Todays blog is a complete Role-Reversal :) This blog will detail my reflection on being on the other side of the therapist - patient dynamic! (*Long Post* - fresh cup of tea/coffee would be the perfect accompaniment!)
It is all too common nowadays to meet a person who is struggling with their body. It is as common (in my experience) to meet a therapist who is struggling with their body. Up until a few years ago, I was definitely a therapist who was struggling with his own body. Thankfully, for me, that struggle became a relationship of ease due to a lot of different types of self-exploration in which I learned most of the skills that I use with my clients on a daily basis.
I was fed up of having back pain, neck pain, hip pain, digestive issues, fears and worries about my own health, behavioural tendencies that I could see that were detrimental to me in many ways but was unable to move past them etc.
For those who are reading this that don’t know me, I’ve made a damn good effort at this thing called life so far and in the process, have managed to accrue all sorts of weird and wonderful afflictions and injuries that are listed below:
Left wrist double fracture (radius and ulna) with displacement of radius
Left elbow fracture
Multiple right and left ankle sprains
Perforated right eardrum (twice)
Surgery to remove my appendix that was in the process of rupturing
Concussion x 2
Left knee impact injury
Corrective dental work (braces)
Multiple soft tissue injuries (Right Scalenes, Left Hamstring, Right Quadriceps, Right Hip Flexor Right Adductor)
Panic attacks due to anxiety
Cardiac testing to rule out heart problems
There are probably more things to add to that list but that is all I can think of right now. As you can see there are plenty of things that have happened to me in my 30.5 years on this planet. Each injury listed above was a separate event, meaning that if plotted on a timeline, we would see quite a few events that will have significantly influenced my nervous system and my movement patterns.
Due to all of these lovely events, I experienced some pains that were definitely chronic in nature. I had back pain on a regular basis around my right Sacroiliac joint for at least 9-10 years, Right hip pain that radiating to my testicle (freaked me out considerably as a result) daily for about 4-5 years, right neck pain which was intermittent for 4-5 years (sometimes appearing on the left side of my neck too for shits and giggles), and stabbing chest pain that lasted for 2 years.
As a therapist-in-training at this stage (Note: I will always be a therapist-in-training, this refers to my formal education, not the actual interesting stuff that I lo I often wondered whether or not I would ever be free from pain. Upon reflection, the many pains that I experienced definitely contributed to me becoming very fearful of the sensations I felt in my body, which lead to me believing that something was very “wrong” within me and it would only be a matter of time before I would end up with a life threatening problem that would claim my life and that would be that. If thats not a spiral of catastrophising then I don't know what is! This was a daily thought process for me that lead to panic attacks and the consumption of medication to calm down my racing thoughts which thankfully I have managed to leave firmly in the past.
How I left this behind is a very unique process for me which involved sheer and utter frustration with seeing little to no progress using the traditional manual therapy methods that I had been taught during my formal education (despite these methods being used by experienced therapists) as the starting point. This frustration (thankfully) would be the biggest catalyst for me to explore different therapies to see if they would be able to help me. The first thing that showed some promise was a fascial technique called The Bowen Technique - offering me some relief from neck pain that I was experiencing. I became interested in this technique and subsequently undertook practitioner training in the Bowen Technique. I moved from this technique to study NKT, a muscle testing based technique. From NKT to study Anatomy in Motion which is the most wonderful thought process about human movement that is based on human walking gait. From Anatomy in Motion to NLP training. From NLP training to P-DTR Functional Neurology training which is a fascinating journey into the human nervous system. :) From P-DTR training to AiM training again :) (See what I mean about always being a therapist in training!!)
A personal belief of mine is that a person who wants to help another human being must first be capable of and ideally experienced in receiving help themselves. This makes their ability to relate to a person who requesting help inherently more powerful as a means for setting up a good therapeutic encounter. It is not essential for a therapeutic encounter, but it is a part nonetheless. I hope this blog helps the reader to understand how my own journey has shaped me as a therapist and how it has helped me to relate to the people I work with every day,
Lets fast forward to July 2017. I am reattending the Anatomy in Motion course after 2 years of immersing myself in the world of functional neurology training and practice. I have had no pain ANYWHERE in my body for the last 18 months of my life. That feels AWESOME! Its taken me 7-8 years to work through the aftermath of the list of injuries at the beginning of this article. Each of those amazing techniques and approaches that I have studied have helped me to shed layers upon layers of stuff that was contributing to symptoms. 7-8 years seems like a long time, and it felt like it too, but in order to help myself, I had to choose differently, invest the time, energy and finances in making good choices about how to educate myself about my body, that had the compounding effect of meeting good people who taught me things about the human body that I never dreamed were possible and who have helped me to help myself. There were a lot of times I found out what didn't work for my body, and each time this would occur, the frustration was balanced with the understanding that at least I knew that it wasn't for me and that if it wasn't that therapy, it had to be something else. (I’m pretty persistent thankfully!). I would easily say that I have spent upwards of £20,000 on this journey so far :)
Although on the AiM course I am experiencing no pain in my body, I have for a few weeks been aware of a feeling of instability or unsafe-ness around my left knee. It hasn't caused any pain, but I have caught myself thinking “This is weird, I’ve never had any issues like this before…. I wonder what that is?”. Of course, I have previously injured this knee playing football, but it was an impact injury that healed in one week and had never ever caused an issue since. During the daily movement check in not he course, we were invited to explore our own movement and it became clear that there were movements that my body was simply unable to access.
