Getting the best of Christmas

5 top tips if you suffer chronic pain

If you are suffering chronic pain, here are 5 tips to maximise your festive spirits and joy. You can decide upon your approach and give it your best by following some simple principles.

1. Make a plan

What is your picture of success? How do you want Christmas to be? What can you focus on that would make it memorable for the right reasons?

The questions we ask ourselves, we will always answer. So, make sure you come up with ones that self-encourage, helping you to focus on what you want, rather than what you do not want.

Think and act like the person you want to be

Make a plan each day, prioritising the key moments, punctuating them with rest and recovery time. You can share your plan with those you’ll be sharing the day with so that everyone is on board. Of course, the best plans do not always turn out the way we want, so we need to be flexible. However, if we try to stick to it in the best way that we can, often made easier by writing it down, then we are doing all that we can to be successful.

2. Motion is lotion

This is a way of nourishing your body (tissues — muscles, joints, tendons etc.). The key is to be consistent through the day. In essence, the movement is ‘pumping’ blood and hence oxygen into the tissues as well as removing the build up of toxins (that cause sensitivity).

The brain is embodied, and needs movement to survive — the brain needs a body. Pretty much everything that we do requires movement. Anything that gets in the way of the movements necessary to meet our needs will raise the perceived threat value. As many readers will know, pain is well-related to perception of threat and the state of the person, and poorly related to the tissue state.

Move to groove >>> any movement is a good movement!

A simple way of using ‘motion is lotion’ is to move and change position every 15-20 minutes, and then stand up and move around every 40-60 minutes. These are ball-park figures and it is important to work out your own need for movement. Further, you may like to use prompts and reminders until this becomes a habit.

3. 3 breaths

As often as you can remember (use reminders for this as well), stop and pay attention to three full breaths. Notice the moment when you first breathe in, the sensations in your body, and as you breathe out, the sense of letting go.

Attention is one of the skills of being well. A famous study was entitled, ‘the wandering mind is an unhappy mind’; in other words, the more we can pay attention to what is really happening, the happier we feel. Paying attention to your breath is a simple way to develop this skill.

Notice how you relax and muscles ‘let go’ as you breathe out. This is because on the out-breath, the parasympathetic nervous system is more active. This branch of the autonomic nervous system is responsible for all the important healthy functions behind the scenes: digestion, sleep, energy, anti-inflammatory activity and more.

5/5 breathing >>> count slowly to 5 as you breathe in, and count slowly to 5 as you breathe out. Continue for a minute or two, or longer

We have no direct access to our biology. It is in the dark, so to speak. However, there are one or two things we can choose to take control over to an extent. Breathing is one, with all the benefits that come with the innumerable practices that have been ‘breathed’ over the centuries.

A further use of the 3 breaths is when you feel tense, pain, frustrated, angry, upset or any other emotional state. Notice how when you pay attention to the breath, those feelings ease. This is because you have stopped fuelling them with the thoughts.

4. Meaningful connections

We need each other. We are design to connect and share and be generous. Have you noticed how your feelings change when you do something for someone else, no matter how small or insignificant that it may be? In fact, it is the little things, consistently, that make the difference, especially in a relationship.

How great does it feel to be with people who care about you, and you care about? Notice how that feeling builds when you pay attention to it (re-read the bit on attention above if necessary). Become aware of those great feelings and sensations in your body when you merely think about a special person.

Even when you don’t know the person you are encountering, can you make the connection meaningful by passing the time of day, and smiling? Of course you can! This can become the way you do it; your style.

Watch other people interact, share and be kind to each other. You will change state and feel it. Pay extension.

One way of connecting is by touch. Again, by design we have a system dedicated to light touch that is a direct way of soothing another, showing care and concern and evoking a healthy biological response. This is also a simple way for a partner to share a moment with you.

