DID YOU KNOW THERE ARE NO PAIN RECEPTORS IN THE BRAIN?
No? Nor did I until I attended a talk last week on Pain by Julian Baker, Head of the College of Bowen Studies and a Functional Anatomist. Not only that, but science (and common sense) has proved that pain isn’t actually a good indicator of damage. So how and why do we feel pain, and what does this all mean for complementary therapy treatments like Bowen and Reflexology?
The pain we experience is actually created after the brain has translated a series of sensory signals, inputs if you like. Let’s take a paper cut as an example - I can already see you wincing. We see the piece of paper next to our skin, we feel the change in texture as the paper edge slides across our skin, we see the blood, our brain takes those sensory inputs and then outputs a pain signal. Contrast this against getting ready for a shower after an afternoon clearing the garden, noticing dried blood on our leg and realising we must have scratched ourselves. It’s only when we see the blood that our brain might alert us to the damage with a stinging session, a stinging session we did not feel at the time the damage occurred.
Sometimes the pain signals we receive are a signal that there is damage in that area, but this is not always the case. If you think about it right now, can you feel your little finger? Your shoulder? Your tummy? Yes - you have a really good sense of them and ‘how’ they feel. But now try and think about your liver. Can you feel where it is in your body, can you feel it’s movement as it filters blood and secretes bile? No. So if there is something wrong with your liver, how is the body going to make you feel it if you can’t feel it? Simple. It will send the pain signal to somewhere you can feel it - often to your abdomen or your right shoulder. This is called ‘referred pain’. Another example is the impact of long-term stress. Where do you feel it - often as acute or chronic pain in one or more areas of the body.
Back pain is a great example of how sometimes the pain signals we receive are not an indicator of actual damage. How many times have you heard people mention their back pain in the same breath as they mention their bulging disc? Scientific research has demonstrated time and time again that there is no direct or reliable correlation between bulging discs and back pain. In one study , and there have been many, 100 people who had never had any back pain were given an MRI. Of those only 50 had a bulging disc, yet they had no pain and 20 of those were severe cases. So why do people who have bulging discs attribute the cause of their back pain to their bulging disc? Because we have, over the years, incorporated into our belief system that a bulging disc means that we will experience pain; and when we believe it, when we adjust our behaviour and our thought patterns to expect it, our brain responds to those signals and delivers exactly what we are asking for.
This doesn’t mean to say that pain is only in our head. Far from it. The pain that each of us feels, whether physical or emotional, is very real and very personal. All it does mean is that we have to be careful in how we translate pain when it comes to treating someone ‘in pain’. As therapists we view pain as a symptom, a signal that something is not quite right somewhere in the body, so we treat the whole body in order to get to the root cause of that symptom - not just the symptom itself. Underpinning this is our belief that we are not attempting to diagnose or cure, but to provide the body with the right signals and the right space to enable it to work out what is going on and make the necessary changes for itself.
This is why I believe that complementary therapies like Bowen and Reflexology are often so successful in supporting those in pain where conventional treatment pathways haven’t always been able to. We work on creating the right place, the right time and the right conditions; a safe environment where people are able to vocalise their pain as well as receiving a gentle treatment. Allowing the body to feel safe and relaxed, providing the space for it to work out what is going on and make the necessary changes itself. In the case of Bowen pauses are even incorporated into the treatment for precisely this reason.
Of course there is no hard scientific evidence for any of this. But given that we know the body is able to heal a paper cut, a bruise, to fuse broken bones together, surely it is biologically plausible to assume that it can do a lot more than that? That given the space to realise that there is no actual damage to a frozen shoulder, there is then no reason to protect it so it can reduce the inflammation that’s causing the stiffness and pain? That given the space to work out for itself what isn’t working properly in the body it might be able to put it right? And just like that healed bruise, those fused bones, surely it follows that the changes the body chooses to make can take place not only quickly, but can be long-term, or even permanent?
It’s an intriguing thought and one that I suspect will eventually be proven. But, in the meantime if you would like more information about how a complementary therapy treatment like Bowen or Reflexology might be able to provide your body with the right conditions it needs to support your health and well-being, then please contact me at [email protected] or on 07715213392. You can also follow me on Instagram @sarahwoodhousetherapy.
With thanks to Julian Baker
 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279472/ - this is just one citation, many more can be found online!
What to do about: Frozen Shoulder
It’s estimated that around 1 in 20 people in the UK will experience frozen shoulder at least one point during their lives. Frozen shoulder is a painful and sometimes debilitating condition, medically known as adhesive capsulitis, that can often last up to 1.5-2 years and beyond. It can be a miserable condition, with restricted movement in the arm making simple tasks painful, or often impossible, with no respite at night with disrupted sleep as you try and find a comfortable position.
