I sent out this poem recently to my Lightning Process Graduates and so many replied to say how much they related to it.
The process of getting out of auto-pilot and retraining our brain / body to respond differently is not always smooth. It’s a journey that this poem captures well.
Autobiography in Five Short Chapters
By Portia Nelson
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place
but, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
my eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
I walk down another street.
MRI RESULTS FOR BACK PAIN – SHOCKING FINDINGS
This post is all about PAIN. It relates to you if, and only if, you have experienced pain before. So I guess that means you!
What follows might challenge you. Modern pain science is showing us that most of what we used to think about pain was wrong.
Look closely at the picture below.
Let’s see what ‘having a body like theirs’ actually means. Let’s use technology to look inside with an MRI, X-Ray, CAT scan. etc
What we find in these healthy bodies may challenge your thinking of ‘normal’ AND ‘healthy’ and is at the heart of the revolution in modern pain science and central to my work.
If these happy, healthy, fit and strong people were to go and have their spine scanned the MAJORITY would have abnormal structural issues with their spine. Remember these are fit healthy PAIN FREE people.
So abnormal is normal.
Assuming an average age of 40 years old then 68 % will show degeneration of the vertabrae in their back. HALF will have physical fleshy bulges in their discs, a THIRD will have a spinal disc protrusion, a FIFTH will have annular fissures, one in ten will have facet degeneration and every 20th runner will have spondylolisthesis. On top of this, the majority will have arthritic changes in the bones and joints ………..AND they are fit and healthy people who are NOT experiencing back pain.
(See graph below to find what you would expect to find inside a healthy person of your age).
Unless you are up to date with modern pain theory those finding should challenge you.
How can someone have a visibly ‘broken’ bit but no pain. Aren’t these things a problem? Is it even safe to be running with these things going on in the spine? I’m sure you’ve heard of people having slipped, bulging, herniated discs and how much they hurt. You may have heard health practitioners talk about these things as the cause of back pain. You might even have been told that YOU have one of these broken bits and you may have had a operation or procedure to ‘fix’ these broken bits.
But these structural issues are found COMMONLY in most healthy PAIN FREE people. It’s worth having that concept sink in a little. Why aren’t THEY experiencing pain? Why is there no pain?
The old model of pain that we all grew up with struggles with explaining this. Modern pain science explains it well but what I am about to say will probably challenge you. You may feel yourself ‘dig in’ and go into battle for the old model of pain. (“Yeah but…….” is a common response). But modern pain science is really clear on this.
These things do not cause pain. Infact nothing in the body can cause pain.
Modern pain theory requires us to put aside everything we have learnt about pain. The old bio-mechanical model saw pain as a ‘thing’ occurring in the body when things are broken. Modern pain science now says pain is an experience not a thing and it is generated in the brain. ALL PAIN. IN THE BRAIN. ALL THE TIME. So that means your pain too.
The only thing the body can produce is a message (technically called a ‘nociceptive message’) to alert the brain that there is something that could be potentially dangerous. But that is not pain. You can have these nociceptive messages with absolutely no pain at all.
So back to the back. Aren’t those things that have show up in the MRI’s a danger that warrants our attention. Not necessarily and mostly not. Those abnormalities are normal remember. Our spines are robust and living flexible structures. Authors of ‘Explain Pain’, David Butler and Lorimer Mosely call these abnormalities the ‘kisses of time’ or internal wrinkles. We all have them. From the age of 10 you will start to see spinal degeneration – it’s called aging. It doesn’t mean a threat.
So why do some brain’s see an abnormality (like a bulging disc) as a threat and generate pain while in others peoples brain’s, like our running friends in the picture, ignore these normal abnormalities?
There is no single answer to this because …. it’s your brain. We know the assessment of threat process that generates pain is influenced by many things such as stress, lack of sleep, lack of exercise and movement, past traumas and emotional state. One of the largest study of back pain showed that mood was a better predictor of a back pain incident than anything else.
