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How to Deepen Motor Learning and Body Awareness with SMARTROLLER®

If you are interested in somatic education, or if you are a practitioner seeking ways to help your patients and clients, you won’t want to miss the following videos that feature Stacy Barrows, PT, DPT, GCFP, NCPT, demonstrating how small, simple movements can be used to deepen motor learning and body awareness. 
Stacy is a Guild Certified Feldenkrais® Practitioner, a nationally certified Pilates teacher, and a registered physical therapist. She developed the SMARTROLLER® line of products to help clients at her Los Angeles-based physical therapy clinic to explore movement in a way that’s fun and meaningful, encouraging them to connect awareness with movement. 
Find out how you, too, can integrate mindfulness and movement using SMARTROLLER® products in the following videos. 

Video 1: Live Q&A with SMARTROLLER® inventor Stacy Barrows
Stacy answers some of the most common questions she gets about her SMARTROLLER® line of products.

Video 2: SMARTROLLER® Somatic Education
In this video, Stacy talks about how to deepen motor learning and body awareness using somatic education.

Video 3: SMARTROLLER Links: A Playground for Sensory Motor Learning
Stacy demonstrates various movements using the SMARTROLLER® Links to address hypermobility and work on proprioception and functional strengthening.

Video 4: Kinesthetic Learning and Posture with the SMARTROLLER® Sits
In this video, Stacy describes how the SMARTROLLER® Sits can be used as kinesthetic tools to better organize pelvic support and alignment to improve dynamic sitting posture.

To learn about Stacy Barrow’s book SMARTROLLER® Guide to Optimal Movement and shop for the full line of SMARTROLLER® products click here.

READ MORE Amy Bowman, OPTP Staff Writer - November 7, 2022

OPTP Exhibiting at PMA 2022

OPTP exhibiting at PMA 2022 
The Pilates Method Alliance International Conference is just around the corner and OPTP is excited to be exhibiting at the event! We hope to see you October 19-22 in Las Vegas. If you’re attending, visit us at booth #306 where you can experience and shop our wide selection of Pilates, fitness and therapy tools. 
Dr. Kristine Bragg workshop 
While at PMA, don’t miss Dr. Kristine Bragg’s workshop: Building a Better Balance Training Program. A postdoctoral scholar specializing in program evaluation, research and teaching, Dr. Bragg will help you revolutionize how you approach balance programming. Learn more about Dr. Bragg by following her on Instagram @mat.pilates and learn more about her must-see PMA workshop in the video below. 

We look forward to seeing those of you attending PMA. Whether you plan to attend or not, check out OPTP’s wide selection of Pilates products for studio or home use. 
Shop Pilates products 

READ MORE Amy Bowman, OPTP Staff Writer - October 12, 2022

Five Techniques for Better Posture and Better Health

Sitting and standing with a healthy, upright posture not only looks good, but can also help you avoid common neck and back problems. The following 30-second posture tips demonstrated by Dr. Yoav Suprun, DPT, OCS, Dip. MDT, CSCS, will help you practice healthy posture while completing common, everyday tasks.
Healthy posture while standing at a mirror to shave or apply makeup

Healthy posture while using your phone

Healthy posture while emptying the garbage and cleaning the trash can

Healthy posture while using a computer

Mid-back extension exercise for healthy posture

More posture tips from Dr. Yoav 
Find more posture tips in Dr. Yoav’s new book Aging Without Aching: Relieve pain, improve your posture, move better and stop kvetchingWritten for people who want to age better, with less pain and more vitality, this book includes functional fitness exercises, body mechanics strategies, and secrets to aging with perfect posture.

READ MORE Amy Bowman, OPTP Staff Writer - July 19, 2022

Pain Neuroscience Education: An Essential Part of the Solution to the Pain Epidemic

The grim statistics surrounding the chronic pain crisis and the opioid epidemic are causing healthcare practitioners worldwide to ask: what can we do? Pain neuroscience education (PNE) is a safe, simple, and effective method that practitioners can use to help their patients without prescribing more drugs. 
If you’re a healthcare practitioner who wants to be part of the solution to this growing problem, it’s likely that your next question is, “how do I get started?” The answer is simple. Pain neuroscience expert Adriaan Louw, PT, PhD, has created a comprehensive resource for all things PNE. It’s called WhyYouHurt.com.
It is currently reported that 25.3 million adults in the United States are suffering from daily chronic pain and one in six children and adolescents experience persistent pain. Find more statistics and learn why PNE is a viable addition to your clinical practice on the WHY page

Adriaan Louw explains why PNE is essential to helping patients in pain.