The key to feeling the effects, is to be present. This is the only moment, right now…it’s gone, and here is another…gone, and so on. Being present means that you can pay attention to what is actually happening, rather than being embroiled in the mind’s wanderings. To be present is also a skill to practice.

5. Smile. Just because you can

Notice what happens when you bring on a gentle smile. A soft upturn of the corners of your mouth. You can choose to tie this in with the now well-known practice of gratitude. The (biological) state of gratitude is one of the healthiest and an ‘antidote’ to suffering states.

Before the practice, it is important to acknowledge that all states are normal and part of the spectrum of feeling states. We need all of these states of course, as they communicate a need.

What are my needs right now? This is a great thinking tool, as you step back from being caught up in it all, and realise what it is that you need to do in this moment: move, breathe, eat, re-frame a thought etc.

What are my needs right now?

To practice gratitude is to become aware of something in your life that you are grateful for. There are many things that we can chose. Of course, whether they become apparent depends on your mood. A handy mantra here is: for a good mood be grateful, in a bad mood be graceful.

Practice: think of a moment in your life when you felt truly grateful for something. Focus your full attention on this memory, re-living it using all your senses, noticing which senses amplify the feelings. Is it the sights, the sounds, the feel? As you continue to focus on the feelings as they arise in your body, notice how they build.

Moment to moment noticing of things to be grateful for and those that bring you joy is a practice; a skill. For instance, you can decide to approach the day by looking out for things that make you laugh or smile. Then you practice.

The fact of the matter is simple in principle. The challenge is to keep focused and pay attention to what is really happening in the face of the many distractions. It is to realise that we live out a story that can appear to have been written for us. There’s some truth here in as much as we are fed beliefs from a young age, many of which are wrong, yet can limit us as we grow. Realising that you do not have to continue with the same story if it is full of suffering, is the first step to moving onward. Many don’t realise their potential, feeling that somehow, this is it. Not true. Is it time for a new story for you?

What will be your story from now?

And so, what will be your approach? How are you going to do Christmas? How are you going to do life? What is your picture of success? What principles must you follow each day to get those little wins on the way forward? Make a plan, get the right support and encouragement around you, and go for it. Each person is a miracle when you think about how we came into existence and how we are designed to grow and serve a purpose.

Merry Christmas.

Talking pain with Pete

Pain Coach + Pain Toolkit getting together to deliver the RIGHT messages about chronic pain

This is the first of a series of conversations about pain. Pete’s 5 question challenge:

  • how did you get into pain?
  • what about people looking for a quick fix?
  • what questions should patients ask me?
  • is social media useful?
  • what is the future for pain management?

A series of chats coming soon. Enjoy!

Drugs and pain

Help

Drugs remain the predominant approach for chronic pain….

…which is one main reason why the problem of pain is escalating. We can never truly overcome chronic pain by thinking that drugs are going to do it for us. We have been brought up in a society in which medication is embedded in our thinking ~ we expect it, healthcare delivers it.

However the reality is very different, which is why the continued use of the biomedical model for chronic pain consistently lets people down. This is now an old fashioned approach that does not work.


Recent headlines

‘Unnecessary’ painkillers could leave thousands addicted, doctors warn’ in The Guardian, May 2017 ~ read here

‘Accidental addiction to painkillers ‘a public health crisis’, says charity’ on Sky News today ~ read here

Mr Shapiro said: “If you look back to say 2009 when the all-party parliamentary group on drugs produced a report on this very issue, including not just painkillers but tranquilisers and anti-depressants and the Government then took a very complacent view of the whole situation… that attitude hasn’t really changed.”

WHY? 

