Making Sense of Your Pain and Learning to Manage It

People who struggle with chronic pain, and practitioners who help patients in chronic pain, often can struggle to see the ‘wood for the trees’. What do I mean by that? Let me present to you a new analogy of how we can understand pain better – more importantly, understand your pain better.

Imagine a tree in the forest, and imagine you are the tree. The tree is not flourishing; the leaves don’t look healthy; the flowers are few and don’t look healthy, and the bark is starting to peel away and that doesn’t look healthy either.

What is the problem? Is it the tree? Or something else?

With the lens of traditional medicine, we would be trying to strip off some bark, prune the branches and take away the dead leaves, and maybe cut the unhealthy-looking flowers. Each of these actions would make the tree look prettier but intuitively I can hear you say…this is not just the tree!

If you consider this tree in isolation alone, would that be of any use? If you only addressed its roots but fail to look at the ecosystem around the tree then we have failed that tree. By now you can see that there are so many other reasons we would be looking at: is there enough sunshine, is there enough water, are there enough nutrients in the soil? All of that becomes intuitive when you look at seeing how to make the tree healthy again.

Imagine now that you are the tree and you are not flourishing; why would the traditional role of just trying to symptom-manage your pain using medications or interventions alone be enough? Where is the role for the sunshine,  soil, the water and everything that we do for the tree? Why would that not apply to you? We can look at the tree in isolation, or we can look at the entire terrain that it is occupying. Similarly, we can look at you in isolation and do the simple symptomatic treatments, or we can look at the ecosystem that you are part of, and that becomes a more integrative approach of how we need to understand pain, the complexity of pain, and more importantly, understand your pain.

How we need to look at pain now needs to change. This kind of integrative approach is what is becoming necessary; focusing on one aspect is never going to work – it has never worked for the tree and therefore won’t work for you either. We need to look at all of these factors together rather than in isolation. To look at this kind of integrative approach is why I have created the Mindset Framework which essentially brings together a more holistic, integrated lifestyle medicine-based approach to managing the complexity of pain.

I hope this analogy of the wood and the trees helps you understand the complexity of pain, and why looking after the whole woods is much better and more comprehensive than just looking at the tree.

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