Tag Archives: sports injuries

30Mar/18
Persistent pain and injury in football and sport

Persisting football injuries

Persistent pain and injury in football and sport

Persisting football injuries are the scourge of the dressing room. Whilst everyone accepts that injury is ‘part of the game’ and part of sport, this does not necessarily make it any easier for the player, whatever the level, or the treating clinicians. A range of pressures and expectations exist, which impact upon the experience and the outcome. Managing these in the best way is one of the key components of a successful approach. Kieron Dyer, in his new book, describes the suffering he endured as a result of his recurring injuries and pain, which certainly had an impact upon the longevity of his career.

“Even though I knew I was injured, there was a lot going through my mind when I was celebrating with the fans…..I couldn’t cope with a career that had become a continuous cycle of hope and despair. If there were an end in sight to it, it would be different, but no one could seem to cure the problem” ~ Kieron Dyer

Addressing an acute injury is a well known and understood process: diagnose the problem, administer the right messages and treatment, start rehabilitation as soon as possible, build fitness and sport specific training with a gradual return to play. So why is it that some plays become besieged by persistent and recurring injuries and pain?

The broad brush answer is the same for any person experiencing chronic pain and injury. There are a number of vulnerabilities and contextual factors at play, meaning that protective measures rightly kick in, but do not necessarily ‘reset’ to an appropriate level of vigilance. As a consequence, this loss of differentiation means that more and more moments are perceived as potentially threatening. It only needs to be a possible threat for a protect state to be initiated, with the perception of pain being part of this state.

The first step of understanding, especially for the player, is that pain and injury are neither the same, nor well related. We have known this for many years:

“The period after injury is divided into the immediate, acute and chronic stages. In each stage it is shown that pain has only a weak connection to injury but a strong connection to the body state.”
  ~ Wall (1979) Co-founder of Textbook of Pain

To fully describe the complexities of an emergent chronic problem is beyond the scope of this blog — we cover many of the important dimensions in the Pain Coach Workshops. Chronic pain and injury is a specialist field requiring a broad knowledge of a number of areas together with experience of working with suffering individuals. These include science pertaining to pain and survival, philosophy, cognitive science, psychology, sociology, anatomy and physiology to name but a few. This knowledge then has to be applied phenomenologically with meaning and effect. We need a means to deliver treatment and provide practical tools that allow the person to pursue a purpose and achieve results. The means that I propose and offer is that of coaching, pain coaching, which is all about getting the best of an individual.

A brief insight into the vulnerabilities for developing chronic pain is useful. We are essentially on a timeline, which means that every episode in our lives is logged as an experience with a learning effect. Significant events in particular will shape us as we journey through the ups and downs. We know that early life stressors have a particular effect as the biology that protects us is evoked at a young age, at a time when the person is maturing and reliant upon others for safety and security. When this secure base is compromised, there is a vulnerability to suffering a range of complete person problems from depression to irritable bowel syndrome to chronic pain states. The sensitivity manifests in different ways in different people of course. In recent times we have heard about terrible situations, which will impact upon brain, body and behaviour ~ the 3 come as a unified package of course, the person. Dyer has bravely described his early experiences, which will have been a huge factor in how he subsequently sensed himself and the world.

In terms of pain, as a perception in the face of a perceived threat, the responses and actions become increasingly prevalent as the range of threats increases. For the player, these threats come in the form of their own thoughts (inner dialogue) like any other person, but also from the pressures of performing, from the club, from the fans, from not understanding their pain and why it persists, as well as other day to day influences. Peak performance emerges from a focused approach, from having energy, from being in flow and from minimising distractions. It is the inner dialogue that forms the greatest distraction.

Players must understand pain as the first step. It is their pain, and they can be given knowledge and tools to manage and overcome the problem. They understand that the experience is also affected by distractions that come in the form of old beliefs about pain and injury together with the aforementioned pressures. As Dyer realised, “So I hadn’t been pulling my hamstring at all. It just felt like it. Fans and others see an injury prone player but do not know the reality of pain”.