Why is there such little interest from the government, from policy makers, from research funders etc etc? I am sure that when some of these people experience their own chronic pain, they will regret that lack of interest. In the meantime we need social progress for this enormous social problem ~ understand pain a purpose-led enterprise driving social change


You may think that my opening statements suggest that I am anti-drugs. No, I am not. There is a place for medication in the treatment of pain but there must be parameters. For example:

  • What is the best drug for this person and how their pain problem emerges
    • e.g. based on latest evidence ~ ‘Existing evidence on the use of gabapentinoids in CLBP is limited and demonstrates significant risk of adverse effects without any demonstrated benefit’ August 2017 ~ read here
  • Does the person understand the drug: why am I using this one? What does it do?
  • How long will the person be on the drug?
  • When will it be reviewed?
  • How will the use of this drug fit into an overall treatment programme?

The fact that the old model continues to be used means that other serious problems have emerged, adding further suffering and cost: addiction. To use the Buddhist definition of the word ignorance is relevant. To be ignorant is to fail to see the reality. That is most definitely what has happened and this must change now.

Drugs do not teach us how to overcome pain. They merely mask the underlying issues for a short time before they bubble up again. Whilst this can be convenient and briefly satisfy the search for a ‘quick fix’, each time the pain re-emerges and each time the next dose is taken there is a learning.

We learn to gain a dependence on the relationship between taking something and the pleasure of relief ~ this is not addiction, which is another result from over-using drugs or an inappropriate use of medication. The short-termism is perhaps the way we are designed to work, seeking pleasure and avoiding pain as quickly as possibly. This us understandable, yet it still remains the wrong route to truly overcome pain.

Overcoming pain

So if drugs don’t do it, what does? There are simple steps yet it is challenging and hard work. However, hard work and focus are fundamental when we are seeking results and achievement.

“Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming” ~ John Wooden

Firstly we must get our thinking straight. Understand pain: like any problem we must understand it to seek the solution.

Then we must take action, repeatedly, in the desired direction. Actions include our thoughts and how they make us feel and direct what we actually do. We must not make the error of thinking that the mind and our thoughts are somehow separate from the physical-ness of ourself. They are not. Our mind is embodied ~ where else can you experience your thinking but in your perceptions and actions? And where do you experience this from? Your body. Each moment is made of thoughts, perceptions and actions that define how we ‘live’ that moment.

Whilst this can sound a bit wordy and a bit philosophical, it creates a practical way onwards with a range of practices and skills that we can develop. What we practice we get better at and what we focus upon we get more of. What do you want?

“What do you want?”

Re-read the question if you need to. What do you want? What does that look like? How can you orientate yourself towards this vision in your thinking and actions each day, each moment? The answer to the first question is not, I do not want this pain. That is what you don’t want, this pain. It draws your attention, focus and resources to pain, pain, pain. Again, think about what you want. Let the image arise in your mind’s eye. Then make it brighter, more colourful and bigger. How do you feel?

To overcome pain we must learn to coach ourselves. We ask ourselves the right questions to start the day off well, committing to be the ‘best me’. Then we practice the skills we have learned that are all in line with your vision ~ movements, exercises, sensorimotor training, mindfulness, communication (with self and others), attention, gratitude, resilience, re-engaging with desired activities, people and situations to name but a few.

The content of each programme is sculpted according to the individual, who always does his or her best, learning all the way. Learning about the causes of on-going pain and how to transform their state over and over so that there is sustained change as the person reaches their potential. This is the essence of Pain Coach ~ the person getting results.

We are seeking social progress. The vehicle to drive this progress is UP or understand pain. UP is a purpose-led enterprise delivering the pinnacle of our knowledge of pain to those in need via workshops (recent CRPS Workshop success) and other means: including the pain sufferers, their families and friends, the policy makers, patient groups, charities and organisations.

Now is the time. Now we must move onwards and embrace the knowledge that we have gained and the new knowledge that will continue to emerge from research and experience. With this we can carve forward to reduce the enormous suffering and costs for a better society that thrives. Drugs are not the answer. The answers are within us.

“Be the change you want to see in the world” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

I would add, be the change you want to see in you. Because you can.