Another significant thing which influences whether your brain determines this normal abnormality as a threat is really important – the information your brain receives by way of ‘diagnosis’. The very act of getting a scan and seeing or being told that you have a ‘broken bit’ influences brain function. A scan ‘just to be on the safe side’ actually can ironically not be that ‘safe’ after all. Your risk of ongoing back pain issues increases relative to how quickly you get a scan done. The sooner the scan (or belief about threat) the larger the chance of ongoing back pain.
So the duration of a back pain experience, that may have been triggered by stress, can then be prolonged by the belief that it is ’caused’ by a bulging disc.
A new initiative being taught to Australian doctors (The Choose Wisely programme) now encourages NOT to send back pain clients to get scans done except under specific circumstances and instead the advice is to provide re-assurance. The problem is that in a 10 minute GP visit it is not possible to teach people modern pain theory, assess what is going on in this person’s life (now and past) to work out why the pain and why NOW then give ‘non-drug’ tools to address the actual issue.
So what to do? We know drugs are not effective for chronic back pain. Spinal surgeries (spinal fusion or laminectomy) are some of the most performed operations in the states yet the incidences of back pain is INCREASING.
The solution lies in a better understanding of pain. The back’s not broken. The old pain model was broken.
So to beat chronic pain it is important to understand what pain IS and what pain is NOT.
If you would like to learn more about chronic pain (back pain, migraine, osteo-arthitis pain, pelvic pain, fibromyalgia pain) this simple 5 minute video is a nice introduction to modern pain science and great explanation of why the Lightning Process takes such a broad multi-pronged approach to retraining the brain out of pain.
If you would like to learn more about the concepts behind the Lightning Process and pain you can download the Lightning Process and Pain Audio Book. HERE
Or just email me for a phone consultation.
Brinjikji W1, Luetmer PH2, Comstock B3, Bresnahan BW4, Chen LE4, Deyo RA5, Halabi S6, Turner JA7, Avins AL8, James K4, Wald JT1, Kallmes DF1, Jarvik JG9.
The Lightning Process is not just about getting your health back. It’s about getting your LIFE back.
Chronic Illness impacts every facet of one’s life and so with recovery comes so much more than good health.
A limited life becomes one filled with possibilities again.
Well done to LP Graduate Georgia who has gone on to start her own business selling funky handmade hair bands and jewellery.
Her ‘Brighton Beach Bands’ business supports Indigenous kids in Far North QLD who learn to sew & and make income. How cool is that? Well done Georgia. (www.brightonbeachbands.com)
I just got another email from a Lightning Process graduate today who after just 4 months scored her dream job. Well done H.
These things still take work but people have the resources (energy, focus, confidence) to take the steps required to make it happen for them.
CLICK ON IMAGE BELOW
How influential is severity or duration on the course of recovery?
From a ‘traditional’ healing perspective then you would say these factors are very relevant. But what EXACTLY needs to heal? And even if there is healing required, our body is really good at that. A broken bone can heal in just 6 weeks. Skin can heal really quickly and the cells of our digestive tract are replaced so rapidly.
Approaching issues from a Neuroplasticity framework, allows people to see that it’s not a ‘healing’ journey at all. It’s a retraining process… and our brain is the most flexible and trainable organ we have.
So length of illness or severity is not a key factor in success with the Lightning Process.
Like learning anything new, it takes focus and work, with set backs and slip ups, lessons and insight. Unlike other trainings like learning an instrument or a language that you have never learnt before, with the Lightning Process you are learning to do things you have done before. I often say to people that everything they need is already there.
Can anyone learn to change their brain? Well like it or not, your brain is changing anyway. It’s built into it’s very structure – the capacity to change its structure and function if required. That capacity stays with us until the day we die. So why not learn to guide the process?
So that becomes the focus of the Lightning Process – training the brain and body to respond appropriately to ‘stimulus’ – whether that be learning to respond more appropriately to touch, exercise, food, people, light, noise, chemicals, temperature, places, times of the day.
