To overcome a thing, you need to first understand it. It’s as ancient philosophy, and one that applies to more scenarios than you might imagine; among them, pain.
Increasingly, medical research is showing that when a patient is taught why they hurt, those individuals experience a reduction in pain, fear and anxiety. This is the aim of Therapeutic Neuroscience Education (TNE), a new therapeutic resource now being offered by Big Stone Therapies.
“It’s really patient education on what pain is,” says Hana Gilbertson, PTA. “What they’re finding is that the more the patient understands what pain is, their pain level decreases, with just that education on their injury – that tissues heal, that overtime your body heals itself.” TNE, comes into play when tissues have healed, but pain persists, which is considered part of chronic pain.
One way this mind-body therapy approach aims to help reduce pain is by helping patients to understand what to expect with their particular injury. This, in turn, can reduce anxiety, and reducing anxiety is important because in a self-perpetuating cycle, anxiety about pain can often cause that pain to increase.
“It’s decreasing that fear and anxiety of what could be wrong,” says Gilbertson. “Because often times you’ll have that initial injury and there can be a lot of pain with it, but we can teach you ways to help manage your pain and promote tissue healing”
“And not only do they have pain, but they probably have some other stresses that are causing some of their pain,” adds Susan Clark, PTA. “Like, ‘Am I going to lose my job because I haven’t worked in two to three months, am I going to be able to take care of my children?’”
This type of additional stress in a person’s life can exacerbate their symptoms.
Another side effect of injuries that TNE addresses is the loss of awareness of a limb that can sometimes accompany an injury. Or conversely, increased sensitivity.
“What happens,” explains Gilbertson. “Is when they have that chronic pain in a certain extremity, they almost begin to neglect that side or not recognize it. There are physiological changes that can happen as well,” she continues. “When they start avoiding any sort of use with, say, a hand – if it’s been immobilized, for instance in a cast, for a long period of time, their brain almost does not recognize that hand anymore.”
At the other end of the spectrum, some patients may become hypersensitive.
“They can be in so much pain that even their clothing can bother them, or wearing shoes can bother them,” says Clark. “So we’ll educated them on desensitization techniques.”
TNE is now being used to help reduce pain for a wide variety of individuals. It has shown particular promise for those with chronic pain, which affects an estimated 100 million Americans and can be caused by a number of conditions. Fibromyalgia, TMJ, migraines or tension headaches, lower back pain, even arthritis, are also among the conditions where TNE has been shown to help significantly reduce pain.
“We’ve seen a huge call for it,”
“As therapists since we have had this continuing education, we are able to better identify the patients that need TNE,” says Clark of the TNE program, which Big Stone Therapies began implementing a little over a year ago. “Far more than we’d expected.”
One reason for that is because more and more physicians are also learning about the benefits of TNE.
“Our physicians here at the Madison Clinic have been informed about TNE from our department,” says Physical Therapist Matt Carmody, who encourages patients to discuss TNE with their doctors if they believe they might benefit from it. “If you’re concerned, ask your doctor.”
It’s true that TNE isn’t right, or even necessary for every patient. But for many, understanding and learning to deal with their pain can be an important step in the road to recovery.
Pictured: Matt Carmody, PT, DPT, Susan Clark, PTA, and Hana Gilbertson, PTA