Upon some more in depth assessment, we found a structural shift in my left knee. My femur has shifted backwards on top of my tibia. This was subtle enough to not be immediately noticeable but was also most definitely present. Gentle reapproximation of the joint surfaces manually using a very precise set of hands was enough to unlock 95% of the movement restrictions the I had been experiencing during the movement check in.
So, to recap, NO pain, multiple movement restrictions that spread from left and right feet, to hips, pelvis, spine and ribs. A left knee that had a backward shunt of femur on tibia. ISNT THAT COOL!!?
I could have chosen to ignore this and hope that the odd feeling I was experiencing in my knee would go away on its own, or I could book in some treatment for myself in order to enable my body to hopefully un-shift my left knee and re-experience the movements that were missing from my movement cycle. Lets face it, my track record meant that I was always going to book in for some treatment. Told you I was persistent!
Fast forward to the treatment itself. WHAT A WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE! I haven't had a treatment experience in aaaaages and I am suddenly struck by the realisation that I now have to communicate the information about what I feel in my body to someone else, rather than receive this communication from someone else. WOW. What an amazing opportunity :) There were times that I really struggled to convey what I felt was happening in my body, and times I nailed it :)
It was such an interesting space to be in. Here is me, the therapist, who is use to providing the guidance to others, in a situation where I now have to accept guidance from someone else about my body. I had completely forgotten what this felt like! There were definitely times that my own thought process wanted to return to being the guide, not the guided, and I guess a lovely lesson for me to reflect upon after this is that accepting help and letting go of control of a situation is equally as powerful as giving help and taking control of a situation. Definitely some more processing to be done on that one :)
I found it fascinating to be on the receiving end of the various spoken and kinaesthetic cues that were used to guide my body into safely un-shifting my left knee, and reintegrating the un-shifted knee back into my movement patterning. What a lovely experience for me, in a small way, to put myself back into the shoes of every person I meet.
A fun hour of body exploration later and I can honestly say that I have never experienced my left leg this way before. I feel like I have inherited a brand new left leg! AWESOME! This hour was another extremely valuable lesson in the power of the Paretto Principle in action in the human body. For those who havent heard of the Paretto Principle it is also known as the 80:20 rule. What can I do now that for 20% total effort that will give me 80% of the results I am looking for. What is the one movement I can restore in the body, that will unlock the restrictions that are present globally, the one sensitivity I can treat that collapses a whole fractal of compensation.
If as a reader, you have not come across this possibility whilst receiving or delivering therapy, please seek to experience it for yourself :) It truly is amazing to find those key millimetres of movement, key ares of sensitisation, key words to deliver an intention and then watch their effect ripple globally throughout someones body :)
So what changed for me?
Uninhibited spinal movement for the first time in what feels like forever!! Clean movement in all three planes of movement in my Cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine! I can now feel my feet pronating and supinating cleanly on both sides, my pelvis rotates evenly from right to left, and the tension that I wasn't really aware of in my left calf has melted completely. It actually feels like I am re-experiencing my left leg in a TOTALLY NEW way!
It is clear to me, after treatment, that I was in fact moving around my left knee rather than moving through my left knee. This has likely been the case for a long time, yet there were so many other things affecting my movement and my body that this area remained silent and painless, patiently waiting on its day of recognition to come along before being worked through like all of the other areas that have needed attention before it.
I guess this experience has again renewed my sense of hopefulness. I am hopeful because I know that change is definitely possible, whether you are at the beginning of a journey through the murky world of chronic symptoms, or you are swimming near the sunlight at the top of that same pond. I hope that anyone who has managed to read the entirety of this blog will recognise that the latest treatment I have received has unlocked a raft of restrictions in my body that have been there for a long time, and whilst that is amazing, it is also an opportunity to pay homage to all the other bits and pieces that needed treatment, all the amazing thought processes, ideas and treatment tools that are out there, that have enabled me to get to this place.
Is my journey of self exploration over because I now move much more freely? Absolutely No Way! Chasing perfection in terms of health is a misnomer, in that, perfection doesn't exist. Or at least as a state of being it doesn't exist for more than a moment. The closer we get to “perfect” the harder it is to move towards. The nice thing about perfection is this: Set your aim for it and you will do, see and feel things you never thought you were capable of :)
Wherever you are on your journey, I urge you not to settle for living with chronic pain, it is possible to move beyond chronic symptoms, and it is a process that takes time. Our bodies are incredibly good at healing when they are afforded the correct environment and opportunity to do so. I know this is possible, because I have been on this journey too. Thanks for reading.