Please contact us if you would like to link, partner and arrange a workshop:

Workshop for CRPS a great success

Understand Pain & Pain Coach Workshop ~ Bath, 2017

“Thank you very much for today. It was a real privilege to attend”

I was delighted that we filled all the places and had to add several more for the CRPS workshop on Monday. It was an excellent afternoon with a really engaged group, keen to understand and know what they can do to move onward. That is the premise for Understand Pain and Pain Coach Workshops, where we deepen our knowledge of pain so that we can focus on what we CAN to be successful and get results.

This was the first UP & CRPS UK workshop at Royds Withy King in Bath, and based on the demand and feedback, we will be rolling out future dates across the UK. We will also be extending the workshops to a day so that we can have even more experiences of success together. The day is all about taking action and having the experience of what that is like, driving and motivating change in your desired direction.

The popular practices we looked at included the mindful practices that can be used in different ways to create calm, insight and focus, the ‘check in’, and journalising. We followed the way that I do in sessions with people 1:1, starting with the vision, strengths and values. This attunes the person to where they are going and the characteristics they possess to use to get there.  Over the afternoon we covered the key areas:

  • Understand Pain
    • What is pain?
    • The size of the problem of pain
    • CRPS criteria
  • Pain Coach
    • The practices that constitute a lived programme that interweaves into the person’s life, whilst they live their life as a means to overcoming pain — becoming a self coach and a self leader

The three main features of the workshops are simple and digestible:

  1. The model of success ~ how we can be successful
  2. Strengths based coaching ~ how to get the best of you
  3. The pinnacle of our knowledge of pain ~ understand pain to change pain

There is no reason why we can’t address pain, learn, transform, and have fun at the same time!

Here are some more comments:

What did people most enjoy?

  • “being in a space to acknowledge pain, guilt free”
  • “Richmond especially, extremely brilliant way with him”
  • “lovely delivery style”
  • “the way the workshop was presented”
  • “very enjoyable”
  • “good explanations. Simple to understand”
  • “very informative”
  • “I did not expect to be challenged as much as I am now following the workshop — positively”
  • “interactive nature of the event”

Come and join us next time!

Future events driving social change

For release in September ~ In conversation: Rich and Pete talk pain. A series of short videos focusing on the key areas of pain. See Pain Coach and Physiotherapist Richmond Stace + Pain Toolkit’s Pete Moore in relaxed conversation. My aim is to create a community so that we can drive social change via new thinking based on new understanding of pain and the action we must take as a society. This is just the beginning. Join us!

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Understand Pain & Pain Coach Talk ~ Weds 4th October 2017 at The Royal Society of Medicine ~ click here to book

Understand Pain & Pain Coach Workshop for Clinicians and Therapists ~ Thursday 5th October 2017 in New Malden, Surrey ~ click here to book

Probably the best meeting in the World

More reflections on SIP 2017

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You know what it’s like. You realise at the time that you are involved with something important. Then you get home and start thinking ‘wow’, that really was probably the best and most important meeting in the World when it comes to the problem of pain: SIP 2017.

The problem of pain is undoubtedly one of the greatest challenges facing society, and most people don’t even realise. Up to 441 billion Euros is the cost of chronic pain each year. That is an enormous financial burden that does nothing to describe the suffering endured. This can and must change. Attitudes and beliefs in society need a drastic update in line with what we really know about our potential as human beings for fostering change. Out with the old messages, out with interventions and medicines as the way to solely ‘manage’ pain, out with the notion that pain equates to tissue damage. Out, out, out!

“out with the old messages and in with the real understanding of pain. Then society knows that this suffering can ease

It was fascinating and enlightening to hear so many European clinicians and stakeholders talking about people (patients), the importance of healthcare professional education, and even the word coaching was used. In the room were people looking at pain from all angles, a unique blend in the first place. This set the scene for deep discussion, learning and results.

The openness to ideas and modern thinking about pain was refreshing. The people at SIP 2017 want to understand, want to learn and above all want to make a difference. And we can make a difference by persevering and looking at every possible way to change the way society thinks about pain ~ understand pain to change pain.