The Lightning Process teaches people to get ‘unstuck’ and to learn to respond historically rather than appropriately.
How long does it take? It starts from Day 1 – because it is a training.
Here is one lady’s story from debilitating pain and fatigue to recovery. If there was healing to occur this would be miraculous. But it’t not miraculous. It’s possible when you understand the brain’s role in guiding our health.
Well done F.G!!
I remember that first day very well as I am sure you do too.
There are many ways a healthy nervous system can get stuck into a state of chronic fatigue.
Often it is a combination of factors that puts the system into a state of overload.
I see a lots of people from of high performance sport get Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and often they are told they have to give up sport and learn to manage the condition.
That hasn’t been my experience. There may be some changes required but often people with a sports background find the discipline of the Lightning Process easy and can throw themselves into the Lightning Process training and return to the sport they love.
Read Angus’s story here. From fit young rugby player to CFS. Then post Lightning Process back to win the premiership. Impressive!
After years of physical illness people often loose trust in their bodies and life becomes a carefully managed routine to avoid crashes or flare ups.
While people are busy planning all the things they want to do after the training, one of the joys of recovery is the ability to be spontaneous again. The ability to not to have to plan.
Here is a lovely piece written by a Lightning Process graduate.
ODE TO SPONTANEITY
This way or that? Who cares…
Adventure lies to the left and the right of me now.
I wander with curiosity to see where my feet take me.
Getting lost is a treat not threat.(
The burden of the ‘right’ choice is gone.
I can have all the complexity of a flipping coin.
But not fussed if not.
“YES. YES. WHY NOT.”
These words flow effortlessly.
My “NO” is about desires not survival.
I can do what ever so “what do I want?”
The master planner is now the confident explorer.
Because deep down I now know
‘WHATEVER HAPPENS YOU WILL BE JUST FINE’.
(They were your words now they are mine.)
This is the new soundtrack to my life.
I sing along as I walk and my coach just smiles.
I trust myself again. I’m back.
Life. Take me where ever. I am ready.
(reproduced with permission)
I’ve just returned from giving a ‘Neurobiology of Pain’ lecture in London.
It is such an exciting topic because it impacts every person on the planet & the implications are huge for people suffering with chronic pain.
The challenge is this – What most people think about pain is no longer in line with modern science.
The opportunity is this – By understanding pain you are more likely to do what’s required to treat it and not get stuck in a life of merely managing it (or the endless failed treatments).
But this is not just about pain. This is about beginning to understand the brain’s role in health – in immune function, in endocrine function, in fatigue, in physical movement, in digestion – in living a healthy life.
So if you are curious – read on.
AN OVERVIEW OF MODERN PAIN THEORY
ALL pain is in the brain. It doesn’t matter how long its been going, how it started, what it feels like, where it is, what the scans say or even how much blood there is. ALL pain is in the brain. 100% of the time.
If you are wondering right now if that actually applies to YOUR pain. The answer is yes. ALL pain is in the brain. No Brain – No Pain.
People often talk about trying everything without getting anywhere. Or perhaps treatments have work for a while but then things slip back to how they were. Other approaches work a little bit when they worked perfectly well for others. Sound familiar?
Maybe it’s time to approach this from a radically different view point and find the missing piece? The Brain and neuroplasticity.
ARE YOU SAYING IT’S ALL IN MY HEAD?
It’s easy to get insulted when you hear statements like “All pain is in the brain” because it sounds a lot like – It’s all in your head / you’re making it up. But that is not the case at all. In fact if someone had a broken leg with an exposed bone we would still say that the pain is in the brain.
Modern pain theory certainly stretches us because we all grew up thinking pain is in the body and it is a sign of damage. Now we are being told PAIN is in the brain and it’s the brain’s assessment of threat. So you can have pain without tissue damage and tissue damage without pain.
So it is worth pondering that concept. Pain is the brain’s assessment of threat not it’s assessment of tissue damage. How your brain assesses threat is unique to you. It is a judgement call based on messages coming from the body but also information stored inside your brain – all of your past experiences, your traumas, your thoughts, your beliefs, your mood, your expectations.
