To view a slideshow about recovery from stress-induced chronic pain, click here. 

For decades the belief about chronic pain has been that it is due to a physical cause, even when often no cause can be found. In fact studies actually show that of those people who keep returning to their Doctor with chronic problems, over 20% have medically unexplained symptoms.

This in itself is worrying, but many more people have been given diagnoses based on what are assumed to be structural ‘abnormalities’, whereas often these are normal abnormalities due to the general wear and tear of ageing.

For example dozens of studies have shown that ‘abnormalities’ such as a slipped disc and other forms of spinal degeneration are just as common in people without pain as those with, so surely this is an indicator that we need to rethink our assumptions about the cause of pain?

MRI Studies
MRI confusionIn fact one of these studies, published in 2003 in the Annals of Rheumatic Medicine, concluded that ‘degenerative disc disease, as seen on imaging, is not a painful condition.’ This is also demonstrated by the significant number of patients who have severe signs of degeneration, yet following various treatment approaches become completely pain free, despite still having the spinal degeneration.

Unfortunately the number of people suffering from chronic pain continues to rise, despite numerous physical treatment modalities, both conventional and complementary. One study published in the European Spine Journal in 2007 researched the effect of non surgical approaches on the treatment of low back pain. They concluded that ‘the effects are small to moderate and there is a dire need for more effective interventions.’

Conditions such as Fibromyalgia and Repetitive Strain Injury, or RSI, can severely affect people’s lives and the widespread belief is that they are incurable. This belief itself can have an adverse effect on the sufferer’s life, yet no wonder the physical approaches at best only manage, not cure, these conditions when the underlying cause of the hidden stresses are not addressed.

Current pain ‘management’ approaches
Many studies have shown that psychological interventions can have a positive impact on people with chronic pain/symptoms, including the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) that has been so widely adopted within the UK over the past few years in the Pain ‘Management’ Clinics.

It is recognised now that many conditions can be aggravated by stress and therefore approaches such as CBT can be helpful in helping patients manage their symptoms. However, for those of us who work in the field of stress illness it’s clear that a high percentage of the chronic conditions around are not just aggravated by, but actually caused by the effects of stress on an individual. Unfortunately if this is not recognised, and the actual causes themselves acknowledged, the conditions will continue to only be ‘managed’, not cured.

We all recognise that emotions cause physiological changes in our bodies, such as the response we have to fear, embarrassment, sexual arousal etc. These responses are clearly caused by an emotion and there are often very obvious physical changes in the body. Our work with SIRPA takes this a step further and recognises that the many symptoms of stress illness are also emotionally induced, or in other words, psychophysiological disorders. As with any emotion, the response is automatic though and unconscious, brought about via the brain and the nervous system.

Adapted ‘fight and flight response

copyright L. Hancock

copyright L. Hancock (Click to enlarge)

The brain causes physical and psychological symptoms as an escape mechanism during, or even soon after, times of stress providing an outlet from these emotions that have no other means of escape. A similar analogy could be when the pressure builds up in a pressure cooker eventually requiring an outlet for the steam. Sensitised, learned nerve pathways can also be triggered, consciously or unconsciously, often many years after a primary incident, which results in a recurrence of the symptoms.

Our brain stores emotional memories throughout our lives so although symptoms may occur during times of stress, often the trigger might be relatively mild. The trigger might literally just be a thought, which triggers a difficult emotional memory, resulting in the brain reacting to the emerging emotion via the autonomic nervous system causing a physical or a psychological response. All this might be out of our conscious awareness and is basically a ‘maladapted’ form of stress, or ‘fight and flight‘, response, because these days our stress response tends not to be life-threatening situations but ongoing psychological stresses.

The SIRPA Approach
Our work with patients involves educating you about what causes stress-induced symptoms and conditions and helping you understand how and why you have your own individual symptoms. A Stress Check up is undertaken during a full in depth assessment following which we are able to provide more individualised suggestions and advice to help you progress on your journey to recovery.

There are many strategies that can be helpful, such as journaling to acknowledge any underlying emotions which is one of the simplest to begin with. This and reinforcing the concept and accepting that there is nothing physically wrong causing the pain, can alone help some people recover. In addition to this we help you look at not only external stressors, but how you might create your own stress due to your personality and learned behaviours, beliefs and attitudes.

Many well known therapies and techniques can help during your recovery, including meditation, mindfulness, CBT, Hypnotherapy, coaching tools, Havening, EFT, TFT, ISTDP Psychotherapy, NLP etc. For this reason, Practitioners bring their own skill set and experience to this work and can combine what they learn on a SIRPA course within their own professional work.

The SIRPA Recovery Programme is based on the work of John E Sarno MD, who was the Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at the New York University Hospital. Over 40 years he pioneered work with Stress Illness conditions which he called Tension Myoneural Syndrome. Since visiting Dr Sarno in 2007, Georgie Oldfield MCSP, founder of SIRPA, produced the SIRPA Recovery Programme and continues to develop her own specialism in the field.

To find out more about stress-induced conditions you can listen to a FREE 20 minute audio recording by the founder of SIRPA™, Georgie Oldfield MCSP.

A full understanding of the concept is required before proceeding with this self-empowering approach in order to be able achieve the best results from applying the understanding and strategies in your quest to become pain free.  This information, plus some helpful self-help tools, can be gained by reading one of the books about this work, such as SIRPA Founder, Georgie Oldfield’s new book, ‘Chronic Pain: your key to recovery’

The online SIRPA Recovery Programme provides more in-depth support, guidance and additional strategies where required, in order to allow you to progress further along your journey to recovery.

Having an assessment with a SIRPA Practitioner can help you gain a better understanding of how and why you have symptoms of stress illness.  They could also help you identify any links and triggers and will provide you with suggestions and strategies to help you individualise the treatment plan to you.

This questionnaire can be helpful for clients when first introduced to this approach to help them decide whether they feel this approach is right for them.

N.B.  Listening to the SIRPA CD/audio or reading more about this concept from Georgie Oldfield’s book, or another about this subject, is imperative prior to either an assessment or purchasing the online SIRPA Recovery Programme in order to gain a full understanding.