‘me’, the world etc.), the action we are motivated and compelled to take, existing health and level of threat perception to name but a few. In short, this includes activity in the brain and central nervous system, immune system, endocrine system, sensorimotor system, visual system, and the autonomic nervous system. Most of this is not where the pain is felt.

Pain and injury are notorious for being poorly related. There are countless stories of people suffering great trauma (tissue damage) and reporting minimal or no pain, some sustaining minor injuries and describing agonising pain and a huge variation in between. Considering the factors in the previous paragraph, one can start to understand why. In essence it is due to pain being a better indicator of the level of perception of threat; i.e./ more threat, or existence of threat = pain.

Bearing this in mind, and this is the current understanding of pain, you can see why the whole person approach is necessary. It is as much about the person as the condition, as Oliver Sacks wrote and practiced, and indeed this is a vital principle to work to. Understand the person and their circumstances and you go some way to seeing a way forward. Listening deeply in the first instance creates the opportunity to gain insight into the reasons for the person’s suffering — the reasons for pain and what is influencing that experience. From this foundation, one develops a rapport, not just as a clinician or therapist but as a trusted advisor, giving the person the knowledge and skills to overcome their pain and live a meaningful life.

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Pain Coach Programme to overcome chronic pain ~ t. 07518 445493 or email: [email protected]

 

18Feb/17

Pain and choice

Pain and choice

There is one thing that pain does and that is narrow down our choices. A sense of choice has a major role in the sense of ‘me’ and who I am. Losing choice impacts upon us significantly as we feel less and less like ourselves and who we are meant to be. This is a very common description of the impact factor that I hear when listening to people enduring states of chronic pain.

Talking to people with pain as we seek to gain insight into the causes of their suffering. This provides a way to offer support, guidance and a way forward. Of course we can only move forward, but sometimes it does not feel like that! Groundhog day.

Enabling one to see their choices then, becomes a valuable and important exercise. We have many, but sometimes we just need a little help to realise and then actualise. I believe that the greatest steps are taken when this happens as the person feels empowered to steer their ship once more.

We need to know where we are going of course, a direction created by clarifying what we want as opposed to what we do not want ~ “I don’t want pain” versus “I want to live well”. Focusing upon living well motivates actions and behaviours in line with this whereas thinking about getting rid of pain keeps our attention on pain. We will only be successful, and we can be, if we have the right approach, mindset and attitude that we may have to cultivate and practice. Most I see do need to work upon these skills of attention, resilience, self-belief and determination. That is the first choice.

We can choose our approach. We can choose to engage in healthy activities. We can choose to take every opportunity to live well. We can choose to create the conditions to feel better. We can choose to have meaningful interactions. We can choose to leave some thoughts alone if they make us feel bad. We can choose to move and gradually move more as we adapt. We can choose to learn about our pain and our responses to pain, and then change them if need be. There are many choices we can make.

Of course it sounds easy when written and the doing is different. It is an experience. However, it is perfectly do-able. We are designed to change and do so every moment that passes. We can harness our potential and opportunities with simple measures, practices and skills based on new knowledge. Achieving success is with everybody’s reach although sometimes we need some help and guidance. But we can do it. This is the ethos of UP. Let us make choices to live well, create joy and face challenges with a sense of ‘I can’.

Choose ‘I can’.

01Feb/17

The inner dialogue

The inner dialogue ~ what do you listen to and what do you tell yourself?
You are beautiful by La Melodie https://flic.kr/p/99ACEa

You are beautiful by La Melodie https://flic.kr/p/99ACEa

One of the things that makes us human is the inner dialogue or inner voice that is fairly continuously ‘speaking’ to us. Of course the voice is part of each and everyone of us and is not an outside agent. To some people it can appear to be coming from somewhere or someone else as in the case of psychiatric disorders. That must be frightening.