“So I hadn’t been pulling my hamstring at all. It just felt like it. Fans and others see an injury prone player but do not know the reality of pain” ~ Kieron Dyer

Chronic pain and injury in football and sportFor anyone to manage and overcome a pain problem, an encouraging environment must be created in which the knowledge and skills are put into practice. This would include alleviating the pressures in the best way so that the focus can be on recovery within a realistic time frame. This time frame may not suit everyone, but the risks of ignoring this for the sake of a hasty return are high. A player clearly has the strengths of focus and perseverance to enable him or her to reach the professional level. They will also have overcome a number of challenges and set backs along the way. Drawing out examples of these helps the player establish the characteristics they hold, which they can use to address the current challenge of pain and injury. Maintaining a focus upon the right steps and managing the consequences of drifting off course is the route to success, encouraged and enabled by skilful clinicians who share the picture of the desired outcome. This is no different to clarifying where you are sailing your boat, setting sail in that direction and using skills and strengths to maintain course, manage the boat in tricky waters and get back on course as quickly as possible.

A programme to address persistent pain and injury (the two are different as you will know) must be complete. The clinician establishes the full story, the back story, the context and the circumstances before confirming with the player where he or she is going. This is why knowing your players is vital, and being able to have open conversations that are more likely when we practice deep listening and create an encouraging, compassionate environment. The biopsychosocial model is one that offers a framework to consider all of the factors, but of course it is how they all come together as the experience of the person that is important. It is the person who feels pain, not the body part, and hence ‘how the person is’ becomes highly relevant together with their approach to life and challenges. This style of doing life, possibility or problem, opportunity or obstacle, will often play out when it comes to pain. And this is where we deliver new choices that are the basis for moving onwards.

There are many challenges to managing and treating a complex, chronic and persistent pain and injury problem in football, especially in the professional game. Dyer describes the experience from the player perspective, delivering a stark insight. Players at the top level may receive vast rewards for their abilities, yet they are under a range of pressures that have a huge impact on pain and injury that need to be understood and addressed skilfully, to maximise the potential for recovery and return to play. This is always the goal.


Richmond delivers The Pain Coach Workshop for Football ~ a 1 day workshop for medical teams who want to build on their skills to be able to effectively manage the range of factors that need addressing in persistent and chronic cases of pain and injury. The Pain Coach Workshop for Sport is a more general experience for problem pain in sports. Call us now to book your workshop t. 07518 445493

Persistent pain and injury in sport

07Mar/18
Persistent injury in sport

The toll of persistent injury

Persistent injury in sport

Rugby player Dave Attwood talked about the toll of persistent injury in The Guardian today. This is likely to be one of the greatest fears of any sports person, particularly for professionals with a career at stake, and who identify with their game.

The physical nature of the training and the sport itself, particularly considering the extent of contact in rugby, both present a risk of injury. This would be accepted by players, with pain being part of the deal. It is expected and perhaps even revered as a demonstration of commitment. No pain, no gain continues as a philosophy.

Then we have pain that persists, which gradually begins to intrude into the player’s attention at inappropriate times. Thinking about pain rather than the game will inevitably affect performance and outcome. Beyond the white lines, the pain seeping into day to day life takes the suffering to a new level. This is a typical story for chronic pain. A sequence of priming events akin to a kindling fire, building and building along a timeline.

Not only does the player need to deal with the pain itself and the day to day rehabilitation, he or she also has to cope with a shift in their role. All of the above are ample causes of suffering, which can take its toll on anyone. We are all vulnerable to a greater or lesser degree. And this is why the modern understanding of pain and injury is so important across society, including professional sport. The biomedical model does not provide any long-term solutions to persistent pain, yet it continues to predominate in both arenas. This must change.

In sport, acute care is usually very good. However, identifying players who could be at higher risk of developing chronic symptoms should be a routine part of screening. Medical teams in sport need to be armed with knowledge allowing them to identify the factors the pre-exist but also be aware of characteristics of the acute injury that may heighten the risks; early, uncontrolled pain for example.

