Taming the Beast, that is pain

Professor Lorimer Moseley explains how pain scientists are making amazing discoveries that can help you understand your pain, the first step in taming the beast.

As you’ll see, pain always involves the nervous system and how your nervous system can be retrained.

  • “How do you know if your pain system is being overprotective?”
  • “How do you retrain your pain system to be less protective?”
  • “How do you know if you’re safe to move?”

Learning a little about pain neuroscience education can be helpful. [1]

What complements this is not only learning but experiencing how YOU can change or modulate your nervous system.

Use the tools yoga has to offer; gentle movement, breath and awareness practices… to soothe and calm the system. To ‘Tame the Beast’.

You can find more information and resources at TameTheBeast.org.

[1] Louw, Adriaan & Zimney, Kory & Puentedura, Emilio & Diener, Ina. (2016). The efficacy of pain neuroscience education on musculoskeletal pain: A systematic review of the literature. Physiotherapy Theory and Practice. 32. 1-24. 10.1080/09593985.2016.1194646.

The Person in Pain

Often, when someone has persistent or chronic pain, what’s almost forgotten amidst the assessments, tests, diagnosis, and treatments, is the person. This person is not just a body with all these parts. Rather, someone who has a unique story, history, perspective and perception about what is happening with them. How pain affects almost every aspect of their life. Their worries, concerns, uncertainty about the future.

The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) launched it’s Global Alliance of Pain Patient Advocates in 2018, stating “this initiative seeks to better integrate the patient voice to inform pain research and its translation into new interventions to treat pain.” Below, Joletta Belton, tells her story:

I’ve been following Joletta for a long while now. Not only an advocator for the person in pain, she writes a blog over at mycuppajo, and co-founded Endless Possibilities Initiative (EPIc), which is a “nonprofit organization intent on changing the way people get access to science-based information about pain.”

Joletta also wrote the first chapter in Yoga and Science in Pain Care: Treating the Person in Pain which I’ve mentioned here before on the blog.

She writes “My protective responses not only affected my breath, but my movement too. My muscles would tense up, my joints would become stiff, my movement braced and rigid. Being rigid and stiff affected the way I moved, the way I walked, the way I sat. The way I existed in the world. The tenser and more guarded I was, the more pain there was, so I started moving less. The less I moved, the more painful movement became. Fear of more pain, of more damage, made me move even less. A vicious cycle.”

She goes on to share what helped her most over the years. The first two, on her list:

  • “feeling heard and believed, supported and empowered
  • feeling understood, as well as understanding and making sense of my pain.”

“When we live with pain, it changes who we are as people. It changes how we see the world and how we relate to that world. We protect ourselves through isolation and withdrawal, through guarding and tension, through altered thoughts, beliefs, and movements. We disconnect from the people, places and activities that are meaningful to us.”

“It is hard.”

In her conclusion, she also goes on to say “… I want you to know it takes hard work to get out of those dark places, too. I want you to know that change is possible, but it’s not easy. It takes time and persistence, compassion and courage.
… there is so much that is possible, so much that can be done, no matter how long someone has lived with pain, no matter how many limitations they may have.”

Jolette also recently contributed, wrote, the first chapter in the Meanings of Pain, Volume 2, released last month. The interdisciplinary book – the second in the three-volume Meanings of Pain series edited by Dr Simon van Rysewyk “aims to better understand pain by describing experiences of pain and the meanings these experiences hold for the people living through them”.

In my work as a yoga therapist and Pain Care Yoga teacher, probably the most important part of my work is to listen to what the person in front of me is saying about their pain, their story, their life. Provide safety and support, work to empower the person in pain as they might learn to move, breathe and renew their own sense of meaning and purpose in the world.

If you are someone who suffers from chronic pain, know that there are people out there willing to listen. There is hope. Your pain CAN change.

Let’s all continue to advocate for, educate and push for more services and support for the 1 in 5 Canadians who need it most. Each and every person, in pain.

Peeling Back the Layers

Similar to the current biopsychosocial model used in the medical community when working with people suffering from chronic or persistent pain, yoga therapists utilize a comparable framework or philosophy, that being the panca maya kosha model.

The felted model above (by my colleague @meyogalune) beautifully illustrates how we might look at, explore and peel back the many layers of our existence when working with someone therapeutically. We are, after all, more than a body of tissue and matter.

What does this mean, exactly?

Let me provide a very general, simplistic idea of what each represents:

  1. Annamaya kosha. You can think of this generally, as the physical layer.
  2. Pranamaya kosha, or the energetic layer.
  3. Manomaya kosha, or the mental/emotional layer.
  4. Vijnanamaya kosha, or the mind. We might also refer to this as intellect or wisdom.
  5. Anandamaya kosha, or the spiritual, blissful layer. What I prefer to call the meaning and purpose of someone’s self, or life.

What happens sometimes in our current medical system is the person is looked at, evaluated by and treated in terms of the physical layer only or from a biomedical model, rather than a biopsychosocial model. This can be due to a multitude of reasons but I’ll highlight just a couple, below.

One, that may be surprising to you, is how many of our medical professionals are provided little training, specifically, in pain. (1) “In a review of 10 Canadian Universities across 7 provinces… 68% of programs were unable to specify any designated hours for pain education and veterinary students were shown to receive 2-5 times more pain education than that of health science students (Watt-Watson et.al., 2009).  Educational content also typically lacks integration of biological aspects with the psychosocial factors that contribute to the experience of pain (Wideman et. al., 2019b).”

