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The Reason for non-traumatic pain

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Thankfully these days there is more and more evidence showing that chronic pain is often not actually due to trauma, or damage to cells in the body, but to psychosocial stresses.

People new to this concept sometimes believe erroneously that we are saying “their pain is all in their head”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact from my 30 years’ experience as a Physio, I would now agree with pioneers in this field, that if a persistent symptom is not due to a tissue damaging disorder, such as cancer, infection, a fracture or an auto-immune disorder, then it is a psychophysiologically induced condition.  This is a bold statement bearing in mind the materialistic world we live in, where everything has to be tangible and the widespread belief is that pain is due to a physical cause.

A question I am often asked is “Why would our own body cause us pain?” It seems strange and often frightening.  Many people fear not only their pain but anything to do with it, sometimes believing they have to “fight” it or use positive psychology to distract themselves from it.  Yet fighting it often causes internal resistance and actually adds to the underlying cause of the psychophysiological pain.  Although positive psychology can definitely help, if the underlying cause is not acknowledged, then pain will often only be managed, rather than cured.  The pain itself is a result of the stimulation of the emotional part of the brain which sets up a response in the body via the unconscious part of the nervous system. In fact it is this same system which causes any other emotional response in the body, such as the ‘fight and flight’ response to fear, blushing with embarrassment and an erection.

Why does pain occur when it’s not due to an injury?

One or more of the following explanations often help my patients understand and accept how their symptoms become a reflection of what is going on in their mind, consciously or unconsciously.

1)      The symptoms are caused by the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which is responsible for all the automatic processes in the body. E.g. digestion, heartbeat, breathing, bladder function, hormone regulation etc.  It is also responsible for our primitive fight and flight response, or our Stress Response.  This is how our body reacts automatically and unconsciously to a stressor or fear.  Psychophysiological pain can be seen to be a maladapted ‘fight and flight’ response.  In other words the pain is the mind-body’s way of protecting us from something we perceive, however falsely, to be a threat to us.

For example, pain such as backpain, whiplash and RSI, often develops to protect us from being overwhelmed by how we feel.  We unconsciously ‘fear’; having an emotional meltdown, making a fool of ourselves, not living up to our own exacting expectations or even someone else’s, what other people think of us, how we might react if we allow our intense anger to surface etc

Specific examples:

a) One patient of mine had been unable to write for a few months.  If he wrote more than a few words his arm would go ‘dead’ and he was physically unable to write.  He had collapsed with life threatening heart problems and remembered he had been writing when he collapsed.  In this case his brain had incorrectly and unconsciously linked writing as being related to his near death experience.  His arm going ‘dead’then became his maladapted response in this instance to protect him from dying if he wrote. 

b) One of my patients was 79 years old and although reasonably active and independently mobile, her daughter popped in every day to keep an eye on her.  This lady suddenly developed severe and debilitating back pain after her daughter told her she was going to Australia for a month.  Despite extensive spinal degeneration which would have been present for years, this pain was a response to the fear of being left on her own and having strangers visiting her daily from the Home Care team.

2)      According to John Sarno MD, pioneer of the work around TMS, or Tension Myoneural Syndrome, the pain creates a distraction from the underlying emotions.  Basically our focus is so much on the pain that it distracts us from what are sometimes very difficult to deal with emotional memories.  The pain therefore allows us to cope and carry on with life without falling apart emotionally, which is socially unacceptable.

3)      Another way to understand how the pain is there to protect us, rather than punish us, is to recognise it is our body’s way of telling us to slow down and take time out.  For example, consider the adult part of you as the part that makes you do what you ‘ought to’, or ‘should do’.  Then consider your inner child, which resists the adult expectations.  This is the part of you that ‘can’t be bothered’, says ‘it’s not fair’, ‘I can’t do it’ or ‘I don’t want to’.  The internal turmoil between the two can in itself cause psychophysiological symptoms.  In fact it can help to consider your symptoms as being a result of your inner child crying out for help, or urging you to back off and take a break.  Unfortunately persistent symptoms occur when we don’t recognise these messages and just push on despite everything.

a)      Pain often results from perpetually being on the go, never taking time out from constant distractions, such as the TV, radio, reading, socialising, computer, work etc.  The inner child ‘kicks off’, trying to get you to take time out to ‘defuse’, relax and allow the unconscious mind to process everything that’s happened and acknowledge how you feel, which it can’t effectively do while being constantly bombarded by sensory and information overload.

b)      Pain can also result from having to cope with difficult situations or traumas, or the triggering of emotional memories from the past.  Your inner child might be crying out for help, feeling he/she can’t cope anymore.

c)       Internal resistance might also be caused by your learned beliefs, behaviours and attitudes.  E.g. a belief that you’re not good enough, being judgemental of others or your behaviour if one of your ‘buttons has been pressed’. This inner turmoil between the inner adult and child causes self-induced stress, resulting in symptoms.

d)      Finally pain might be your inner child’s way of telling you to back off from your constant negative inner chatter.  This might be due to you being overly self-critical, your need to be good or perfect, conscientious or analysing everything.  These traits can create huge amounts of self-induced stress which manifests as psychophysiological symptoms. 