Dave Attwood: ‘Compulsory counselling for long-term injuries will stop stigma’ 

Attwood suggests that counselling should be compulsory. He acknowledges that not everyone will persist with this kind of input, however relevant it might be for that person. The opportunity to talk about the effects of an on-going injury would offer a non-judgmental arena of safety for players to express fears and worries. If players were also educated about persistent pain and injury, they would realise that a change in emotional state and thinking is typical, thereby reducing the stigma. Of course, the stigma arises from the existing culture that is misinformed when it comes to pain. Much of the education enabling pain to be understood would be very similar in content to that of a modern pain management programme.

To see a high profile player speaking out about the issue of persistent injury will hopefully encourage others to seek the right kind of help. Dealing effectively with on-going pain is a specialist area that requires a comprehensive approach that addresses all aspects of the experience. Medical teams may need to call upon external specialists to work with them for particular players. This is something that I have done and it works very well, particularly because professional clubs typically have great facilities and staff who you work with to cover all angles: strength and conditioning, diet, sports doctors, physios, massage therapists etc. But, it all starts with understanding pain.

‘Pain and injury are not the same and they are not well related’

To understand pain means that you know what you must focus upon, without fear, to achieve results. In managing painful moments and seeking to overall overcome the pain problem, it takes dedicated practice, encouraged by positive coaching. The content of the practice varies according to the nature of the problem and the necessary approach. That is for the specialist to decide and communicate with the player and medical team.  The Pain Coach Programme that I designed is commonly a blend of sensorimotor training, mobilisations of different types, skills of being well, and practices that bolster resilience, focus and hence performance. This sits in with input from other fields, very much embracing teamwork with the player’s best interests at the heart. A typical aim is to achieve greater than pre-injury performance.

The coverage of on-going injuries is typically negative from the press, fans, the team and the club. Instead there must be understanding, compassion and encouragement. The right conditions for recovery must be created, easing the pressure off the player so that he or she can truly focus on their job of the moment, getting better. So, well done Dave Attwood and The Guardian for raising the issue, another example of chronic pain in society. It is time for change.


  • Pain Coach Programme — for players suffering persistent or recurring injuries and pain
  • Pain Coach Mentoring & Workshops for clinicians and therapists who want to build their skills and knowledge in chronic pain
  • Pain Coach Workshops for medical teams

t. 07518 445493 or e. [email protected]

Richmond M. Stace MSc (Pain) BSc Phty BSc (Hons) PGDN | Specialist Pain Physiotherapist, Pain Coach, Clinical Lecturer (MSc Sports Medicine @ Queen Mary’s University London) & Entrepaineur. 

Blended with my clinical work and workshops is the Understand Pain social enterprise that has the purpose of driving social change with regards pain, the number one global health burden.

09Jun/16

Pain and injury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pain Coach Programme for persistent pain | t. 07518 445493

 

22May/16

Sports injuries brewing

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

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

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

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

What is happening?

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

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

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

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

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

13Feb/16

Tendon pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pain Coach Programme | t. 07518 445493

18Sep/15

Sports injuries that don’t go away

Jan-Joost Verhoef| https://flic.kr/p/6qqqCU

Jan-Joost Verhoef| https://flic.kr/p/6qqqCU

There are many cases of sports injuries that don’t go away. They linger on and on, becoming increasingly impacting as the sensitivity builds, often accompanied with varying patterns swelling and stiffness. Understanding what is happening is the key to deciding upon the right action to change course and recover. The way that your body and you respond is determined by the circumstances of the injury, prior experiences (injured the area before? previous injuries?), beliefs about pain and injury, genetics, the immediate thoughts and messages given by others and the action taken at that point, including pain relief. Here are some of the reasons:

