How could meditation possibly cure my pain? That’s impossible, isn’t it?

Channel Nine news in Brisbane recently ran a story about using “mindfulness” to treat back pain. A couple of patients have since asked me about it, so I thought I’d use that story as a catalyst for this month’s piece.

What is “mindfulness”?  Mindfulness is a form of brain exercise in which you try to keep your thoughts only in the present. While doing this meditation you attempt to let go of worries, thoughts and judgments, and concentrate only on observing yourself; most people find it easiest to focus on the inward and outward flow of their breath. Once you have achieved this state of mindfulness, you can then add other mental techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation and positive thinking.

But, I hear you wondering, how could such a simple technique help overcome back pain? Surely fixing my bulging disc, relaxing my tight muscles or loosening my worn out joints have more to do with curing my pain than some silly meditation?

"Back Pain: How to get rid of it Forever"

I pondered this question myself at length many years ago when researching for my book “Back pain: How to get rid of it Forever'”.

I spoke with psychologists and doctors, and examined a lot of research, including some very interesting work done on chimpanzees. I gradually realized that psychological approaches to pain are one of many tools that you have at your disposal to help you improve your health. Just like stretching and strengthening exercises, physio treatment, good nutrition and keeping fit are all a part of the holistic treatment of conditions such as back pain, having the correct mental approach is another weapon that you can use to cure yourself. Even better, once you master the meditation techniques they are free!

As a result of my studies into the psychological aspects of back pain, I expanded the relevant chapters into a separate booklet entitled “Using your Brain to get Rid of your pain”. (Keep reading for free gifts at the end of this article!) This booklet explains how your mindset can either cause or help to cure physical ailments such as headaches, back pain and even arthritis.

It’s a very complex subject, but the summary is as follows:

Stressed mum

Modern day stress can arise from many sources

Stress from any cause – not enough money, fighting with your partner, or just being too busy with a young family etc etc – induces a reaction in your body known as the fight-or-flight response. In this state your body releases hormones and other chemicals designed to help you fight (to save your life) or to run away from danger. In ancient times this response was useful, but nowadays, when our worries are often more prolonged than being attacked by a dinosaur, the fight-or-flight response gets in the way. Ultimately it can cause pain and other physical symptoms.

How does the fight-or-flight response cause such pains and problems? First, the released hormones change your bodily systems so that blood flow and energy are diverted to your muscles in preparation for battle or escape. To facilitate this it shuts down or minimizes background systems such as repair and maintenance. This state is fine for a few minutes, but if maintained through a long stressful period then damage will eventually accumulate due to the low background rate of your body’s repair systems. This can cause many symptoms such as stomach problems, skin conditions, artery damage and even physical joint pain.

Second, the constantly heightened state of muscle activity causes them to become tight and overactive. Other muscles, especially the deep core muscles that are of little use in a fight-or-flight situation, become weak. This imbalance then causes joints and tendons to be moved incorrectly, and slightly out of alignment. When this faulty movement pattern is repeated thousands of times the joint, tendon or disc becomes worn out, inflamed and painful. Voila! Your mind has caused you pain!

muscle imbalance

Muscle imbalances cause injury!

Third, if your mind is in a heightened state of stress then it is far more susceptible to sensory input. For example, imagine you are sitting around a campfire in a completely relaxed frame of mind and you hear a twig break. You’d probably ignore it altogether. But now imagine that you’re stressed and anxious and hear that same sound – you’d probably jump and startle. Why? You’re anxious mind is in a flight-or-flight state, and is searching for any sign of danger. When in this state, all sensory input is heightened – including pain. So the same injury will feel worse when you are stressed compared to when you are relaxed.

So there are many well-established pathways by which your frame of mind can directly cause or heighten injuries and wear-and-tear. By learning mindfulness and other relaxation techniques you will have another method with which to help yourself feel better.

Old version - isn't that cover just awful?

Old version – isn’t that cover just awful?

To finish this article I have two special offers! First, to all readers of this blog I would like to offer a complimentary copy of an audio MP3 entitled Using your brain to get rid of your pain. To use this file simply follow the link to our publishing web site, download the file and transfer to your phone or MP3 player. You can use this track to help you master the skills of meditation and mindfulness.

The second gift is an offer to Bulimba and Mansfield PhysioWorks patients ONLY. I have recently released a new version of the booklet “Using your brain to get rid of your

The new edition of "Using your brain..." Available as e-book or in print form amazon.

