Tag Archives: sports injuries

09Jun/16
Pain and injury

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

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

Tendon pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pain Coach Programme | t. 07518 445493

18Sep/15
Jan-Joost Verhoef| https://flic.kr/p/6qqqCU

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

25Aug/14

Greatness, smoothness & injury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24Jul/14

It’s time to bring what we know about chronic pain into sport

I recall a time when a consultant told me that chronic pain does not exist in private medicine. I was somewhat dumbfounded that an intelligent person could have such a thought. As a far as I was (and am) concerned, pain is classless. This was some years ago, however I am reminded of this when I think about the lack of recognition of chronic pain in sport.

Injury and pain are part of sport and we all know this well. Healthy people engaging in regular physical activity gain the physical and psychological benefits of exercising, but there is a risk of injury. And whilst many people who are injured will heal and recover, resuming their sport, there are a cohort who do not return to full participation and suffer on-going pain. Persisting pain affects one’s ability to perform, self-confidence, self-efficacy and in the professional case, a career. This is no different to the situation with a non-athlete with chronic pain.

There are a number of reasons why an athlete fails to recover including the context of the injury, early management, the development of fear, the understanding of the pain and injury, and the intensity of the pain at the outset. When lecturing on this subject, I tell the story of Messi who believed that his career was over because of the pain he experienced in his knee having collided with a goalkeeper. He was immediately taken for an MRI scan that revealed no injury. Recovery was swift when Messi knew he had not damaged his body. The pain he experienced on the field when he thought his footballing days were over was intense with a meaning that drove into the heart of his emotions, and that of the silenced crowd.

The reasons that pain persist are no different in the non-sporting person: the context of the injury, the state of health at the time, prior pain and injury and how they were dealt with, initial management etc. This being the case, we can bring the modern thinking about chronic pain into the sports arena for two reasons. One is to look at how injuries are dealt with in the early stages, and the other to take a broad perspective in tacking the on-going or recurring injury.

The early management of sports injuries is well known. The aspect to which I refer is the communication about injury and pain. In fact, even before an injury, providing education for players and athletes would impact upon those first vital moments that can prime and set up the recovery. At the point of injury, a whole body, all-system response kicks in, and recognising these processes in their entirety will maximise the recovery potential from the outset. All the necessary processes for recovery are in the human body. The main proponents of disruption are over-zealous treaters, fearful potential recoverers and those who ignore what the body is orchestrating. A careful explanation of the injury, pain and what will happen to aid recovery goes a long way to calming excited protective body systems.

Changing a pain state is entirely possible. Understanding that pain emerges in the body but involves the whole body is vital when considering all the factors necessary to set up recovery. When pain persists there are many habits and behaviours that become part of the problem. These need identification and re-training as much as the altered body sense, altered movement patterns, altered thinking, altered emotional state, altered immune responses, altered endocrine responses, altered autonomic responses, altered self-awareness, altered perception of the environment — we are altered in this state and it involves a host of responses, not set in stone but instead, adapting and surviving. On spraining a knee ligament, it’s not the ligament as much as how the body is responding to the detection of chemicals released by the injured tissue, the perception of threat and how the individual responds to the conscious feelings created by the whole body that drive thoughts and behaviours.

In the light of this knowledge (that has existed for many years), far more comprehensive treatment and training measures have been devised in small quarters. This approach delivers vastly improved outcomes because the problem is being addressed in a way that recognises that pain emerges from the whole. This notion was crafted from the merging of neuroscience and philosophy and is now taking our thinking forward (thanks to Mick Thacker and Lorimer Moseley for bringing this mode of thinking to physical therapy and beyond). I no longer refer to ‘pain management’ as this implies we are not trying to change pain, and I believe that we can and do change pain.

Pain is changing all the time as is every conscious experience. What patients believe is what they will achieve: “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right”, Henry Ford. Let us draw upon the psychology of success, create a clear vision and go for it. Every action and thought can be challenged with the question, “Will this take me towards my vision?”. This is the same in sport as it is in the general population and we can use exactly the same principles, just with different end points — everyone has a different end point, hence my push for recognition that chronic pain exists in sport and remains a huge and costly problem for individuals and clubs.

How can we go about this? Initially we must create awareness of the extent of the problem, recognising that a wider approach is needed and subsequently implementing contemporary treatment and training methods that work with the whole person. Understanding the pain mechanisms, the pain influences and the context of the pain for the individual orientates thinking that creates a route forward toward the identified vision. Blending specific training (e.g./ body awareness, sensorimotor control) with techniques that boost self-efficacy and maintain motivation for the necessary steps towards recovery. The recovery is part of the vision and is determined by prioritising the programme and working consistently.

Using comprehensive measures and thinking, we can create the conditions that allow for pain to change in the whole person by allowing body systems to do their work. Our role is to facilitate this biology by what we say, do and advise. Drawing upon the contemporary way persisting pain is approached in the general population, sportsmen and women can access the same benefits, optimise their potential to return to exercise and reduce the risks of recurrence.

Richmond specialises in creating the conditions for people with chronic pain and injury to recover and move forward. When he is not seeing patients, Richmond spends his time writing and talking about pain with the aim of bringing the modern understanding of pain into the public domain for better treatment

Specialist Pain Physio Clinics, London