Common illnesses ranging from sciatica, Fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions can be triggered by human emotions, leading researchers have suggested.
Georgie Oldfield MCSP, from Huddersfield, who runs SIRPA, a company set up in 2010 to teach health professionals and coaches to help individuals to tackle the underlying causes of chronic pain and other persistent symptoms, has worked as a physiotherapist since 1983.
The 62-year-old was employed by the NHS for decades before leaving the health service to become self-employed and run her own business and focus more on helping people with pain.
For years in the public and private sector, Mrs Oldfield dealt with patients who could not link their pain or recurring health problems to any physical cause.
Common illnesses ranging from sciatica, Fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions can be triggered by human emotions, leading researchers have suggested (file image: man with shoulder pain)
Mrs Oldfield told MailOnline: ‘It was not making sense that people were coming to me and going away pain free and they still had a prolapsed disc, for example.
‘Whereas for other people experiencing pain, they came with results from medical tests and scans, yet nothing could be found.
‘When I left the NHS in 2005, I had more time to consider this. I was reading around and talking to colleagues and was questioning so much and then in 2007,
‘I came across the work of Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine, Dr John Sarno in New York.
Mrs Oldfield (pictured) was employed by the NHS for decades before setting up SIRPA in 2010
For years she has dealt with patients who could not link their pain or recurring health problems to any physical cause
‘His hypothesis was that chronic pain was a mind-body condition with unresolved emotions manifesting as pain and other symptoms.
‘The work SIRPA teaches is constantly evolving as pain science now explains why treating the underlying causes of chronic pain, rather than the pain itself, is more likely to allow pain to resolve, rather just managing it.’
At an early stage it is important to rule out a physical cause for a person’s pain including cancer, infection, fracture or an auto-immune condition.
When a physical cause for pain has been ruled out it can be confusing, especially if an illness has come out of nowhere and disrupted someone’s daily life.
Mrs Oldfield said once the nervous system becomes oversensitive it can lead to a myriad of issues within the body
However, seemingly random pain is often linked to the triggering of repressed feelings such as anger, fear and frustration.
Once these emotions start to build up and reach a tipping point, they can make the nervous system oversensitive.
This can then result in a myriad of issues in the body and lead to conditions such as sciatica, migraines, whiplash, Fibromyalgia and tinnitus.
The sufferer, who lacks the understanding of the current science, may feel their pain is physical, and something is wrong in their tissues, muscles, nerves or bones.
The sufferer, who lacks the understanding of the current science, may feel their pain is physical, and something is wrong in their tissues, muscles, nerves or bones (Pictured: SIRPA conference)
To make matters more confusing, they may even be told they have wear and tear or a slipped disc from a scan and believe this is the root cause of the problem.
But as researchers claim, this is an outdated and flawed model, with a growing body of evidence suggesting that people reporting no pain have had scans that show disc, joint and arthritic problems, showing that degeneration is just a normal part of ageing.
Pain – whether it be emotional or physical – is ultimately controlled in the same part of the brain.
When the research was in its infancy in 2007 these conclusions received pushback, but now there is more evidence to support these claims.
Pain – whether it be emotional or physical – is ultimately controlled in the same part of the brain (Pictured: a SIRPA conference)
Some patients with chronic pain, however, are sceptical and are adamant there must be something structurally wrong with them.
To change this attitude, we need to educate ourselves and update our beliefs about what pain is, according to Mrs Oldfield.
Major organisations such as the International Association for the Study of pain are starting to interpret it differently.
For them, pain is not only associated with actual damage but can ‘resemble’ it too.
Mrs Oldfield added: ‘What we do is help people address faulty beliefs/myths all the time, which isn’t easy and can take time.
When Mrs Oldfield’s research was in its infancy in 2007 these conclusions received pushback, but now there is more evidence to support these claims (Pictured: Mrs Oldfield on ITV)
‘We are affecting beliefs people have had for decades. However, we know the mind and the body are not separate and this is why part of our work is encouraging people to become more aware of what is happening in their body.
What can make pain worse is the six F’s which were laid out by Mrs Oldfield’s US colleague, clinician and researcher, Dr Howard Schubiner.
According to Dr Schubiner, chronic pain is often made worse due to Fear, Frustration, Focusing on the pain, attempting to Fix it, trying to Figure it out and Fighting it.
SIRPA researchers (pictured) have found that seemingly random pain is often linked to the triggering of repressed feelings such as anger, fear and frustration
Mrs Oldfield explained: ‘Evidence shows that fear of pain, even just worrying about it, can make it worse.
‘Also, the more we focus on pain, the more we fuel it. And if we try and fight it and push it away this can also make it worse.
‘Trying to fix it and googling it all the time as well as frustration makes it worse. But trying to figure out the pain exactly and overanalysing it can also make it worse.
‘I receive emails from people who say, ‘I’m battling with my pain every day’ but sadly this just creates resistance.
‘This is about self-compassion and surrendering to the pain, which is challenging for people to understand. However, if you surrender the pain will stop fighting you, like soldiers do if you surrender in war.’
To change this attitude, we need to educate ourselves and update our beliefs about what pain is, according to Mrs Oldfield
To improve one’s chronic pain requires working with the stress response, identifying and addressing any underlying causes, learning how to reprogramme the brain from a state of fear and protection to a state of safety.
Mrs Oldfield added: ‘Looking at a timeline of your life can be helpful to identify some of the issues, past and present, that may have been challenging for you and which were probably not acknowledged and addressed at the time.
‘Therapeutic journaling can be an effective way to help with this.’
Before starting to work on any unresolved emotions, though, Mrs Oldfield says she would always teach a client calm, connected breathing and how to ground themselves.
Major organisations such as the International Association for the Study of pain are starting to interpret it differently (Pictured: Catherine Pollitt, a physio on SIRPA’s Membership Board)
This helps the victim of pain feel more comfortable in acknowledging emotions which have started to surface.
And what’s more, it can help many feel safe at recognising their emotions once they start to surface.
For years people have avoided and distracted themselves because in early childhood we have learned it was not safe to express them.
So by becoming more emotionally aware, addressing faulty beliefs and unhelpful behaviours plus retraining our pain away from the learned and sensitised neural circuits, Mrs Oldfield says is possible to resolve chronic pain.
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