PNE is based around the 3-3-1 principle, a simple foundation for understanding and tackling the complexity of the human pain experience. Learn about the 3-3-1 principle and get guidance on books, courses, fellowships and more on the LEARN page. The more you understand PNE, the easier it will be to teach to your patients.  
“You think my pain is in my head,” is a common statement made by frustrated patients. Visit the TEACH page to view sample sessions showing how to respond to this statement and how to deal with other common patient questions and concerns. While you’re there, access downloadable patient homework, educational anecdotes, and simple ways you can teach your patients about pain.

Adriaan Louw explains how stories can be used to teach patients about pain.

Have a question related to PNE? Submit it on the ASK ADRIAAN page. Select questions will be answered in a video blog and posted to the page. 
Adriaan Louw has been at the heart of the chronic pain crisis for decades—researching, studying, and finding solutions. The knowledge and resources he’s gathered are now at your fingertips. Visit WhyYouHurt.com and find out how you can be a part of the solution to the chronic pain crisis and the opioid epidemic. For more information on PNE, books and resources are available at OPTP.com.

READ MORE Amy Bowman, OPTP Staff Writer - July 6, 2022

Spice Up Your Pilates Toe Taps

Toe Taps: 5 Variations to Try Today 

In honor of Pilates month, we’ve got 5 ways to spice up your toe taps, as demonstrated in the video above by Nicole Gregory, AFAA Certified Fitness Professional and STOTT Pilates Instructor at Pilates Detroit.
1.     Lie supine on the OPTP® PRO-ROLLER® with your head positioned on the PRO-ROLLER® Arch™ for a neutral position. Bring legs to a tabletop and, with arms spread wide at your sides for more stability or closer to you for more challenge, alternate from your left to right leg as you perform toe taps, activating your core.
2.      Lie on your back and with the OPTP® PRO-ROLLER® Super Soft on your knees, lift your legs into tabletop position, hip-distance apart. Push both hands into the foam roller as you alternate from your left to right leg, performing toe taps while keeping the foam roller stable against your legs.
3.     Lie on your back, lift your legs into tabletop position, and place the OPTP® PRO Soft Release Ball under one knee. Squeeze into the ball, using it as a tactile point as you engage your hamstring, while you perform toe taps for 10-20 seconds on one side before switching to the other side.
4.     Lie on your back, placing the Franklin Smooth Ball™ Set under your sit bones. Lift your legs up to tabletop, arms at your sides. Keeping legs parallel to one another, perform toe taps for 20-30 seconds as you challenge deep core engagement.
5.      Sit on the Pelvic Rocker™ Core Trainer with your arms on the ground at your sides. Pull your legs up to tabletop and alternating from your left to right leg, perform toe taps. To intensify the exercise, reach the leg forward, as if you’re riding a bicycle.
Celebrate Pilates month and strengthen your core with these 5 variations to spice up your Pilates Toe Taps.

READ MORE Amy Bowman, OPTP Staff Writer - May 2, 2022

5 Ways to Train Balance Featuring the Dynamic Duo

Fun, Balance-Boosting Exercises

Balance is a key aspect of fitness and can help improve coordination, joint stability and body awareness. Improving balance can help with day-to-day functioning, as well as sports performance. Plus, it’s an important part of long-term health, as it can help prevent falls that could lead to injury. In the videos below, Derek Mikulski, BS, CSCS, CPT, and Alexa @lowimpactfit demonstrate fun, balance-boosting exercises that can help you improve coordination, joint stability and body awareness. 

Build lower body strength and core strength while improving balance with pistol squats. 

Strengthen the glutes and hamstrings while improving balance with single leg hip extensions. 

Strengthen the upper body and the core while improving balance with these simple exercises you can do anywhere. 

Strengthen the upper body and lower body with this full balance-boosting workout. 

