When a physical therapist interviews a new patient for the first time, the therapist asks them about their past medical history. Basically, the therapist asks: “Why are you here?” or “Tell me about your pain”. The therapist goes on to ask, “What makes your pain worse?” and “What makes your pain better?”. The therapist explores all aspects of the patient’s pain. Most patients seem to be used to this as they have told their story many times before coming to see the physical therapist. Some even come with notes so that they won’t forget to tell pertinent information.
In my new approach to helping people with pain, I listen carefully to their story of physical pain. Many people have ideas about what is going on and just want validation that their pain is real. I give them that validation and also give them some things to think about. I now ask, “So what else is going on in your life?”; “How much stress would you say you have?”, “Do you sleep OK?” and sometimes even “How is your digestion; any constipation?”. With these questions I am looking for symptoms of chronic stress and trying to get the person to recognize that pain is not all triggered by their physical environment; i.e. their posture, flexibility, muscular strength, etc. This is evidenced many times by the fact that the person did nothing physically new or different and the sensation of pain changed.
As I understand more about the person’s life, I send him/her home with these instructions: “the next time you feel the pain change (usually increase) pay attention to what just happened in that moment”. Then I give some ideas of what may have happened, for example: just read an email from a colleague asking you to add yet another task to your already unending to-do list; had a conversation with a person who presents a relationship challenge in your life; had a car pull out in front of you; and the list goes on. Because I now have this new label as a “Yoga Physical Therapist”, people are not surprised by these questions and they have a look of understanding on their face. The person doesn’t yet know how to manage these triggers of pain, but the awareness has been set.
And from there I am asking people to write a new story. As the title of the book I recommend so often says: “You are Not your Pain”. I could also say, “Your past injuries and/or surgeries are not YOU”. “Your pain and the emotions that come with it, do not define you”. You can actually define it in a new way with a new understanding. And it all starts with the practice of Mindfulness. Mindfulness helps you grow your awareness and Understand the physical, psychological, emotional, and even spiritual aspects of your pain. With this new Understanding you can have Compassion for yourself. With Compassion comes a deeper Healing than experienced with the focus just on the physical.
So today, start writing a new story of Healing.