So what do you do if you have frozen shoulder? As with any medical condition, if you are concerned your first port of call should be a trip to your GP who will put you on a treatment pathway which will probably consist of one or more of the following: over the counter pain relief, prescribed pain relief, and physiotherapy. You can find out more about the NHS advice regarding frozen shoulder here.
There are many complementary therapies that can either help support you during this painful time, or may even help towards a speedier resolution. In my clinic, where I offer Bowen, Reflexology and Reiki, Bowen seems to offer the speediest and most profound change to shoulder conditions, including frozen shoulder, with most of my clients needing no more than 2-3 sessions, each a week apart.
And don’t just take my word for it, a small study of 20 people in 2001 showed that Bowen
In addition, because Bowen is so gentle, even those who are experiencing high levels of pain experience little, if any pain at all, during the treatment.
Because of the fascial connections throughout the body, a treatment for frozen shoulder will always include work on the whole body, ensuring that we are addressing any possible underlying imbalances that could be the trigger, are contributing to, or are being affected by, your frozen shoulder. Once a whole body treatment is given, a Bowen therapist will then work specifically on shoulder and it’s fascial connections with the rest of the body.
After each treatment you will then be shown some gentle exercises to help improve movement: in my clinic I will also provide you with a video link to those exercises.
For more information
About Bowen: Click on the Bowen tab above, or contact me for a private and confidential chat.
About Pain and Fascia: Julian Baker, a Functional Anatomist with over 30 years experience, and the UK’s most experienced Bowen Tutor is doing a series of talks around the UK about Pain and Fascia, and will be in East Anglia for 3 days in June. Early bird tickets are £3.50 with all profits going to charity, and you can find out more about each event by clicking on the links below:
17th June: Walton on the Naze
18th June: Thetford and Bury St Edmunds
19th June: Ely
If you've already read this article elsewhere, please click here to find out what a treatment entails.
Hay fever is, excuse my French, a bitch. As one of the most common allergic conditions around, the NHS estimates that more than 10 million of us are affected by Hay fever each year. Symptoms include itchy eyes, nose and/or throat, a runny nose, and sneezing. At best you might be lucky to get away with a bit of an itchy nose, at worst it’s like having a really bad cold, you feel exhausted, you can barely open your eyes, and all you want to crawl into bed, draw the curtains, cover your head and sleep.
With such a plethora of over the counter medications on offer, Hay fever can be a costly business, but cost aside many of us don’t want to spend our summers shoving tablets in our mouths, sprays up our nose, or drops in our eyes. If you want to take a natural approach, The NHS, bless them, recommends wearing wrap around sunglasses, and rubbing a small amount of petroleum jelly around your nostrils, both of which can help the pollen from entering the body. They also suggest avoiding pollen by staying indoors when pollen levels are particularly high, and regular showering throughout the day / changing of clothes. Very useful, but not really very practical for most of us - so what other natural treatments are there?
For me it was a few treatments of Bowen one spring that held the key to largely eliminating my hay fever symptoms, and, along with the huge positive impact it had on my son’s asthma, it’s what convinced me to train as a Bowen Therapist. With just 3 treatments I’ve managed to remain pretty symptom free, and I probably have a top-up treatment every other year. The treatment itself was, and continues to be, simple, pain free and deeply relaxing, and don’t just trust me, back in 2000 The Telegraph featured an article on how one of their reporters found themselves free from lifelong Hay fever after just 3 Bowen sessions. The link to the article is here - but do remember that the prices quoted are from nearly 20 years ago!
So if you’re already dreading the thought of the arrival of Hay fever season, then why not take a different approach this year? Book yourself a Bowen treatment before your Hay fever season starts so that you can enjoy this summer without tablets, sprays, drops and a bag full of tissues.
To find out more how Bowen might be able to help you with your Hay fever symptoms, then please [email protected].
What does a Bowen Hay Fever Treatment Entail?
In Bowen we treat the whole body and not just the symptoms or conditions, so you won't be surprised to know that I will be working on your whole body, and not just your eyes, mouth and nose! This makes sense when you understand that Hay Fever is an allergic reaction to an irritant - and while that irritant may enter our eyes, nose or mouth, it is not those specific areas of the body that are reacting, it is our immune system, which in turn is governed by other environmental and chemical factors, and this means your lymphatic system, your kidneys and your diaphragm all have a part to play.
During the treatment you will be lying fully clothed on a couch while I make a number of gentle moves over key area's of the body. After every 4-6 moves I will leave the room to give your body a 'therapeutic pause'. These pauses are an essential part of a Bowen treatment, and they allow your body to process the work that I have done and start that healing process - helping those changes the body make to be long-term, if not permanent.