Start moving toward better balance with these fun, balance-boosting exercises that you can do anytime, anywhere.

Featured balance products

READ MORE Amy Bowman, OPTP Staff Writer - September 17, 2021

PROfiles: Donna Gambino, PT, Certified Pilates Instructor

‘Aha’ moments lead to a life of helping people heal

As a high school student with an interest in health care, Donna Gambino was invited to tag along for a series of physical therapy appointments with a family friend who was recovering from a knee replacement. “That was probably the first time in my life that I had an ‘aha’ moment, says Donna. “I walked into the physical therapy gym and immediately felt like, ‘Okay, this is where I belong,’” she adds.

During the following weeks and months, Donna observed as her mother’s friend gained strength, and other patients at the clinic continued to improve, as well. “I think it was the fact that these people were coming in so broken, and the therapists were able to develop a close working relationship with them, to even become friends with them. The therapists would get to meet with these patients frequently, to see their progress, and then to witness them walk out of the clinic stronger than when they came in,” she says. The experience solidified the fact that Donna wanted to become a physical therapist herself.

Finding what she really loves to do

After earning a Bachelor of Applied Science in Physical Therapy from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, Donna married her husband, Chris, and they moved to Cleveland, Ohio. She landed a job as a PT at an acute care hospital, an experience she describes as the utopia of her career. “My managers were open to trying out new ideas and any crazy idea I had, they would give me a chance to try it for six weeks and see how it went.” At the clinic, Donna worked in cardiac rehab and orthopedic rehab, providing both in-patient and out-patient care. “I got my feet wet in many different areas until I could find what I really, really loved to do and what I excelled at,” Donna says.

Donna working with a client.

Discovering a love for teaching

While working in cardiac rehab, Donna worked on a team with a nurse and a doctor, providing rehabilitation care for individuals recovering from heart attacks and bypass surgery. The role required educating patients on fitness and lifestyle changes. “This was another pivotal moment,” says Donna. “I realized that it can’t just be about the body. I’m not just treating a shoulder or a knee,” she says. “It’s the whole thing. I realized that the mind plays a really big part in a person’s wellness, and that’s been a huge part of my journey,” she adds. The role also helped her to discover that she loves teaching. “It’s not my job to do anything for people. It’s my job to show people how to do it themselves,” she says.

In 1993 Donna and her husband moved to Michigan where she started a job at a local clinic providing outpatient therapy services. With 80% of orthopedic patients struggling with back pain, Donna began reading more and more research on the positive effects Pilates had on back pain patients. She realized that her PT knowledge and experience made her the perfect candidate to teach Pilates. “I thought, this is a tool I need to have,” she says.

In 2000 she enrolled in a Pilates certification program at the Professional Health and Fitness Institute—a Pilates school specifically for PTs. She embraced Pilates as a way to teach people how to safely start exercising after injury or illness, without re-injuring themselves. The results? “It benefits everyone who does it,” says Donna. “I have not had one person that I’ve ever trained in Pilates who hasn’t learned something new about their bodies or how to make it work more efficiently.”

Donna educates viewers on her YouTube channel: Infinity Health Pilates.

Taking Pilates to the next level

While seeing the positive results Pilates had on clients, Donna began taking notes for the book she hoped to write, someday when she had more time. That opportunity came sooner than she expected when a company came in and bought the clinic where she was working—requiring all the employees to sign a contract that included stipulations Donna was not in agreement with. “It was another ‘aha’ moment for me,” says Donna. “I knew I wasn’t going to sign the contract. I realized this is my time to go now and I quit that day—it was really freeing. I got in the car and called my husband and said, ‘I just quit my job. I’m going to take this Pilates thing to the next level and I’m going to write a book.’”

Donna’s first book, On a Roll @ Home: Home Exercises for Core Strength and Massage on the Foam Roller was published in 2006. She purchased Pilates equipment, built a studio in her home, and started getting referrals from therapy friends, massage therapists and chiropractors in the area. Her business, which is now called Infinity Health Therapeutic Pilates, began to grow. All of her business has been word of mouth and Donna believes her success has been her ability to help people heal and start doing activities they never thought they could do. “My tagline is Fitness Solutions for Postural Improvement. I truly believe that if your body is aligned properly, then movement is free and effortless. I can help people do that using the combination of my rehabilitation and fitness knowledge,” says Donna.