The new edition of “Using your brain…” Available as e-book or in print form amazon.

pain.” However I still have some old copies of the first edition in stock. So if you would like a complimentary copy of the original booklet (it’s the one pictured here with that awful yellow cover) , please simply contact your nearest PhysioWorks centre and let us know.

Other readers can purchase the new edition of the booklet (as an e-book or in print) at a very low price from Amazon or your favourite online book store.

So start relaxing now and reap the benefits, not just for your mind, but for your physical pain and problems as well!

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Arthritis: do I have it? What can I do about it?

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a group of musculoskeletal conditions in which there is wearing and inflammation of the joints causing chronic pain, swelling and stiffness.  Nearly 3.3 million Australians have a disability due to arthritis and related conditions, and more than half of these have chronic or recurrent pain. Even though many different conditions are labeled as arthritis,they each have very different causes and so require different treatments. The most common forms of arthritis are:

  • Osteoarthritis (OA). This is by far the most common type. It is caused by wear-and-tear that grinds away at the smooth lining of cartilage that covers the joint surfaces, exposing the rougher bone underneath. This process causes pain, stiffness, creaking and sometimes swelling. osteoarthritis_diag
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) This is an inflammatory disease that primarily attacks the small joints in the hands and feet. It is caused by a dysfunctional immune system in which your own cells attack the joint linings.

    rhematoid arthritis

    rhematoid arthritis

  • Gout is usually found in the big toe joint. It is caused by a build up of crystals within the joint.
  • gout

    gout

  • There are many other different but rarer types of arthritis such as Ankylosing Spondylitis, Juvenile arthritis and Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus), just to name a few!

Is my sore joint arthritis?

There are many different reasons why your joints may be sore. Not all pain in your joints is caused by arthritis. It could be from an injury or using your joints and muscles in an unusual way (for example, playing a new sport or lifting heavy boxes). Talk to your physio if you have pain and stiffness that:

• starts for no clear reason

• lasts for more than a few days

• comes on with swelling, redness and warmth of your joints.

How can I find out if I have arthritis?

Your physio will ask you about your symptoms and examine your joints. They may do some tests or x-rays, but these can be normal in the early stages of arthritis.  Your physio may also send you to a doctor for blood tests, or to a specialist for a surgical opinion, if either is warranted.

The Role of Exercise

Moderate, regular exercise has been proven to aid in the prevention of arthritis, and offers you a host of side benefits.  Exercise can reduce your joint pain and stiffness, build strong muscles around your joints and increase your flexibility and endurance.

The Role of Physiotherapy

If you have OA you could benefit from physio work to loosen your joints, and electrotherapy to ease your pain and inflammation. We can also give you muscle strengthening exercises to realign your joints—almost like giving your car tyres a wheel alignment. Localized, specific massage techniques can also break up the ’rust’ from your affected joints, greatly reducing your pain.

hip stretch

Loosening a hip joint to lessen the effects of arthritis

Physiotherapy can reduce arthritic pain and reliance on drug therapy. Unlike pharmaceuticals, physiotherapy has few side effects or contraindications. So although arthritis is a chronic disease, treatment and management techniques can control and reduce the effects of the condition, and prevent further deterioration.

Almost like a miracle cure!

 

 

 

“How to get rid of joint pain that is bought on by cold and rainy weather.”

With autumn now approaching and the temperature starting to drop, you may hear a lot of people complain that their bone and joint discomfort worsens. This is a common statement around this time of year. This change can be due to a drop in barometric pressure.

rainy day

How does air pressure relate to joint pain? When there is less pressure on the outside of the joint it allows the swelling inside to increase just a tiny bit. This extra swelling can be the difference between a good day and a bad one.  Air pressure tends to drop even more when it is raining, so cold wet days often feel the worst.  

A hot bath or heat pack married with a good anti-inflammatory cream is often enough to ease the symptoms, but if you find your aches and pains are overstaying their  welcome then your best  treatment is, of course, a few sessions of physiotherapy.

The Role of Physiotherapy

Patients with arthritic or wear-and-tear  disorders may benefit from joint mobilization, electrotherapy,  hydrotherapy and muscle strengthening exercises. Localized, specific massage techniques can also break up the ’rust’ from the joint, greatly reducing the pain.  When done together, these techniques not only reduce the swelling and inflammation in a joint but they loosen it up, giving everything more room to move. This extra space means that the joint does not ache as much, even if the weather outside is cold or rainy.