The great opportunity here is that our brain is our most flexible and trainable organ we have.
Modern pain theory opens up exciting opportunities but it does take a willingness to let go of the old pain model. But was that model working for you anyway?
Pain (and fatigue) are part of our brain’s protective responses. They are meant to come on at appropriate times to keep us safe. These responses get us to slow down (fatigue) and/or pay attention (pain) but those responses – those messages in the brain – can start to mis-fire and in time get ‘stuck on’. This is known as the dark side of NEUROPLASTICITY.
With repetition the pain and fatigue messages create changes in the brain. This is why after 3 months of pain and fatigue, regardless of the original issue, neural-plastic change has taken place and it gets the label ‘Chronic’. Chronic does not mean permanent though. It just means that it is going for longer than would be expected as a protective response. So the focus needs to shift to retraining the brain.
If you are new to the concept of NEUROPLASTICITY I would encourage you to get curious.
Not suffering from PAIN or Fatigue but still interested?
I work with a wide range of conditions including GAD, SAD, FM, PTSD, IBS, PVFS, PBS, POTS, IS, EHS, CLBP, PLTS, MCS, CRPS, ME, CFS, PVFS, MS. (I would be a whiz at scrabble if they allowed acronyms).
So it’s not just about pain and fatigue. The Lightning Process looks at how normal & healthy responses (like pain and fatigue) can become automatic and therefore inappropriate with repetitive activation and the impact this has on health. We look at how we can pro-actively influence our responses by looking at how the body and brain interact.
A great example is fear. Like pain, without it we would be dead. It is a protective response to keep us safe. But what would happen if that response became automatic and turned on too often? Simply ask someone with anxiety for the answer.
So having a neuroplastic or a neurological ‘retraining’ perspective allows us to look more pro-actively at responses like stress, anxiety, depression, perfectionism, guilt. Can we retrain ourself to respond more appropriately to a given situation rather than automatically ( i.e. historically)?
The downside of this approach is that you can’t rely on others to fix your brain. You alone are in charge and so it’s up to you. The upside of this approach is you don’t have to rely on others. YOU ARE IN CHARGE and finally your health is in your hands. If that feels like something you are chasing then make contact today.
While you are not thinking of polar bears, whatever you do now don’t think of dancing jellybeans. And definitely don’t think that embarrassing thought that you hate thinking but it seems to just pop up out of nowhere. Yes that one. Opps. So are we clear? Just don’t do it now. I mean. Don’t DO IT now. Don’t think of those cursed polar bears.
The funny thing about the brain – it’s can’t directly process a negative. If you talk or think about what you DON’T want – your brain is wiring in a very specific way to avoid that and sometimes that is part of the problem.
The words we use and the thoughts we think can wire our brains in ways that keep us stuck.
Mastering NEUROPLASTICITY also requires people to master their thoughts and words because mental activity (thoughts) and physical activity (talking) also changes our brain.
People often try to manage a problem by ignoring it. That clearly doesn’t work practically. Neurologically your brain needs to create certain wiring to get you to remember to ignore those ‘cursed’ things. You have to REMEMBER to ignore. Your brain has put a THREAT VALUE on that thing and we are wired to spot the ‘dangerous’ things. It applies to thoughts as much as smells, activities, people, places, foods, bodily responses. If it is a regarded as a threat as far as your brain is concerned, why would the brain ignore it? So you are left remembering to pay attention to those things you then need to try to ignore.
Confused? How do you think your brain feels? 🙂
Try to ignore that ticking clock at 3am and you will see what I mean. Ignore the ticking clock. Ignore the ticking clock. Ignore that damn ticking clock. Ignore that thing that is making my life miserable. If there are intense emotions involved it will only become more impossible to ignore.
Others, realizing that ignoring doesn’t work more actively focus on the problem. Sometimes ironically that can keep your focuse on the problem not the solution. You can ironically become stuck by focusing on the problem.