No single group dominated the meeting. Instead the forum was truly free for each person to contribute and put forward their thinking and experiences. We heard people talk about their pain, and they were able to discuss this with scientists, clinicians and policy makers in an environment created purposefully. It seems that clinicians ‘worry’ about conferences or meeting where people with pain and suffering can speak about their lives. Instead, this should be encouraged and embraced as we get to the bottom of the problem and take real steps forward. How useful is a conference where academics or clinicians speak about cases and research without ant real stories in the room?

“the openness to ideas and modern thinking about pain was refreshing

My intention is to build and cement relationships with other stakeholders across Europe, be involved with the new EU platform, contribute with UP and Pain Coach workshops and take action in line with the vision of UP: a society that understands pain.

SIP statement

‘The European Commission is following SIP’s lead and has launched the EU Health Policy Platform to build a bridge between health systems and policy makers. Among other health policy areas, the societal impact of pain is included as well and will have a dedicated expert group.’

In the UK we must take this example of how we can move forward. Pain is a societal issue and hence we need to hear from all stakeholders, in particular patient representative groups. The lived experience of the person is the basis of what we are working with to overcome pain. We are seeking to change the story so that the person can say: I feel like myself. Change is what people want, defined in their own terms by things that they want to do in their life. We can and must work on a number of levels to achieve this and we can and must be optimistic. Why? Because we are changing every moment, we are designed to change and need to know how.

Our quality of life is determined by how we feel. How we feel is determined by what we are thinking (consciously and subconsciously). What we are thinking is based on our beliefs about the world, and these stem from all the influences in our life. The moment to moment decisions and actions we take through the day shape our life and the ‘rating’ we give to our life. However, there is constant change afoot and we can harness the opportunity this creates by making decisions to commit to a particular pathway. The pathway is determined by the practices chosen in line with a desired outcome. Being determined to be the best you, with a clear vision and being coached to achieve success and long-term results transforms the experience. This is the essence of Pain Coaching.

With 100 million people suffering pain in Europe, 100 million Americans suffering and the rest of the World following the same theme, we must create the conditions for change. This starts with the understanding of pain because when people truly understand their pain, they realise their potential and a way forward. There can be a role for medication and interventions on occasion, but with this being a societal problem, there are many other actions that empower and enable people to overcome their pain. Together we can do this as a modern society. We have the means and with the costs so high, we have the impetus.

RS

Pain Coach Workshop for GPs

Why should GPs understand pain?

Audience Applaud Clapping Happines Appreciation Training Concept

Sat 3rd June Education Morning at New Malden Diagnostics Centre

~ Do you understand pain?

Can you confidently answer these questions:

  • what is pain?
  • what do we currently know about the causes of pain?
  • what can the person in pain do to overcome their pain?

Pain is one of the commonest reasons to seek help. And we are not only talking about back pain or neck pain, instead thinking about all the circumstances and conditions that feature pain. Digging deeper, whilst the pain is unpleasant by its very nature, it is the suffering that drives the act of going to the doctor. We can even take this a stage further and suggest that the causes of suffering result in consulting with the GP. For example, the person who cannot work, cannot play with their children, cannot play sports etc. It appears as if life’s choices have disappeared. By definition, suffering refers to the loss of sense of self, and indeed the person with persistent or chronic pain can feel such loss.

The existing understanding of pain has taken us a long way away from the biomedical model. The biopsychosocial model has gained some traction but the predominant approach continues to be driven by the search for an injury, a pathology or a structural explanation. For many years it has been known that pain and injury are not synonymous ~ the famous paper by Pat Wall was published in 1979:

“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.

Pain features when we are in a state of protect in the face of a perceived threat. The intensity of the pain relates to this state and not to the extent of tissue damage. Pain and injury are fundamentally different and hence any explanation or treatment for pain based upon the thinking that a ‘structure’ or biomechanics is to blame is at odds with our understanding of pain. In fact, it is this misunderstanding that contributes significantly to chronic pain being the number one global health burden. This can and must change, which is the raison d’être for UP | understand pain.