The Role of Exercise

Moderate, regular exercise has been proven to aid in the prevention of arthritis and joint stiffness, and offers a host of benefits to  sufferers.  Exercise can reduce joint pain and stiffness, builds strong muscles around the joints and increases flexibility and endurance.

What type of exercise should I be doing?

  • Water exercise- such as aqua aerobics or swimming laps—especially if done in a warm pool. This non-weight bearing exercise provides the fitness without the joint pounding associated with land-based activities.
  • Tai chi, yoga, and stretching will help to get you looser if done on a  regular basis
  • Pilates will help to strengthen your core muscles and make sure that you are balanced. When your muscles are balanced your joints will move properly, minimizing the wear and tear.
  • Walking or light jogging, depending on your body’s general condition and specific problems such as knee or hip wear-and-tear.

Please contact us if you have any queries, especially aches that appear as the weather cools.

“What has a newspaper cartoon got to do with my back pain?”

A recent B.C. cartoon published in our local newspaper reminded me of the evolution of the human spine. Remarkably, the cartoonist goes a long way to explaining why about 3/4 of people end up with back pain at some stage of their lives.

cartoon

This cartoon remarkably goes a long way to explaining the prevalence of back pain. Read on to find out why.

The following extract is from my book “Back Pain: How to get rid of it Forever“. It takes a light-hearted look at the science behind this cartoon. Enjoy!

The Evolution of the Spine – from Elasmobranches to Human Beings

Mother Nature designed our spinal column over a very long period. Helped by her design team of natural selection and evolution, she gradually fashioned the extremely complex systems that form the human spine.

The process began about half a billion years ago, when an otherwise inconspicuous ocean-dwelling animal called an Elasmobranch developed a spine. The Elasmobranch’s spine was a flimsy affair, whose chief function was to provide protection for the bundle of nerve fibres that ran down the creature’s back. Despite this inauspicious beginning, the vertebral column had arrived.

Over the next lazy 100 million years or so, other sea life such as primitive fish slowly evolved spines. These spines were also very simple, and made from soft cartilage rather than bone. They gradually assumed another job besides protecting the nerves: to provide an attachment for the fish’s muscles. This extra control allowed them to swim, and thus survive, more efficiently.

Then, about 400 million years ago, the fish did something that had a huge effect on our spinal development: they migrated to land. With this audacious move came a new problem for the spine. Gravity.

Helped along by the very small changes that are evident from one generation to the next, these early amphibians gradually developed newer, different models of the spine. The quality control manager, natural selection, tested each new design. Those animals with more efficient spines had a better survival rate, meaning that their descendants, the reptiles, inherited better backs.

By the time mammals arrived about 250 million years ago, the vertebral column had developed many desirable characteristics:

• The individual building blocks of the spine were now constructed from dense bone rather than cartilage. This change allowed them to bear more weight.

• The vertebrae – the back bones – developed joint structures that allowed extra movement.

• Shock-absorbing mechanisms evolved that helped to protect the bones from fracturing in the rough-and-tumble of prehistoric Earth.

• Strange lumps and bumps of bone developed on the vertebrae. These protuberances provided leverage for muscle attachments, allowing more precise movement control.

For a time, everything was happy in Mother Nature’s spinal design department. She had an efficient, working model that allowed good movement, offered a firm attachment point for both muscles and ribs, while offering vital protection to essential nerve structures.

Then about fifteen million years ago, probably just on a boring Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon, all that contentment dramatically changed. Something happened that would alter the requirements of the spine, and therefore its structure, forever.

An apelike creature began to walk on two legs.

Why did the ape do this? Well, nobody knows for sure. However, scientists and anthropologists suspect that the motivation was so that the creature could use its front legs – its arms – for tasks such as using crude tools, or brandishing weapons for self defence. Two-legged stance also liberated the front legs for the useful purpose of carrying objects like food, or beer cans.

ape cartoon

Mother Nature and her design team now had a new function required of the spine: to support the trunk in the upright position. Suddenly, the architecture of the lower back needed a drastic overhaul.

Undoubtedly, the first versions were poor. Any decent spinal health practitioner would have made a fortune had they been around during these early reformative millennia. However, as the centuries ticked by, evolution again provided gradual improvements. The pelvis and hips gradually changed their alignment so that the legs were roughly in line the trunk, rather than jutting out at right angles like a quadruped’s limbs. The abdominal muscles also changed their function so that they supported the spine in an upright position, rather than simply being a sling for the stomach and intestines.