Donna helping Pilates clients master the magic circle.

Helping people through difficult challenges

In 2007, she published her second book, Age Perfected Pilates: Mat Exercises Designed to Improve Posture, Strength & Movement and in 2014 she published On a Roll @ Home: Home Exercises for Stretch and Massage on the Foam Roller. Donna and her husband recently moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she continues to educate through her books, private Pilates sessions, and her YouTube channel: Infinity Health Pilates. She says she is continually motivated by the opportunity to help people heal. “People can persevere and rise above even the most difficult challenges you can imagine,” she says.

Donna then relays the story of a PT client who she started working with when the girl was only 16. She had been born with a significant leg length discrepancy which caused her to walk with a limp. After a surgical procedure that involved cutting the bone and adding external scaffolding and screws, Donna worked with the girl during her difficult high school years as she worked to recover—including when she finally had the external device removed and was able to walk without it. “We’re still friends today,” says Donna, her voice cracking. “I was there when she walked down the aisle at her wedding—I cried the whole time. That’s why I decided to do this work in the first place.”

Donna Gambino, PT, Certified Pilates Instructor, is the owner of Infinity Health Therapeutic Pilates, LLC. She is the author of three books: On a Roll @ Home: Home Exercises for Core Strength and Massage on the Foam Roller; Age Perfected Pilates: Mat Exercises Designed to Improve Posture, Strength & Movement, published by OPTP; and On a Roll @ Home: Home Exercises for Stretch and Massage on the Foam Roller. View Donna’s Pilates videos on her YouTube channel: Infinity Health Pilates. Learn more about Donna and sign up for in person (Dayton, Ohio), or virtual Pilates classes at infinityhealth.org.

READ MORE Amy Bowman, OPTP Staff Writer - July 5, 2021

PROfiles: Joe Tatta, PT, DPT, CNS | Integrative Pain Care

Reinventing Pain Care

As a physical therapist and the founder of the Integrative Pain Science Institute, Joe Tatta, PT, DPT, CNS, is on a mission to help individuals experiencing pain by treating the body, mind and spirit. A New York native who describes himself as “someone who values innovation and change, and is always asking how we can improve the delivery of healthcare,” Dr. Tatta knows there’s a better way to treat pain. His approach has been informed and inspired by a variety of people and experiences, but a defining example was the one set by his mom, a retired nurse who worked at an adolescent cancer care center for many years.

As a young boy, Dr. Tatta witnessed his mom take control of her health, and her life, by changing her eating habits, taking up an exercise program, learning to manage stress and anxiety, and making a career change. Without the use of medication, she took control of her health, and her life, and it made a deep and lasting impression.

Moving toward a medical profession with a health and wellness component

As a young boy, Dr. Tatta read the medical journals that were sent to their home. He was fascinated by the information, yet fully aware that wearing a white lab coat and writing prescriptions was not going to be his path. He had always had in interest in the physical body, how it performs, and how to optimize it. A natural athlete, he started gymnastics at the age of three, and although he played other sports through the years, gymnastics was his mainstay. “Gymnastics was a big influence on me as far as pursuing physical therapy, and there’s actually a little bit of mindfulness built into the sport, too,” he says. It eventually became clear that physical therapy was ideal—a medical profession with a health and wellness component.

After graduating from the physical therapy program at the State University of New York, Health Science Center in Brooklyn, Dr. Tatta worked for two years in an inpatient adult rehabilitation clinic where he saw patients with a variety of conditions including spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, neurological conditions and amputations. He then accepted a position at a physical therapy clinic in New York City that specialized in the performing arts, where he worked with dancers.

Seeking a new model of care

His early work experiences provided Dr. Tatta with a vision for a model of care that he wanted to deliver, which inspired him to collaborate with two other physical therapists and open their own clinic, Premier Physical Therapy and Wellness. “There was an older kind of physical therapy model out there, and we were interested in pursuing newer, more modern models of treatment and interventions for care,” says Dr. Tatta. With an interest in systems and a desire to affect change, he and his business partners opened over a dozen locations in 15 years.