~ understand pain to change pain

This being the case, this workshop will be a brief look at this enormous societal issue, a public health concern of vast importance considering the massive costs and immeasurable suffering. Not only will we review current thinking and understanding, we will consider the role of the GP and practices that can be readily used.

  • understand pain yourself
  • know your role
  • how can you help the person understand their pain?
  • setting the person on the right course: what is their vision of success?
  • practices you can choose to use in clinic

This overview is based on the Pain Coach Programme. The programme delivers results for people who make the decision to commit to practices that bring about change in a desired direction. They understand that we are designed to change and that we have great potential to be harnessed and used to overcome pain and live a meaningful life.

1:1 Pain Coach Mentoring: for clinicians who choose to pursue understanding pain to a greater level together with the practice of Pain Coaching.

RS

A life of appointments

When life is dominated by the next appointment


Most people I see have a long story of pain. Frequently there has been years of suffering that has and does impact upon their life.  For some their days are strung together by appointment after appointment as they search for an answer to their pain. The key that unlocks that door is understanding pain. To understand pain is to know what you can do to move onward in a chosen direction. Undoubtedly, we can be successful in overcoming pain because it can and does change. We are constantly changing, like the water of a river, there is constant movement in one direction. Embracing and harnessing our potential enables us to live a meaningful life.

Whilst seeking an answer, there are always boundless doctors and therapists who offer solutions. Skipping the understanding bit and hastening to a remedy or treatment is often the way, yet the foundation is not in place. We must understand our pain to gain a sense of meaning, to know that we need not fear pain and instead to focus on certain practices and skills to enable change.

Expectations are typically low in chronic pain, which affect outcomes. The promise of success followed by yet another failure hits hard. Some people even blame themselves as the self-critic chips in. Developing self-compassion is a key skill as we learn to be patient with ourselves, let go of blame and focus on living well. To be harsh towards oneself is to provoke the same biological protection as when we feel pain. Of course our expectations are based on what we know, past experience and in the moment adjudication of the likelihood the treatment will work (based on what we already know again). In essence it is a prediction as is our current perception. The wonderful thing about being human is that we can change the prediction and infer something else. It is time to expect to get better. To expect that life will be full of challenges, but to expect to face them, learn and move on in a meaningful way. This starts with understanding pain.

One of the issues with on-going appointments is that the person maintains their focus on pain in their life. There is plenty more to define the person than their pain. What we focus upon we get more of, is a loose rule. If pain becomes dominant and rents much space in our conscious capacity, then there is little room for anything else. We must make space and while we are attending appointment after appointment, no space is being carved out. But I need the appointment because I must check and see if I have…….. etc, you may say. It is true that we must elimate any serious pathology or injury that necessitates repair, but beyond that, if the focus is upon living well and practicing such skills, then getting better is possible. The roundabout of consulting rooms is not.

~ pain and injury are not synonymous 

Regular readers know that pain and injury are not synonymous. They are different. And they are poorly related. We have known that for years yet the modern approach persists in a search for a structure or pathology to explain pain. There is no such thing as pain is a body, or whole person state. Like fear, like love, like hunger. You can see none of these because they are lived phenomena, experienced by a person and embodied by a person. A herniated disc, a disc bulge, an inflamed tendon, none are pain. Pain is a state of protect that emerges in the person in the face of perceived threat. Yes, these visible changes can co-exist with pain, of course. But they are not pain and not the cause of pain. The cause of pain is a perceived threat. It is how we and our body systems (they are not separate) interpret what is going on in our body but within the context of this moment (emotional state, environment, who we are with, what we are doing, prior events etc) that determines whether we feel pain or not. You will note from this description all the opportunities we have to change pain, because pain is part of me as much as my ears or my hair so it is mine to change. The change begins with understanding pain.