As we developed, tree climbing became an occasional diversion rather than a semi-permanent home. Our tails, which were no longer necessary, steadily disappeared … which I, for one, think is a bit of a shame. Imagine how much fun you could have at a party with a fully functioning tail.

Recently, only a mere two or three million years ago, we human beings emerged from the developing gene pool. We now walked upright most of the time. In response, the spine made one further adaptation: it developed some inward and outward curves. Besides providing some extra leverage for the postural muscles, the curves had a springlike effect that helped the spine to absorb shock.

Finally, after a 500 million-year journey that started with a mutant fish, the spine arrived at the current model.

Despite the miracle of design, I award Mother Nature only nine out of ten for her efforts in spinal architecture. Why the deducted mark?

The lower back is probably the weakest mechanical link in the entire human body. It is responsible for more musculoskeletal pain than any other area. Compared with other masterpieces like the brain and the hand, the lower back looks decidedly amateurish. Paradoxically, the probable reason for this weakness also lies in the mechanism of evolution.

In our earliest caveman days, health problems of all kinds beset the average human being. Even a simple cut or abrasion was often fatal, while the most common form of death was infection from tooth decay!

Because of these appalling health problems, most human beings died at a very young age, usually less than thirty. Of course, most reproduction and parenting had to be completed by the early twenties to squeeze into this limited lifespan.

Because of the early parenting age, the natural selection process had no chance to attack the residual problems in the lower part of the spine. Most people had already produced their offspring and/or were dead before they had even begun to develop a bad back, which, as we will see later, usually occurs first in early middle age.

So we passed this weak genetic link from one generation to the next, while it patiently waited to make its presence felt when the human lifespan elongated. Now, as the average length of life approaches eighty years, we are, as a race, suffering with far more back pain than our early ancestors could have imagined.

“Back Pain: How to get rid of it forever” is available from the PhysioWorks web site, direct from our Brisbane practices at Bulimba and Mansfield, and online from www.amazon.com or www.smashwords.com . It will soon be available as an e-book online, so please watch this blog for more information.

“Arthritis: the causes, symptoms, and a miracle cure”

Arthritis is a group of musculoskeletal conditions in which there is wearing and inflammation of the joints causing chronic pain, swelling and stiffness. Nearly 3.3 million Australians have a disability due to arthritis and related conditions, and more than half of these have chronic or recurrent pain.

The two most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), but they are very different. RA is a disease, that can be detected via a blood test. In the RA disease process, the patient’s own immune system attacks the lining of their joints, causing pain, swelling and eventual deformity. Typically, it causes problems in the small joint such as the fingers.

Drug therapy, gentle exercise and occasional splinting are the best treatments. Joint replacement is some-times used. Thankfully, RA is rare.

Osteoarthritis (OA)

Conversely, OA is wear-and-tear, like rust in your joints. It typically effects large, weight bearing joints such as hips and knees. OA is far more common than RA—almost everyone of advancing years suffers some form of OA—our bodies simply weren’t designed to last that long!

arthritis

Osteoarthritis vs rheumatoid arthritis: the differences

The Role of Exercise

Moderate, regular exercise has been proven to aid in the prevention of arthritis, and offers a host of benefits to sufferers. Exercise can reduce joint pain and stiff-ness, builds strong muscles around the joints and in-creases flexibility and endurance.

The Role of Physiotherapy

Patients with OA may benefit from joint mobilization, electrotherapy, hydrotherapy and muscle strengthening exercises. Localized, specific massage techniques can also break up the ’rust’ from the joint, greatly reducing the pain. Physiotherapy can reduce arthritic pain and reliance on drug therapy. Unlike pharmaceuticals, physiotherapy has few side effects or contraindications.

Although arthritis is a chronic disease, treatment and management techniques can control and reduce the effects of the condition, and prevent further deterioration. Almost like a miracle cure.

To read more about arthritis and its cures, see http://www.physioworks.com.au/Default.aspx?PageID=619824&A=SearchResult&SearchID=5389194&ObjectID=619824&ObjectType=1

Or visit us directly at http://www.physioworks.com.au/Bulimba/bulimba.htm or http://www.physioworks.com.au/Mansfield/mansfield.htm