Moving toward integrative pain care

During this time, Dr. Tatta was recognizing the high number of patients who were struggling with chronic pain, while learning how to run a group of successful clinics, but some of the most formative lessons were ones taught outside the clinic doors. After getting hooked on yoga classes, Dr. Tatta became a self-described yogi, learning meditation in the process. This led to mindfulness classes, and eventually he was introduced to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a science-backed approach to treating physical and psychological pain through mindfulness, meditation and other non-pharmaceutical practices.

He also studied nutrition and other alternative and complementary forms of care, as well as Pilates. “The thing about Pilates that interested me was how you can use the equipment to help facilitate movement and to help people who have challenges moving,” he says. “In fact, some of Joseph Pilates’ early work was on people who were in hospital beds. It’s really an ideal method for rehabilitation,” Joe says.

Sharing a new approach to treating pain

When he and his colleagues decided to exit the business and move on to other endeavors, Dr. Tatta decided to focus on writing a book that he had been contemplating. The result was the publication of Heal Your Pain Now, a book that shows how to take an integrative approach to treating pain using exercise, nutrition and the mind. He received a great deal of positive feedback from readers, including other practitioners who wanted to know more about implementing an integrative approach to pain.

These conversations set off a strong desire to address some of the major challenges in the physical therapy world, including how to train professionals about psychologically informed care and how to integrate pain care and other aspects of care like nutrition, supplements and mindfulness and acceptance-based interventions into physical therapy treatment. The result was the Integrative Pain Science Institute, which Dr. Tatta founded in 2016 in order to teach new biopsychosocial pain treatment methods to other practitioners.

Helping people take meaningful, purposeful action

In 2020 Dr. Tatta published his second book, Radical Relief: A Guide to Overcome Chronic Pain. The book introduces readers to ACT and mindfulness, and includes more than 40 cognitive exercises, along with metaphors and colorful imagery to help readers take purposeful action toward a more meaningful life—providing a safe and effective alternative to common pain treatments.

In addition to his books, Dr. Tatta has a podcast that focuses on many healthcare topics, including pain care. “We’re reading the research, but practices aren’t changing as rapidly as we need,” says Dr. Tatta. “So, I look at my platform, including the Integrative Pain Science Institute and my podcast, as a public service announcement for people with pain, as well as practitioners. I’m saying, ‘here’s what we know. Let’s share the information and then let’s start to take action on it so we reinvent how we deliver pain care.’”

Joe Tatta, PT, DPT, CNS, is the Founder of the Integrative Pain Science Institute, a cutting-edge health company reinventing pain care through evidence-based treatment, research, and professional development. He is the author of two books: Heal Your Pain Now and Radical Relief: A Guide to Overcome Chronic Pain.

READ MORE Amy Bowman, OPTP Staff Writer - April 19, 2021

Uneven Surface vs. Unstable Surface Balance Training

Functional Balance Training: Uneven and Unstable Surfaces

Whether you are a physical therapist, chiropractor, athletic trainer, Pilates instructor, or other type of fitness professional, it is likely that you work with clients and/or patients who need to improve their balance.

The evolution of balance training

Over the last three decades, balance training has evolved dramatically. Through the 90s and into the early 2000s, health and fitness professionals began to look more closely at the “functionality” of the exercises they were prescribing; that is, how exercises translate to movement outside of the clinic, studio or gym.

It was realized that balance training in a predictable, static environment would yield sub-par results. Because most individuals need to have sound balance while moving, people need to combine traditional static balance exercises with mobile, multiplanar and unpredictable dynamic exercises across variable surfaces.

This realization caused health and fitness professionals to do two things differently:

1.) They began incorporating more dynamic, functional movement into their programming.
2.) They began utilizing functional new forms of equipment to help their patients and clients achieve their goals.

Balance tools for functional training

Since the shift towards more functional forms of balance training, innovators have created an abundance of balance training tools. Most of these tools offer some sort of variable surface to conduct exercises on and/or across. The basic logic behind these products is simple: exercising on a variable surface will introduce unpredictable balance demands to the patient or client, helping them build a stronger neurological connection between the brain, feet, and everything in between.

Most balance training tools fall into one of two main categories: unstable surfaces and uneven surfaces.