One way that this shows is with anxiety. We can ignore it or pretend it isn’t a problem as just described. That doesn’t seem to work so well.
So we can try to stop anxious thoughts by trying NOT to think anxious thoughts …. or try not to think negatively, or try not to catastrophise, or try not to check how much pain or fatigue you are in.
Not only does this not work but it can create a bigger problem as the field of psychology called ‘Thought Suppression’ now suggests. We now have a better idea why Dostoevsky‘s ‘cursed polar bear comes to mind every minute’.
A thought creates a physical structure in the brain. A neural wiring. Think it a few times and we are strengthening those pathways and our brain structure is changing. Over time it can become a habit. This applies to a thought, behavior, feeling or response.
In the case a unwanted thought-habit, if we recognize that it is now a problem we could try to NOT think it. That requires wiring as well. One part of our brain might be successful in suppressing the thought BUT….. and it’s an important but…. another part of the brain is wired to remember what we shouldn’t think. We put a threat value on a thought and in order to create the activity of ‘not thinking’ we need to create other pathways that keeps checking in whether we have remembered to stop – ironically bringing it to mind again. It’s known as Ironic Neural Processing.
So now we have a complicated neural structure all designed around ‘polar bears’. It’s taking a lot more ‘brain space’ than before the problem even started. We now have more neural pathways all somehow linked to this thought (that we don’t want to think). So when we do eventually trigger the thought there is a rebound effect. When we do think about it – BOOM – it’s there bigger than before or more regularly than before. Cursed Polar bears!
How can thoughts really matter or effect my body?
A really profound experiment was done where people were asked to read a list of words then walk to another area for a second task. The experiment was actually timing how long it took people to walk from the ‘reading words’ task to the next task. If randomly scattered within that list of words were words associated with old age (wrinkles, grey, pension, dentures, florida) then those people walked slower than the people who had not read any old age related words.
Wow. Just think about that? (Or don’t think about that NOW)
That’s just a single experiment. What about what goes on in your head regularly or more problematic – unconsciously. It is also going to have an impact on your thinking but also your body.
Where else might this show up?
This is a basic brain function so could show up anywhere in your life. It also more destructively has the potential to become a mindset – or habitual way of focusing on what you don’t want rather than what you do want.
Examples might be, if the brain has put a threat value on pain, then focused on being pain-free is ironically problematic. If you are constantly hoping to avoid fatigue and hoping that you don’t overdo it and crash, then you are wiring your brain in a very specific way that only re-enforces the threat value of activity. If you go on a diet and try to ‘NOT EAT THE TASTY CURSED CHOCOLATE CAKE’, then guess what? You not only fail but fail big time. Mmmm. Chocolate!
Neural plasticity is a competitive process. It is not just about trying to stop a problem (thought, emotion/feeling, behaviour, a memory, compulsion or physiological process like pain/fatigue). We are activity doing something in it’s place. We might have to start with changing our habitual mindset.
Where our focus goes our energy flows is an often used saying. Our neural wiring also goes where our focus is. Are we wiring our brain to what we want or what we don’t want. There is a massive difference.
Or as Aristotle out is – Put all your energy into creating the new not fighting the old.
So don’t tell me what you don’t what. You will be operating out of fear & wiring the brain around the very thing you dread. Don’t tell me what you want to avoid or want to stop. Pain-free is not the aim. To stop panic attacks is not the goal. To beat anxiety is not the aim. To manage CFS is not the solution.
This way of thinking is great but ONLY in a threatening environment. “I want to stop the tiger”. It gives a single minded focus , our options narrow and we produce stress hormones. We survive but not thrive.
We need to engage a very different part of the brain instead of the threat driven protective part of the brain.
So notice how you think. What’s your style?
Start getting clear about what you want – Not what you don’t want. It doesn’t make change happen but it sets you up for success rather than more struggle.
I hope that made sense and I just wanted to double check that you really have stopped thinking about polar bears. Damn bears!