Hello dears! I’ve just had an incredible life changing experience that I feel like I must share with you!
It’s about pain.
I recently experienced a dramatic reduction in knee pain overnight. Like from a 7 to a 1. I learned a piece of information about pain science that was new to me. You might not believe me and that’s ok because honestly, before experiencing it, I didn’t believe it.
There is a theory about pain. It’s got a bunch of names — TMS, PPD, Neural Pathway Pain, Mind-Body Syndrome… the basic premise is that chronic pain and many chronic medical conditions are the brain/nervous system’s response to fear or unconscious strong negative emotions. Sounds like bs. I know. Sounds like being blamed for your pain or that your pain isn’t real. Neither of those statements are true.
But apparently the brain sees the fear or unexpressed feelings as a bigger threat to your survival and therefore offers you some REAL frigging pain as a distraction.
When I thought of chronic pain and therapy it was about managing ones feelings about being in chronic pain. And that there were some mindfulness based techniques that could help reduce pain through stress management but that the pain was caused by physical musculoskeletal issues that are based in the body, like torn meniscii, damaged tissues, bulging discs and so on, shit doctors see on an MRI or x-ray.
As a body based movement practitioner, I was more interested in body based solutions to pain. But TMS theory says the cure for chronic pain is found in FEELING YOUR FEELINGS. Well hello, I’ve never been so damned motivated to explore my darker more painful feelings in my life. Again, I’m simplifying it, but can you see how it’s fundamentally different. The pain in the body is no longer needed when the nervous system can believe that it’s safe. The unexpressed feelings are a source of fear to the brain. No fear, no need for a giant alarm bell. And it’s not like you’ll never have pain again, I mean all humans have the full range of sensations but the mind’s need for chronic pain goes away.
To me this theory makes sense if you view the bodymind the way that I do, that everything in our ecosystems are always working as designed and organized around one principal, SURVIVAL. Our limbic brain just doesn’t have that many nuanced tools. It’s like living with a lizard that only has an alarm bell it can ring for attention.
And it’s not like there isn’t plenty of things to be afraid of, besides fires, earthquakes, the lack of affordable housing and healthcare it’s especially scary for queer & trans folx, poor folx, bipoc people, fat and disabled folx, people with childhood trauma and high ACE scores. Then there are the internal threats of perfectionism, self criticism, people pleasing, hyper-vigilance and what Dr. Sarno called personality Type T like me aka a “goodist”. https://www.mindbodydissonance.com/top-eight-most-likely-personality-traits-of-people-with-tms/
Our survival brain is always scanning for threats. We will always find them. It is part of being human. A scary feeling is not a bear, but our brain doesn’t know it won’t kill us. I’m simplifying, but that’s a framework that helps me. In some ways, I find it relaxing to think that my bodymind is working the way it’s been designed, rather than being broken. I’m not broken. Our society is broken. We think negative feelings aren’t ok. We rush through to feeling OK when we’re far from OK.
So between my self story that I’m always overdoing it and injuring myself, a giant dose of imposter syndrome, being told by the world that by existing as a fat person I’m basically destroying my joints, and my biomechanics curiosity in which I’ve trained myself to be constantly evaluating what’s happening on the inside of my body, my knees were holding all my fear.
After getting an x-ray and an osteo-arthritis diagnosis, I somehow stumbled my way to the Curable App. I started my pain science education, brain games and meditations they offer and I woke up the next day with 50% less pain. Then by the end of my 6 client work day I had 95% less pain. I’ve resumed hiking with little to no pain. Suffice it to say I feel convinced of the validity of this work. I also know a number of people who have reduced their physical pain, especially migraines (my friend Susan in this article) and back pain with this work – https://techcrunch.com/2017/10/08/curing-the-incurable/ – there’s also many stories of people with IBS, Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, Sciatica and more being helped as well.
My main thought about my body has shifted from “hey body why are you in pain”, to “hello body, I see you are trying to show me I’m feeling unsafe, let’s examine that premise”…. I’m much more relaxed in general and feeling much less frustrated and antagonistic with myself. I can’t wait to dive in deeper.
What does this mean for you and I? Nothing really. I’m down the curiosity rabbit hole as I like to go; starting therapy with the Psychology Pain Center, reading work about poly-vagal theory and social safety, and other pain psychology concepts to help me craft my future work around restorative exercise. I will continue to share resources I find useful and credible.
You might experience some shifts in my language around pain when we work together. I might remind you that you’re ok. I might remind you that our bodies are designed to heal. Living tissues are malleable, robust and adaptive. The brain is also not fixed and can be rewired. Nothing is set in stone and if we are willing to challenge the stories told about our bodies by ourselves or others.
I might ask you to explore all the ways you’re already taking care of yourself. I kinda think I do that anyway. I don’t need for you to believe in this theory as the basis for your chronic pain. I’m not interested in convincing you of anything. My massage techniques and practices remain the same. My dedication to your well-being is about ALL of you, not just what’s hurting. But if you are hurting and are open to new ideas, I invite you and your curiosity to explore these resources:
Most (all?) of these resources are from white people. I will add and highlight any POC therapists, Drs or coaches I find that are doing TMS work. TMS theory does hold that impacts of systems of oppression, trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences are in play with chronic pain but it’s not yet reflected in the practitioners and coaches offering support services. I hope this changes soon as people of color are adversely affected by chronic pain and threats to their safety due to White Supremacy.
PODCASTS – I haven’t listened to all episodes. Listen with your own critical thinking mind. You don’t have to agree with everything everyone says to find some insights that might be applicable to your life. I haven’t stumbled across any fat phobia bs but you know that’s often found in “wellness” spaces so it might be something that pops up.
I know this is a lot. I just want you to know that I think you’re amazing. If this helps just one of you to feel better and be in less pain or distress I will be a happy camper. My suggestion is that if this resonated with you, open your mind to the idea that everything in your body is ok and see what happens.