Unstable surface balance tools

Unstable surfaces can be thought of as any surface that moves as the patient or client is standing on top of it. With this variability in movement, the body’s main sensory systems that govern balance (the vestibular and proprioceptive systems) are turned on to a greater degree. Over time, this enhanced sensory and muscle activation can build better balance, helping the individual develop a better intuitive understanding of their body’s position in space.

While a vast number of exercises can be conducted on top of a balance tool that offers an unstable surface, mobile exercises (such as walking or lunging) can be challenging since the surface area of these tools can be quite small.

Examples of balance tools that offer an unstable surface include wobble boards, balance pads, balance discs, and instability platforms. These tools each offer their own unique form of instability.

Wobble Boards

Wobble boards come in many shapes and sizes, but the concept is similar across all variations. The tools feature a solid surface on top of a curved base that moves in either one plane of motion (easier) or in all directions (harder). Wobble boards are great for all patient and client types. If you are in the market for a wobble board, the Wobblesmart by OPTP is a great option. It can be adjusted across 6 degrees of difficulty to accommodate a range of balance abilities, making it very versatile.

Balance Pads

Balance pads also come in many shapes and sizes. These balance tools are commonly made from pliable air-filled foam, which collapses as a user stands on top. Balance pads are most commonly used with older adults, since they offer a lesser degree of instability and are low to the ground, minimizing the risk of a fall. For a great balance pad option, check out the OPTP Pro Balance Pad.

Balance Discs

Balance discs are similar to both wobble boards and balance pads in that they can be made of collapsible foam or offer a solid platform on top of a curved base. They can also be completely air-filled. These tools are circular in shape and are commonly used in unilateral (single leg) exercises. For an exciting and unique balance disc option, check out the OPTP Dynamic Duo™ Balance & Stability Trainers.

Instability Platforms

Instability platforms include a broad range of dome-shaped balance tools. These products are most commonly made from a durable rubber material that is balloon-like, being filled with air. This rubber air filled “balloon” can serve as the balance tool itself or can be affixed to a solid platform that the user stands on top of. For one of the newest innovations in instability platforms, check out the OPTP PRO-PODS™.

Uneven surface balance tools

As mentioned, one major consideration in today’s balance training program development is the functionality of exercises. That is, how does, “balance exercise x” help prepare the patient or client for doing, “activity x” in their day-to-day life?

Because most people spend a fair amount of time standing, walking, hiking, jogging, or running on surfaces that are not unstable, innovators recently began creating products that offer uneven surfaces. Balance tools with an uneven surface offer variability that is more similar to what people might encounter in their daily lives including hills, uneven grass or playing fields, rocky walkways, old sidewalks, and hiking trails.

These surfaces have fixed and unfixed obstacles that people must navigate on, over and across safely. Moving on and across an uneven surface offers the same benefits that unstable surfaces offer, with the added benefit of increased functionality. To train on any uneven surface, people would normally have to venture outside to the nearest park, trail, hill, field, or mountain; until now.

CobbleFoam: A highly effective approach to improving balance

OPTP recently released an innovative new balance training product called CobbleFoam. Each CobbleFoam board is 16” x 16” and features foam blocks of varying heights that create uneven terrain to stand on or traverse across. The CobbleFoam board/s simulate the uneven surfaces we encounter in everyday life and can be used safely and comfortably in the clinic, studio, gym or home.

Conducting any balance exercise on an uneven surface like CobbleFoam immediately increases the benefits of the movement. Due to the variability of the uneven surface, the brain and muscles will be engaged at a deeper level to keep the body upright and balanced. In addition, the deep intrinsic stability system of the foot-ankle-knee complex will be activated to a much greater degree, building strength and joint integrity.

To make balance exercises even more functional and life-like, combining an uneven surface like the CobbleFoam board/s with other fitness tools like weights, steps, balance pads and hurdles to develop an “obstacle course” is a highly effective approach to developing and improving functional balance.

The key to the most profound overall benefits

The use of both unstable and uneven balance training products offers incredibly beneficial outcomes for patients and clients. When combined with functional movement that is most similar to activities of daily life, patients and clients will realize the most profound overall benefits.

To explore all of OPTP’s 40+ balance training products, visit optp.com.

