Do You Struggle Applying the Principles of Pain Science?
Over the past several decades, pain scientists and researchers have made great progress in understanding and explaining pain. Unfortunately, even when the biology of pain appears to be simple, the answer is never straightforward. Each human being has their own set of experiences which impacts how they perceive pain. Science has shown us that using a biopsychosocial approach is integral in addressing these factors. This includes identifying one's biological, psychological, and sociological aspects that may be contributing to their pain. While this sounds great on the surface, it can be hard to apply these principles with each patient.
The Basics of Teaching about the Science of Pain
From my personal experiences, I cannot stress the importance of building a therapeutic alliance with the patient. As health and wellness providers, the ability to understand someone’s needs and tailor one’s language toward these needs will significantly influence the outcome of their situation. Building a strong therapeutic alliance is first and foremost! After a therapeutic alliance has been created, then the multiple factors that impact someone's pain can be explored.
Three main areas I address are mindfulness, nutrition, and sleep (with the primary one being mindfulness). Each of these areas play an important role in the sensitivity of the nervous system. Addressing these factors can reduce the sensitivity in the body’s alarm system to foster an environment of healing.
Strategies I Use to Implement Mindfulness
1) Manual Therapy: During manual therapy, I ask the question, "what do you feel?" This question brings awareness and perception to the patient's body part. It forces them to describe their current environment and take ownership over the symptoms they are experiencing.
2) Keeping a Journal of Symptoms: Journaling allows the patient to describe their situation and environment. It brings context around time, location, and external factors that may be influencing pain. With each journal entry, patterns will be identified that can help alleviate the onset of pain.
3) Meditation as Mindfulness. Identifying strategies to calm down the nervous system is beneficial. While this may seem to foreign for most people, meditation can be great for activating the parasympathetic nervous system- slowing down the heart rate and allowing the body to rest.
It is simply not enough to tell a patient to be more mindful OR watch what they eat! As a profession, we must do a better job providing solutions and offering resources to assist with the multiple factors of pain.
-Jim Heafner PT, DPT, OCS
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