  • The circumstances of the injury: how healthy you are, how you are feeling at the time, where you are, how the injury happened (your fault? Someone else’s fault? An accident? In fact, it is how you perceive it that is important, not the actual reality), your first automatic thoughts, the time of the game, the importance of the game — all of these factors come together, physical-emotional to create a memory of that moment, the pain intensity determined by the perceived level of threat, and not the extent of the tissue damage (consider the player who has a break but does not realise until later). The way you and your body respond to an injury will be very different if you are stressed vs relaxed for example.
  • Previous injuries leave their mark in terms of how you think about them and the associated pain. If you have injured the area before, then there is a greater likelihood that it will hurt because the body will protect more readily. If you have had a good or a bad experience before, this affects how your body systems that heal and protect will kick in.
  • Your beliefs about pain and injury that began to be sculpted in the early days of bumps and bruises and in particular how people around you reacted — too much mollycoddling by parents/teachers is perhaps not great for how we learn to deal effectively with injury; that’s both in the way we think but also how our biological systems work. What you are thinking will impact upon the pain (‘I must get up and play on in this cup final’ vs ‘it is the end of my career’ = very different biologies), and hence the early messages given by the clinicians and therapists must be accurate and calming.
  • It seems that we can have a genetic predisposition to over-responding to injury, with inflammation kicking in as it should but more vigorously. Some people are more inflammatory that others so it seems.
  • The early actions after an injury, including the messages as mentioned above, are really important to set up healing. It is normal for an injury to hurt, however in cases of severe pain, this needs to be addressed with the right analgesia. Early high levels of pain can affect the trajectory of the problem.

For these reasons and others, some injuries appear to persist or recur, which is highly frustrating for the individual, and for the therapists. Sometimes the factors mentioned above set into place a level of sensitivity and certain protective behaviours that mean protection is vigorous — this in terms of the way the person thinks, acts and their biology plays out. This needs to be identified as quickly as possible so that the right treatment can be administered alongside working with the player to developing his or her thinking. Whatever is playing out in their minds will be affecting their biological responses, in a positive or a negative way, so we must intervene or encourage depending on the predominant thought processes.

When an individual is experiencing an on-going issue there are a range of factors to consider and address, some relating to the points above. Hearing their complete story is a vital start point, including an understanding of their perception of the events to date, as well as prior experiences that will flavour what happened then and what is happening now.

Here are some examples of the common features:

  • Often the body continues to try and heal, squirting inflammatory chemicals into the area periodically or in response to movement. This is neurogenic inflammation and sensitises just like inflammation from a fresh injury and is part of the sensitised state, but co-ordinated by higher centres
  • Rarely does the person understand their pain, which creates worry and concern. Remember that chronic stress can make us more inflammatory — also consider other life stresses as these will impact; if the body/person is in survive mode (fright-flight), then resources for healing and recovery are limited.
  • Altered movement patterns, in part from fear/lack of confidence but also as part of protect mode. These must be re-trained from the right baseline (often people start too far down the line and fail)
  • A belief that there is a re-injury when in fact it is a flare up, or an increase in sensitivity, not an actual injury

In brief, we must ensure that the individual’s thinking is right — understand pain and injury, their pain and injury — and that they are taking the right actions towards recovery (a negative thought or over-training will not take you towards recovery); but they need to be able to think clearly about this themselves, because they are with themselves all the time whereas the therapist is with them periodically. They need to become their own coach, which is why I developed the Pain Coach Programme — not only are we coaching them, but also teaching them to become their own coach. When the understanding and thinking is in place, the training and exercises are all straightforward. I use no fancy tools or kit to coach and treat, except of course the most fancy piece of kit we all possess, our brains! But let’s not be all brain-centric; we are talking whole person. It is the person who is injured, not their leg or arm; it is the person who feels pain in the context of who they believe they are and in their life, not a leg or an arm. The person feels hungry, not their stomach. Remembering this when educating, coaching and treating creates the right thinking platform.

Pain Coach 1:1 Mentoring Programme for Clinicians — see here or call us 07518 445493

05Feb/15

Today’s talk at QMUL | pain in sport

Today’s pain in sport 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.

23Nov/14

Why do Arsenal and MUFC have so many injuries?

Arsenal Football Club have apparently reported 30 injuries since August, and Manchester United 37 injuries. Why so many?

Injuries are more complex than perhaps initially thought. It is not simply that a player runs out onto the field, clatters into another player, changes direction or bursts into action. There is a huge amount of multi-system activity, both conscious and unconscious that biologically underpins every injurious situation.