READ MORE Derek Mikulski, BS, CSCS, CPT - February 9, 2021

Using Mindfulness and Acceptance to Mentally Cope with Chronic Pain

Using Mindfulness and Acceptance to Mentally Cope with Chronic Pain

By Joe Tatta, PT, DPT, CNS

Over the last century, a belief has developed that people living with chronic pain are broken, they need to be fixed, and pain must be completely eliminated in order to achieve a sense of freedom and vitality.

Things that are broken require fixing. When you view pain as a problem, it will naturally require a solution that promises to fix it. But what if the ways you’ve tried to mend or fix your pain are actually making things worse? Consider that possibility for a moment. Struggling to control pain can place a tremendous amount of strain on your body and your life. Each failed fix or promise of a solution to stop, control, or eliminate pain takes a toll. It lets you down, shattering your expectations into a thousand pieces, leaving you spent and drained of energy.

An Alternate Path: Mindfulness and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

A modern exploration of human suffering suggests chronic pain isn’t the enemy and that it doesn’t need to be stopped, eliminated or controlled to live a rich, meaningful and active life. Rather than focusing on changing physical or psychological pain directly, approaches such as mindfulness and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy seek to change the function of those events and the individual’s relationship to them.

The following metaphor will help you recognize how ineffective the struggle with pain control really is. It also shows you a surprising alternate path out of the struggle—a path that can help you return to an active life.

Activity: Letting Go of the Rope

Fighting to control or eliminate pain is like being in a tug-of-war with a huge pain monster. In between you and this big, ugly monster is a deep, bottomless pit. Losing this tug-of-war means falling into the pit, where you’ll be trapped forever.

Imagine grasping the rope tightly with both hands and beginning to pull. The harder you pull, the harder the pain monster pulls back. You tighten your grip further until your knuckles are white. Your elbows contract and your shoulders rise with tension. Your back braces as you dig your heels into the ground and begin to pull.

As the struggle continues you become more and more exhausted and begin to feel the pain in your body. Your arms are tired, your face is red and you’re sweating as you continue in this fight for your life. As the struggle continues, you edge closer and closer to the pit. The pain monster is winning.

Finally, you are pulled to the very edge of the pit where you stare into the depths of darkness. Your mind searches for solutions—telling you to pull harder and not to give in until you’ve won the struggle. Yet, there is an option you probably haven’t considered; You don’t need to win this tug-of-war.

What if you decide to let go of the rope and give up the fight?

Imagine yourself dropping the rope right now.

Notice how your body feels as you drop the rope.
Does the tension in your body increase or decrease? Does your energy level go up or down? You’re now free to use your hands, feet, your entire body, and your mind for something other than fighting pain. The pain monster hasn’t gone away just because you stopped tugging. He may still be holding one end hoping that you grab hold for another round. There may be times when you re-engage in this battle simply out of habit, even without the pain monster taunting you.

Focus on the Important Things You Care About
Dropping the rope will allow you to save your energy to focus on the important things you care about—relationships and activities that are waiting to be discovered or rediscovered. Goals and dreams that you have put on hold because you were busy in the battle with the pain monster. Take a moment and think about all the people and activities that have been waiting while you’ve been involved in the tug-of-war. What projects have you put on hold? What vacations have you canceled or put off planning? Is there a friend you no longer see or a child who needs your support? Start a list or simply visualize the people and places that make you feel excited about life again. How would dropping the rope give you more time, energy, and space to connect with who and what is important to you?
Letting go creates space for something new to take its place, or for something you once cherished to return. When you shift your focus from trying to control pain, worrying about when pain will return, or whether or not activities will cause more pain, you create space and energy to move toward the full and active life you desire. You are free to create the life you want.

This is an excerpt from the book Radical Relief: A Guide to Overcome Chronic Pain by Joe Tatta, PT, DPT, CNS. This workbook and guide is for people experiencing chronic pain and the professionals who treat them. Using metaphors, colorful imagery and more than 40 mindfulness activities, Radical Relief helps readers identify the blocks that may be keeping them stuck and offers tools for taking meaningful, purposeful action toward a more fulfilling life.

READ MORE Joe Tatta, PT, DPT, CNS - February 4, 2021

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