All these can be modified once recognised, as you respond to your inner child’s attempts to back off and learn to be kind to yourself.

However you understand your symptoms, the more allowing you are of them, the more chance you have of getting to the bottom of them.  If you fight and resist them, unfortunately, ‘what you resist, persists’.  The good news though, is that because psychophysiological symptoms are reversible, full recovery is possible.


Your Key to Recovery

 'Chronic Pain: your key to recovery', by Georgie Oldfield MCSP, the first UK-written book about this cutting edge approach.

Find out more about how you could recover from chronic pain and other persistent health problems and the click through to buy from Amazon.

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What others say ...

Hazel Cross - back pain, anxiety & depression

After suffering from severe back pain and anxiety and depression I was constantly seeking a cure for my pain which became very expensive and I was finding I had reactions to pain medication. I felt a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders when I finally met Georgie and she assessed me.  At first I was naturally skeptical, but now I realise it was the best approach. I am now virtually pain free and would highly recommend Georgie and the SIRPA programme. It all clicked into place when I read the programme and  I still read it every now and again. I am much more active now than I used to be because before I was unable to go outside. I hope you will find help from Georgie whom I highly recommend.

Irene - update 4 years after recovery

I am totally pain free in both legs .... and feel wonderful.   I enjoy life so much and will always be grateful to you and Dr. Sarno.  Whenever I get a twinge of (what used to be) sciatica, I can will it away by just using the techniques you taught me, but that happens very rarely.   I thoroughly enjoy the SIRPA newsletter you send out every month and always read it avidly. You're doing such great work and I love the fact that you're going from strength to strength, expanding and spreading your knowledge to others who need help.

L.Phillips - hand & back pain

"This is not a quick fix but if you want to get to the root of your pain and are prepared to go on a journey that will last a lifetime, then the SIRPA programme is for you. The online material will provide you with all the tools you need to understand and change your pain, but the assessment and ongoing support from Georgie was essential for me. Just knowing I could quickly email any worries if anything went wrong was a great comfort and knowing I had a regular appointment helped me maintain the momentum and keep going. I would recommend the programme to anyone who is struggling with pain that cannot be explained or has no serious underlying cause."

C. Henderson - Backpain

"The work I have done with Georgie has been life changing... I have been working through the SIRPA online program at my own pace (as I have a little baby) and booked a package of 1:1 sessions with Georgie, which we carried out on Skype. The online program is so well structured & the 1:1 sessions were a wonderful supportive lifeline, especially when I experienced setbacks. Georgie always promptly, professionally & compassionately responded to my emails in between sessions. She is hugely knowledgeable, supportive & practices what she preaches, which makes her approach so genuine." 

Sally - Sciatica

I had been following the SIRPA online programme for nearly 3 weeks before deciding that I would benefit from seeing Georgie in person. I was very glad I attended the appointment and it was well worth the 3 hour journey from London! (Which in itself was a challenge that a month prior I would never have tackled!) Seeing Georgie really helped me feel like I was less alone in my pain, I felt the face-to-face contact with Georgie spurred me forward in understanding and accepting that I have been suffering from stress-illness. Having a physical examination and Georgie talking me through different examples that were similar to my own experiences, really helped me feel motivated and encouraged in continuing my path on the online SIRPA Recovery Programme. 

L.Stoddart - patient

Georgie is absolutely dedicated to trying to improve the lives of chronic pain sufferers by helping us to understand what lies behind our pain and giving us the tools with which we can turn our lives around and end what, for some of us, has been years of pain. She is smart, enthusiastic and very approachable and will bend over backwards to give additional support when required.  From my own experience with Georgie I can wholeheartedly recommend her to all chronic pain sufferers.

Amaya from Spain

I have no words to say how thankful I am for Georgie's support. From the very first contact on the phone, she was keen to help,  inspiring me trust and confidence.  She has been key in my recovery. The fact that she has a background as a Physiotherapist really helps because she perfectly understands what you mean when speaking about physical symptoms. You can tell she is passionate for what she does and her work is enhanced by her human touch and sensitiveness.  Amaya, Spain

James Wiltshire

"I hope that all is well with you and your mission. I sent you a few emails last year and you were so incredibly helpful.  Dr Sarno's work and your help meant that I have gone from chronic RSI on statutory sick pay to going self-employed musician. I have never felt more balance and physically I really feel best ever! I would always recommend people to you Georgie."

Carol - backpain and prolapsed disc

"I've been testing and pushing myself to the limit.  e.g. climbing trees, zooming down 150 feet high zip wires, climbing over un-mentionable obstacles.  Cycling up and down some very severe hills, camping and sleeping on the floor, moving furniture and lifting and manoeuvring a very heavy wardrobe!  All of which I have not done for at least 20 years for fear of hurting and making my back worse.  Thanks once again Georgie."

Wayne Kampers MRCPsych

"Georgina has an infectious and warm disposition. She is passionate about the Mind-Body link and her dedication to establishing what is still not accepted in mainstream healthcare is admirable and refreshing. She believes she can make a difference and because her belief is unshakable she does make a difference! The world could do with a lot more people like her.” Consultant Psychiatrist

Professional Endorsements

Member of the Royal Society of Medicine