The Good News about Chronic Pain
I’m delighted to share with you a guest blog from Carry Triggs Hodge – she’s an osteopath and here’s her message about pain.
Pain is a BIG topic. The science and research around pain have been rapidly evolving over the last 10 years or so; it can be complex to deal with but we know more now than ever before, and that means we are better at understanding and dealing with it.
We also know that medication or surgery might not be the best options in treating pain, especially if it’s ongoing.
If you’ve ‘been there, done that’, had the surgeries, injections, or rehab, and haven’t yet found a solution for your pain, the good news is, there’s still hope.
In fact, there’s a LOT of scope for improvement even for those with the most stubbornly painful problems that have resisted medical treatment, and even for those with pain for which there seems no obvious reason.
What is pain?
We have all experienced pain at some point. It’s the nervous system’s call to action to protect or change something when it interprets some kind of threat; it’s a normal neurological response to injury.
But it’s designed to be temporary. Our nervous system evolved into what it is now in our evolutionary past; pain pushed us to kill or be killed. Pain was short lived – or we were.
In our modern world, sometimes pain can persist beyond the expected healing time for an injury, or it may not even have an obvious cause. This is often labelled ‘chronic’ pain. It can come in all sorts of presentations, and can be a right old pain in the backside. It can impact daily life and interfere with the things you value most – whether that’s running marathons or being able to get to work. It can cause you to question the quality of your future.
Science has shown us there are different kinds of pain and therefore we need different ways of treating it. Understanding why it’s there, is half the battle.
‘If something hurts, surely that means there’s injury and I should rest to avoid further damage?’
‘But I’ve had rehab, injections, operations, more rehab… and I still have pain…’
‘I’ve been told I have the back of an 80-year-old, that I just have to live with the pain. But I’m nowhere near that age!’
‘Painkillers don’t really help…’
‘I’ve had x-rays and MRIs, seen different specialists and they say there’s nothing wrong and no reason for my pain…’
‘If it’s not in my body, is this all in my head?’
Do any of this sound like you? I often see people for whom this has been a reality; pain with no clear solution, or unexplained pain, which seems pretty hopeless.
But if you feel pain, it’s real, and there’s a real reason for it.
The root cause.
It’s useful to know that pain doesn’t always mean there is injury, and terrible pain certainly doesn’t equate to serious damage. In fact, the most painful problems are often not at all dangerous, for example, muscle spasms can be alarmingly painful but they are not deadly.
Pain can be due to simple injury and, although unpleasant, we handle it pretty well because it’s logical. But pain can also be caused by a complex blend of subtle factors affecting the body’s neuroendocrine system, which can impact (and be impacted by) fundamental things like bio-mechanics (how we move). Things like stress, including the stress of pain itself, affects every cell in the body, including the nervous system. All of this, and more, interact and feed into the pain cycle creating a catch 22 scenario…
The good news is that our nervous system is plastic – this is a bit of a technical term meaning that it’s changeable. In fact, it’s constantly changing according to its environment and what we do with it.
Your brain constantly modifies your nervous system and therefore your pain response. Have you ever found a cut but can’t remember how you did it? That’s your brain deciding something else was more important at the time. It dampened your sensitivity using your own bio-chemistry, hormones and nerve signals.
Even how we think about pain can have a big impact and neuro-physiologically ramp it up or dampen it. Thoughts are electrical signals along neural pathways, much like painful sensations, hunger or anything else you feel and interpret.
The key is to harness tools that affect all of the above so that you have a clear road-map for real improvement.
So, what can you actually do?
Active strategies are the most powerful tools I’ve come across in helping people resolve their chronic pain. I work with people on a daily basis with all sorts of pain issues – some straight forward, some more complex. I use a combination of tools and techniques from the latest in pain science, evidence-based practice. This includes movement work and assisting better biomechanics, exercise and pain education, all of which creates tangible change, through neuro-plasticity.
This approach looks and feels different from one person to the next because each person’s pain experience is unique… and it’s aimed at getting results, fast. The very act of being in control of symptoms immediately reduces stress levels, and this in itself is a way to dampen pain sensitivity. So rather than a catch-22 cycle, you interrupt the cycle and change it straight away.
This approach is powerful because it’s engaging and collaborative, and because it’s tailored to the individual and you are in control of the results you achieve. With the right input and assistance changes can be radical and extremely motivating.
Carry Triggs Hodge (www.CTHHealthcare.com) is based in West London and helps people resolve chronic pain.
She’s a keen triathlete, and, having just completed her first Half-Ironman race, she’s more passionate than ever about helping people do what they love, without being held back by pain – whatever that may be!