The inner dialogue is part of the workings of our mind. Our minds play a significant role in our actions and perceptions but it is not a one way street. The physicality of our existence can impact upon the way in which we think. The branch of philosophy named embodied cognition has much to say on this matter, addressing the notion that our thinking is embodied. A simple example is when thinking about hunger and food, we would typically feel that in our body, interpreting the sensations as being in need of food. A further example is the way we gesture with our hands to demonstrate a point, freeing up resources for further thinking. Consider how you feel when you think of a loved one or a difficult situation in the past — where do you experience it? Certainly not ‘in the head’.

There is a skill in choosing whether to listen to and act upon our inner dialogue or our thinking. It is true that we do not choose the workings of our mind, however we can learn about how it works, our habits of thought and realise how we embody these thoughts. In so doing, we have the opportunity and responsibility to become increasingly skilful in deciding whether to pay attention or to let go of thoughts and the inner dialogue. Being mindful is just that. We are aware of the thoughts, noticing their impermanence, recurrent nature, the way they create feelings in the body, but we are not engaging or becoming embroiled. There is a monumental difference between being in the film and watching the film. You are still experiencing the full richness of the feelings and emotions but with curiosity, with compassion and with an intent to only act with kindness, towards self and others.

Learning to be observant of the inner dialogue allows you to make choices. We have choices and often need to realise them. How am I choosing to feel or think about a particular situation? Even asking yourself that question gives you space to decide what you can do. Shifting the thinking to take another perspective can give a very different feel to the experience. Knowing that you can do this is very empowering, as you know that you can face challenges with skill and insight.

The story we tell ourselves can be so impacting upon our reality, lived experiences and ultimately our health and sense of well-being. If you persistently tell yourself that you are not good enough, have not tried hard enough or blame yourself for all sorts of things that may not actually be your fault, this will create a range of unpleasant feelings in the body as well as paint a bleak picture of life. Being hard on oneself causes our protect systems to switch into action. A range of common ailments manifest if these systems are ‘on’ too much without adequate refresh and renew time. Such problems include chronic aches and pains, sleep disturbance, gut issues, mood variance and exhaustion; very common presentations in my clinic. This need not be the case by learning some simple skills of well-being and day to day practices that stoke up our healthy systems. This is the bulk of the work we do to overcome pain and health problems — see here.

The inner dialogue and pain

Pain and the inner dialogueThe inner dialogue can tell us our story; the story of me. The self that I experience moment to moment, which is continually updating. Our implicit ability to change creates great hope as we can transform our suffering by gaining knowledge and insight into our existing habits. From this awareness we can choose to create new habits that are based upon our value system (what is important to you in life) and are by design all about sustainably living a meaningful life.

Many people with chronic pain have received messages that suggest pain must be managed or that they must just cope. This lowers expectations and hence our story and the inner dialogue is based on this belief. We can and must do better. Changing our story, and this is applicable to any story we tell ourselves, creates a new way onward. This begins with understanding pain. Countless people have told me how much better they feel on starting to understand their pain when we discuss their experiences at the first meeting. There is no magic here. We feel better when we have understanding of a problem and insight into how we can address the issues — feelings of agency, choice and empowerment feed and motivate us to take action; the right action. The Pain Coach Programme is all about the right action based on the right thinking. Understand your pain, write and see a new story and then live it. This is the story of your success, whether it be overcoming pain, setting up a business, writing an essay, doing an exam or playing a game of football. Use the story wisely, make it count and use every moment in a way that encourages and motivates more and more great action.

The Pain Coach Programme is a blend of strengths based coaching and pain sciences for your to achieve your success | t. 07518 445493

 

30Jan/17

CRPS Diagnosis

CRPS Diagnosis

CRPSComplex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a collection of signs and symptoms that define this particular condition. A syndrome according to the Oxford Dictionaries, is a ‘group of symptoms which consistently occur together, or a condition characterized by a set of associated symptoms’. Therefore, we can clump together any set of symptoms and give it a name, which is really what has happened over the years in medicine. The important point is that when we use the term, we should all know what we are talking about and know what we should look for to make a diagnosis. In other words, a set of guidelines.