Another reason might also be lack of time that’s allocated to people given our over-burdened system and/or accessibility into “self-management programs that educate people about their condition and build their capacity to take action.” (2)

What is now understood about pain and as stated in the IASP definition, pain is “An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage. ” You might think of it as an ‘actual, or potential threat to the system’, that system or organism, being YOU. Your whole person.

And often these threats to the system are just under your level of awareness. Or as David Butler says “DIMs and SIMs can hide in hard to find places”.  Referencing DIMs as being the Danger in Me, while SIMs as being the Safety in Me. (If you want a brief explanation of this concept, here’s a link.)

We will experience pain when our credible evidence of danger related to our body is greater than our credible evidence of safety related to our body. Equally we won’t have pain when our credible evidence of safety is greater than our credible evidence of danger (Moseley and Butler 2015, pp14).

categories-of-dimssims

People sometimes think that their pain problem is, or must be, something physical. Or, sadly, they think or are told, that its all in their head. Pain is complex and by bringing a sense of curiosity to explore many areas, layers or koshas and how they might be affecting you either positively (perhaps a SIM) or negatively (maybe a DIM) we might just change this human experience, we call pain. Your experience of pain.

If you’re interested in exploring this further, I offer both private sessions or group classes utilizing this approach. Along with awareness, exploratory and gentle movement practices, I always add in an educational aspect or some yoga philosophy in line with what we know about pain and how you can learn to be your own best resource. Click here, to see my current schedule. 

References above are from ‘A Report by the Canadian Pain Task Force, June 2019’. You can read the full report here, if interested. 

(1) “…the current state of pain education in Canada remains inadequate across disciplines, with significant knowledge gaps in both pre- and post-licensure contexts (NASME, 2019; Thompson et. al., 2018).” On page 21 of the report.

(2)  “Research in 2005-2006 indicated the median wait time for a first appointment at a MPTC was 6 months….. In a recent update to this work, researchers found little change in the wait times, noting in 2017-2018 the median wait time still hovered around 5.5 months, with some people waiting up to 4 years to access to multidisciplinary pain care (Choinière et. al., 2019).”  On page 18 of the report.

 

Yoga and Science in Pain Care

How might we blend yoga with science to provide pain care to people? A new book just released provides a way forward.

“Our vision is for this book to improve care for people living in pain, whether acute or chronic pain. We believe health care professionals and yoga therapists can enhance care through deeper understanding of pain, science and evidence-informed interventions. We also believe that professionals can enhance their work through integrating yoga concepts, practices and philosophies. As such, this book is meant to bridge yoga, pain science and evidence-informed rehabilitation … and will inform those committed to helping people with this largely undertreated issue that causes so much suffering in the world.” –  Preface, Yoga and Science in Pain Care; Edited by Neil Pearson, Shelly Prosko, Marlysa Sullivan

The first chapter by Joletta Belton is about the “Lived Experience of Pain” highlighting to me the need to listen to, acknowledge and consider first, the person and their experience.

“The authors provide an integrated, in-depth understanding of how yoga therapy can be incorporated within a modern understanding of pain as an experience. The book encompasses perspectives from people living with pain, summarises research progress in the field, debates theories of pain and pain management, considers the many different yoga practices, describes pain biology, self-regulation and examines breath, body awareness, nutrition, emotions and response to pain, and above all, integrates concern for practitioners and people in pain as humans sharing an intangible experience together. The authors write about how yoga therapy can provide a uniting and compassionate approach to helping people learn to live well.”

– Bronwyn Lennox Thompson, PhD, MSc, DipOT, Postgraduate Academic Programme Leader, Pain and Pain Management, Orthopaedic Surgery and Musculoskeletal Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch, NZ

There are a lot of yoga books on shelves these days. Yoga for this, yoga for that. You name it; it’s being written about. The trouble with this and certainly when talking about pain is the approach is about the condition, the problem, the illness or disease. What’s often left out is the person. Which may be one of the reasons why we fail in helping people.

After all, your pain is not the same as my pain. Not only is the physical aspect different, my body different, my genetics, my structure. Almost more important is the rest of ‘me’ that’s different from ‘you’.

My life history is different from yours. My environment is different from yours. My stressors are probably not your stressors. My understanding of pain probably differs from yours. My expectations, beliefs and thoughts about my pain will be different from yours. My social structures, friends, family, work-life will all be different. So how might we believe we can just apply this ‘fix’ to everyone who experiences pain? It just doesn’t make sense, when you think about it. Particularly when we understand that pain… is… complex.

We, therefore, should look to explore and be curious about all the things that might be contributing to your particular experience of pain. Similarly, individualize the care, tools, techniques and practices with what research tells us might be useful, to change your pain.

You may have had pain for years. Like 30+ years or more. Still, there is an opportunity for change based on what we know about pain and how it works. There is much still to learn but we can change the nervous system, We can change the brain. We can change physiology and most likely all three of these have been changed if your pain has been ongoing.

Pain can change. There is hope. I will keep saying this over and over and over again …

If you’re the type that likes read and learn about this yourself, order a copy of the book, here.

If you’re the type that would like to learn from me in person or in a class setting with others, check out my updated schedule for the fall, here. New classes starting in September!

Additional notes:

Joletta Belton, as noted above, writes a blog “My Cuppa Joe” about the lived experience of pain. Among other things, she is a speaker, educator and advocate for people in pain. You can read her blog, here.

Bronwyn Lennox Thompson also writes a blog “Healthskills: For health professionals supporting chronic pain self management.” An exceptional resource for information, research, and discussion. You can check it out here.