This is the second part in a series about a life-changing experience I had in physical therapy. To start from the beginning, check out Part One.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I think Tim expected me to be disappointed, or maybe even to contradict him. After all, he basically just told this patient who had been in pain for months, thinking that she was injured, that there wasn’t as much “wrong” with her body has she thought.
But I was excited. My curiousity was piqued.
After all, I knew there was something wrong with me that no one had figured out yet. I could tell that my body wasn’t functioning normally. I mean, I was twenty-five, and in more pain than my eighty-six year old grandmother. I was so happy to have someone propose a theory to me that sounded as though it made scientific sense, and didn’t ultimately hinge upon my “being depressed” or “focusing on the pain too much” (both of which were things I had been hearing from healthcare professionals for years).
Tim explained that he and all of his coworkers had attended an advanced training together on recent developments in pain science. The way he said “pain science” was very specific; it sounded different than what doctors usually meant when they referred to “pain management.”
Tim explained that the training had taught him to view pain totally differently; that he and his colleagues had learned all sorts of things they hadn’t learned in physical therapy school. After the training, he’d realized that much of what he’d learned about pain was wrong, that most physical therapists and doctors had it wrong.
What he learned is that sometimes, in people whose bodies have been through some kind of painful or traumatic physical ordeal, the nervous system can starts working differently. It start overreacting to different stimuli, and cause the person to feel pain when he or she ordinarily wouldn’t.
“It’s as though your body has decided that everything is dangerous,” he said. “And that makes sense, after everything you’ve been through. Your body has been through so much that it’s like it thinks it’s made of glass, that even the slightest touch could break it. But you’re actually much tougher than that, and what we’re going to do is help your nervous system remember that you aren’t made of glass.”
I was excited and confused at the same time. Tim told me not to worry if it didn’t make sense right away, that it might take a few appointments for me to really understand.
The first thing I had to do, he said, was to go home and watch three online lectures, given by the same instructor who’d led his training. He urged me, in fact, to watch them more than once, to really pour over them and get everything out of them that I could. But I had to promise to watch each one at least once before our next appointment.
If you’re a longtime reader of my blog, you’ve probably guessed that the person who gave these online lectures is Neil Pearson.
I really can’t say enough good things about his work.
Once I went home and started playing these lectures on the computer, things really began to click. I have to admit, it was hard to stay focused, but not because it was boring. Instead, it was because every new thing Neil said made me think of my past. All of these experiences where I’d felt like a big weirdo, where I’d been too embarrassed to let anyone know how overwhelmed I was by certain stimuli because I knew it wasn’t normal, suddenly made sense.
The lectures talked about how pain isn’t always a sign that something’s wrong in the body. Instead, it is your body’s way of warning you about things. And it turns out that the body isn’t always right about what it can and can’t handle.
I realized it was as though someone had come along when I wasn’t looking and lowered my pain and physical irritation threshold. It was as if I was playing Limbo, and the people holding the stick decided to lower it from the height of my neck to the height of my shins. You can’t play Limbo when the stick is that low. And you can’t go through life normally when your “pain threshold” is only a fifth of what everyone else’s is.
As I listened to the stories in Neil’s lectures, I began to recognize myself in them. I realized that my nervous system had been on edge, for years. It wasn’t because I was crazy. It wasn’t because I was depressed. In fact, it was something that was happening totally out of my conscious control.
At one point in the lecture, Neil began to describe the chemical and physical changes which occur in the nervous system as a response to pain, both within the brain and in the spinal cord. These changes are what cause the change in how a person experiences pain. This was so much bigger than “you’re depressed.” And it was actual science; like, the kind with evidence.
Of course I had a lot of questions after watching these videos, but from that moment on, I knew things were going to change for me. Finally, an answer that made scientific sense, and which seemed to have a solution.
To be continued in Part 3!
And because I know you’ll want to check out the videos now, they are:
Neil Pearson: Overcome Pain, Live Well Again