One of the things I really admire about Neil Pearson’s approach to chronic pain treatment is his optimism about our ability to re-train our nervous systems, once they’ve become sensitized to pain.
Chronic pain is obviously not a cheerful topic. Those of us who’ve struggled with it know what it’s like to come home from the doctor’s office feeling totally hopeless (or worse, insulted).
Then, on the other end of the spectrum, are the people who promise things that are too good to be true. In the six years I struggled with chronic pain before discovering Neil Pearson’s work, I tried just about everything under the sun. Over time, I came to find that the more optimistic someone was about their ability to “cure” my pain for good, the less their treatments actually helped in the end.
Neil’s approach is totally different, because while he has a very optimistic view on our ability to change our pain, his work is very much grounded in science, thanks to his training as a physiotherapist.
(By the way: if you’re new to my blog and don’t know who Neil Pearson is, or why I’m writing about him, you should probably start here!).
Recently, I’ve been looking through some of Neil’s older, open-access materials, which are now available under the “Resources” section of my blog (thank you, Neil!). Although I’ve been familiar with Neil’s work for a while now, I hadn’t yet seen these. I found them really interesting, because they provide a window into the thought process behind his unique perspective.
In particular, his article on the “Optimistic Scientific Recovery Model,” laid out a few key points that I felt like I’d sometimes struggled to articulate to people, so I thought I’d share them with you now.
Basically, Neil’s work is about helping people find a way to get past the limits of what they, or their doctors, had thought their recovery from pain might be.
His work is not meant to take the place of other medical interventions. Instead, it’s geared toward patients who have fully pursued all of their treatment options, and are still in pain. In other words, it’s for the patients whose doctors say there’s nothing else that can be done.
Neil’s point is that something else can be done. And in my own personal experience, that something else can be life-changing.
It’s all based on the concept of neuroplasticity– the idea that, with enough practice, we can begin to change the way our nervous systems function.
There are many different aspects to how we can begin to try to change our nervous systems. I’ve written about pain neurophysiology education before– the idea that when we learn more about how pain works, as well as what’s happening in our bodies overall, it can begin to diminish some of the emotional effect that that fear has on us.
However, as I read through Neil’s articles, I’m reminded that there are many other different angles to exploring chronic pain/neuroplasticity. For example, in the “Optimistic Scientific Recovery Model,” he also writes about the importance of mindfulness and body awareness; learning to relax our bodies instead of remaining tense, which only increases pain. It’s not just about exercises to increase strength; it’s about learning to move mindfully, in beneficial ways (something I know I personally could work on!).
He also talks about the idea that we can distract the nervous system from focusing pain by giving it other information to process. Things like breathing exercises, meditation, and visualizations can all help accomplishing this, as can rhythmic movements such as gum chewing. (I first wrote about this a few weeks ago, and it still blows my mind! For more about the gum-chewing study, click here).
I really think that Neil’s approach has the potential to help a lot of people– which is, of course, why I’m always talking about it on this blog.
Since I started working on this blog a few years ago, I have met so many great, interesting people who have been suffering from pain for a long time, and are taking matters into their own hands by doing their own research. Open-access articles like these can be a great jumping-off point. Some of them are geared more towards other medical professionals than to patients, but hey: information is power. I think there are a lot of great ideas contained within these articles, which is why I’m so happy to share them with you.
For more articles like this, check out:
and many others to be found under the Resource section of my blog!
And, of course, Neil’s website is www.lifeisnow.ca. He has updated it recently with a lot of really great new resources for both chronic pain patients and medical professionals– you should absolutely check it out!