For some of us, pain can be part of who we are and we resign ourselves to suffering – but it may not have to be that way. Linsey Parkinson meets Chronic Pain Recovery Coach Maria Hammond.
A recent report in the British Medical Journal suggests that almost half the UK population – some 28 million people – are affected by chronic pain. It’s estimated that bad backs alone cost the exchequer around £15billion a year.
Chronic pain is defined as continuous or intermittent, but lasting more than three months – and it’s ruining lives. “This kind of pain can sometimes be as much about what’s on our minds as in our bodies,” says Maria. “That’s not to say that it’s imagined: far from it – chronic pain is very real and can be very debilitating – but its root causes don’t always lie where we might expect.”
Maria’s training in sports therapy gave her real insight into pain; her psychology degree made her further consider the link between body and mind. “I’d been helping people with conventional recovery when I realised that our experience of pain can be full of inconsistencies. Why does it come and go? What makes the difference between a painful and a pain-free day? Why don’t some people ever fully recover from injury when we know the physical ‘mending’ of bone and tissue takes just weeks?”
Maria is a member of SIRPA, the Stress Illness Recovery Practitioners Association, which is pioneering a new way of thinking about, alleviating – and often curing – chronic pain. “Our subconscious mind does everything it can to protect us. Imagine meeting a tiger in the street. You don’t stand there weighing up your options and make a considered decision to run. Our body’s ‘fight or flight’ auto-response creates adrenaline, redirects blood flow to our limbs, increases our heart rate and we’re ready to run for our lives. By running, we relieve the physical stress of our situation, but not the emotional stress. Our subconscious needs to process those anxieties – what if I’d been eaten? What if there’s another tiger round the next corner?
“Now apply that principle to, let’s say, whiplash. Recurring pain could be exacerbated by underlying anxiety about getting back into a car, emotional trauma or any number of responses. “Anyone who has ever suffered from stress or depression knows that our mental health has a huge impact on our physical health and vice-versa. Have you ever worked flat-out on a difficult project, then immediately fallen ill as soon as it’s completed? Our subconscious wants us to slow down and be a little kinder to ourselves.”
Maria’s approach begins with analysis of who you are, how your pain manifests itself and what triggers it. Then, by revealing layers of thoughts, feelings and histories, you can learn to identify, acknowledge and address underlying issues in a positive way.
“Let’s say, as a simple example, you get headaches while driving, or on the Monday morning commute. It’s surprising how clear pain-patterns can be when we stop to think about them. I’ll then use that information as a starting point, working with you to challenge that pain. Stopping driving or giving up work aren’t always practical solutions, but recognising, expressing and releasing emotions before they become stress; positive affirmations and other pain-resolving techniques are.
“I help my clients to realise what might lie at the root of their pain, and through that understanding, to move on. It’s a knowledge that can be life-changing.”
If you are in pain, your first stop should always be your GP. Pain that relates directly to medical conditions or injury needs medical intervention.
Maria will give a free talk about the SIRPA approach to pain relief at The Yoga Rooms, 483 Barlow Moor Road in Chorlton on Saturday 4 March.
Find out more at healingpain.co.uk .