For example, a seemingly ‘simple’ ankle sprain is this: a disrupted ligament releases inflammatory chemicals that excite the normally quiet danger receptors on nociceptors; nociceptors send danger signals to the spinal cord to communicate with secondary neurons that are influenced by a flow of signals coming downwards from the brain. The sum of this give and take reaches the brain. According to whether a threat is determined or not, the appropriate response is pain, drawing attention to the affected area so that the right behaviour can be assumed, promoting recovery and survival. Pain is a need state, driving and motivating action.

The danger signals, for there are no pain signals or even a pain centre in the brain, are chemical messages until given meaning by the emotional centres of the brain. This is based on the context of the situation, beliefs, immediate thoughts, previous experience and the environment to name but a few. The injury is deeply embedded within all these factors, none of which are stand alone.

To illustrate, a professional footballer who sprains his ankle could think: ‘how will this affect my career?’, ‘how long will I be out?’, ‘will this affect selection?’, ‘is this the end of my career?’, ‘what will this cost me?’ etc. The question to ask is how is this thinking likely to affect pain? Are those thought threatening? Of course they are, and hence affect the way in which the body protects. As well as promoting the right environment for healing (bottom up), one has to create the right conditions in all body systems (top down) by cultivating the right thinking and with definite action. Until thoughts and beliefs flavour nociceptive signalling, there is no meaning, and without meaning there is no pain. We need pain to survive, but we also need a logical and rational meaning.

Within the culture of football, there are certain beliefs and memes around injury. This will be the case regarding ankles, hamstrings and groins. Just listen to the pundits to hear their comments on these injuries to know this fact. How much of it is fear-based rather than being based on pain science and basic biology? Tackle this and you are more than half-way towards creating the right conditions for recovery.

Injury is incredibly complex because we are incredibly complex. Drawing upon this modern way of thinking about pain and injury and I believe we can tackle this increasing problem of recurring injuries in sport more effectively.

Persisting sports injury? Recurring injury? Football injury? Call now 07518 445493

12Oct/14

Athletes still on the bench?

Chronic pain exists in sport. It is a frustrating problem for players and coaches alike, and is accompanied by an expensive price tag in professional sport. Similar to non-sporting injuries, there is initial tissue damage (e.g. a ligament sprain) that triggers inflammation, a normal part of healing, which typically hurts. This is meant to happen as a motivator to take action: to protect the injured body and to change behaviour to allow healing to progress.

The focus of treatment is usually the injured body region. Reasonable, you may think. Indeed in the early stages, it is wise to think about creating the right environment for local healing. However, there are responses that go far beyond the muscles, ligaments and joints. It is worth pointing out here that we only ‘feel’ those structures because of how our brains create the experience, this merely touching the subject on how we really ‘feel’. This in mind, it is only logical to think further than the injured tissue in order to comprehensively rehabilitate an injury.

In persisting pain states that present as an on-going injury or an inability to return to the playing field, thinking beyond the body is essential. Why is this player not recovering? The ligament has healed, the bone has healed, there is little or no inflammation on the scan etc, etc. What is going on? Going upstream of these tissues provides the answers. In fact, going upstream will explain persisting inflammation in many cases, and help to break the cycle.

Pain is multi-system, pain is emergent, pain is whole-person. A range of body systems kick-in when we injure ourselves, and sometimes they do not switch off as you may expect. There are indicators at the time of injury that suggest the route forward will be an issue. These need to be addressed rapidly.

I read and hear about treatment and rehabilitation programmes that focus on movement, proprioception, strength, core and the like. All important, but what happens when these fail to get the sports person back to play? What is the reason? The answers lie in the adaptations of the body systems and the beliefs and expectations of the healthcare professionals and the athletes.

Different thinking is needed for persisting, complex and chronic pain.

If you are struggling to return to sport or you are working with a player who is stuck, get in touch and we can work together to identify the problems and how to solve them: call now 07518 445493 

28Sep/14

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

Opening 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