So, once you have seen the relevant specialists and determined that there is no serious pathology or injury that needs repair, and it has been confirmed that this is a problem of pain, then you can focus on getting better. This is through the practice of the skills of well-being whilst maintaining a course towards your picture of success, the healthy you with purpose.

Open space in your life to live well and be inspired to reach your potential, because you can.

RS ~

We are more than a brain

Brain On The Wall

Have we gone brain mad!

There was a great step forward when the brain was considered to be part of the pain experience. The recent popularisation was in part due to the work of Lorimer Moseley who has been researching pain and delivering insights that have definitely caused a shift in thinking. However, it was Pat Wall and Ron Melzack who were the original thinkers, inspiring work in the field of pain science and medicine, with their Gate Theory of Pain (1965).

Brain explanations have captured the popular media as the ‘neuro’ tag is shunted onto the front of words to add scientific validation. We must always check to see if the claims are truly grounded in neuroscience of course. As much as we have people writing and blogging about how science pans out in real life, there are those who sift through the literature and comment critically. We are thankful for the latter as society is regularly hit with breakthrough claims that are sensationalised. How often do we then find out that these claims are unsubstantiated or they quietly go away?

When discussing pain, and this is a complex area, the brain is rightly included. The brain is certainly involved in any conscious experience as best we know, but we are more than a brain. Pain illustrates this well. However, we commonly hear experts talk about pain in the brain, or that we feel pain in the brain. This is not true.

If I am hammering and I accidentally rap the end of my finger instead of the nail, it is very likely to hurt. The pain that I feel will depend upon context. If there is someone else present and watching me, I will have a different experience compared to if I were alone. I may wish to show that I am ‘hard’ and brush it off whilst feeling the intense pain localised deep in my digit. Being alone, I may shout out and wave my hand around, grip the finger with my other hand and ask myself why I am doing this job anyway. There are many possibilities and many different influences upon that pain experience in that moment. This involves the brain, and if I happened to be wearing a portable functional brain scanner (that does not yet exist), you would be able to see activity in certain parts of the brain. These areas are not specific to pain.

There are no pain signals, pain centres in the brain, pain messages, pain nerves or anything else specific to pain. Pain is a ‘body state’ according to Wall (1979), and one that sets us up to heal and get better through motivation. We are motivated or compelled to take action. The relationship between pain and injury is poor and often non-existent, especially in chronic pain states. Pain is about protection and survival.

~ pain and injury are poorly related

Back to my finger. The message that the pain is in my brain is still out there in society. I have just hit my finger. Where do I feel it? Where is my brain? Can I feel the pain there, in my brain? Or do I feel it in my finger?

Pain emerges in the person (Thacker, personal communication) and we feel it in an area of the body deemed in need of protection. Even just in case, which is likely to be the reason for much chronic pain. The body systems that protect continue to do so in accordance with a range of influences and situations, in particular contexts. This is predicted to be ‘dangerous’ or threatening to the (whole) person and hence we experience the phenomena of protection, i.e. pain. Pain is allocated a location in the body where we feel it. The brain is involved in this projection and hence strategies and practices that target known brain mechanisms are to be encouraged. But we also need to address where it hurts and the local tissues and associated areas that adapt to the protect state.

It is the person who suffers pain, not the brain. It is a body area where we feel pain, not in the brain. The brain is involved but we do not feel things in there. Even in phantom limb pain when there is no body part, the sensation and experience of pain is felt in that space. Tissue state and existence has a minimal role, and less so as pain persists. It is about the interpretation and prediction of what the sensory information means based upon prior knowledge that determines our conscious experience.

In our drive to change the way society thinks about pain, this is one of our messages:

Pain is about the person. Let’s treat the person because when the person feels better, the pain feels better. We can change pain. We can live a meaningful life.

RS

5 ways a partner can support and encourage 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 simple ways that a partner can help:

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.


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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

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’.