The Budapest Criteria delivers guidelines for CRPS, which you can read about in this paper by Harden et al. (2013). The clinical criteria (see below) acknowledge the sensory, vasomotor, sudomotor/oedema and motor/trophic categories that really highlight the complexity of CRPS. Pain is often the primary concern, with people describing their incredible suffering in a range of graphic ways. However, it is not just the pain that causes suffering but the way in which the life of the person changes together with their sense of who they are and their sense of agency seemingly lost. One of the roles of the clinician is certainly to help restore that sense of who I am, a construct that is built from many of life’s ‘components’.

Budapest Criteria

1. Continuing pain, which is disproportionate to any inciting event

2. Must report at least one symptom in three of the four following categories

  • Sensory: Reports of hyperalgesia and/or allodynia
  • Vasomotor: Reports of temperature asymmetry and/or skin color changes and/or skin color asymmetry
  • Sudomotor/Edema: Reports of edema and/or sweating changes and/or sweating asymmetry
  • Motor/Trophic: Reports of decreased range of motion and/or motor dysfunction (weakness, tremor, dystonia) and/or trophic changes (hair, nail, skin)

3. Must display at least one sign at time of evaluation in two or more of the following categories

  • Sensory: Evidence of hyperalgesia (to pinprick) and/or allodynia (to light touch and/or deep somatic pressure and/or joint movement)
  • Vasomotor: Evidence of temperature asymmetry and/or skin color changes and/or asymmetry
  • Sudomotor/Edema: Evidence of edema and/or sweating changes and/or sweating asymmetry
  • Motor/Trophic: Evidence of decreased range of motion and/or motor dysfunction (weakness, tremor, dystonia) and/or trophic changes (hair, nail, skin)

4. There is no other diagnosis that better explains the signs and symptoms

Importance of diagnosis

A diagnosis made in the same way, based on the same criteria means that clinicians, researchers and patients alike are all discussing the same condition. This may seem pedantic but in fact it is vital for creating a way forward. Clinicians mus know what they are treating, patients must know what they are being treated for and researchers must know what they are researching. Sounds obvious but let’s not take it for granted. So the Budapest Criteria has pointed all those with an interest in the same direction. Consequently we can focus on creating better and better treatments.

As with any painful condition, the start point must be understanding the pain itself. The following questions arise that we must be try to answer:

  • why am I in pain?
  • why this much pain?
  • why is it persisting?
  • what influences my pain?
  • what do I, the bearer of the pain, need to do to get better?
  • what will you do, the clinician or therapist, to help me get better?
  • how long will it take?

New thinking, new science, new models of pain over the past 10 years has advanced our knowledge enormously. Understanding how we change, how our body systems update, how we can make choices as individuals, and the practices we can use to change our pain experience to name but a few, create great hope as we tap into our amazing strengths and resources as human beings. Detailing the treatment approaches is for another series of blogs, but here the key point is that the first step in overcoming pain is to understand it. It is the misunderstanding of pain that causes erroneous thinking and action, which we can and must address across society — pain is a public health issue. Chronic pain is one of the largest global health burdens (Vos et al. 2012). It costs us the most alongside depression, and I believe that this need not be the case if and when we change how we think about pain, based on current and emerging knowledge.

“The first step to overcoming pain is to understand it”

upandrunThis is the reason for UP | understand pain, which we started in 2015 with the aim of changing the way people think and then approach their pain, realising their potential and knowing what they can do. We are about to launch the new website that is packed with practical information for the globe to access online. Alongside this we have plans to create a social enterprise that will purport the same messages, coming from the great thinkers and clinicians who are shaping a new era in changing pain.

In April I will be running the London Marathon to raise awareness of the work of both UP and CRPS UK. You can support the work that both are doing to change pain by donating here

Thank you!