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Physiotherapist Georgie Oldfield talks to Workingmums.co.uk about stress-induced pain and how to relieve it.
Are you stressed? Do you suffer from aches and pains? Ever thought the two might be linked?
According to Georgie Oldfield they are.
Georgie, a mum of two grown-up children – one doing voluntary work on a Scottish Island and the other in Antarctica – has been a physiotherapist for 30 years. She was doing quite conventional physiotherapy until around 2000 when her children started school full time. “I was working part time and needed more stimulation,” says Georgie. She decided to take a French class, but she couldn’t find one and went for a reflexology diploma instead which covered spinal pain. “It was not just about managing the pain, but helping patients recover,” she says. “It opened my mind up to recognising there were a lot of other things going on with pain. If someone had knee pain, it was not necessarily just the knee that was the problem.”
Amazon alerted her to the work of John Sarno, a pioneering professor in the US, who linked pain to psychological issues. “I thought what he was claiming was far too good to be true, but I was very open-minded by then. I read his book, visited him in 2007 and it changed my life. It answered questions about both my own health issues and my patients’.”
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She has developed her own online programme, the SIRPA recovery programme, and an associated training scheme, based on Dr Sarno’s theory about Tension Myoneural Syndrome. She says many of her patients blame their chronic pain on physical issues when they are psychological.
“We are always looking for physical explanations for our aches and pains when they may have other origins,” she says.
She found Dr Sarno’s theory not only matched with her patients’ situation but with her own. She suffered from migraines and back and other pain when she took the decision to leave the NHS in 2005. She would blame different things for each pain, but realised that it was a response to her situation. “I had left a monthly salary, started my own business and that was what was causing my sciatica,” she says, “not sitting still for long periods which I do now with no problem.”
She also suffered from severe neck pain, which she blamed on the garage door, even though it did not always occur after she had closed it. It was resolved after she realised it was linked to family tensions.
She bought a DVD of Dr Sarno’s work and played it to 50 patients who had recurring pain. “All of them have recovered. I realised there was great potential in this method,” she says.
She cites several examples of patients whose pain has dissipated as a result of the SIRPA recovery programme. One of her patients, in her 30s, had severe curvature of the spine and was walking with sticks. She was told she needed to have spinal injections. Georgie spoke to her about her past, how she’d spent her teen years in a plaster jacket and how that had felt. The patient also spoke about the current stress she was under with three children and a full-time job. Georgie advised her to write a journal to acknowledge her feelings about being in the plaster jacket and put them into perspective. She also spoke about the woman’s job and responsibilities and about what she could practically change and what she couldn’t. “It makes a huge difference if you are not constantly resisting what you are doing and blaming other things. That creates a lot of stress,” says Georgie.
When the woman’s treatment was over she returned and she was walking without sticks, dancing even. She had even been on the trampoline with her children. “I was almost in tears,” says Georgie, who lives in Huddersfield.
She thinks a lot of pain is the manifestation of unresolved trauma, whether from childhood or later. “Maybe you were brought up to be a people pleaser and that creates guilt as a working mum when you feel you are doing neither your job or looking after your children in the way you think you should be doing it,” says Georgie. The way to deal with it is not to think you can change your personality, she adds, but to recognise and be aware of where the people pleasing comes from and why.
She provides a 90-minute in-depth assessment to look at deep-seated issues that might affect pain. Treatment can involve a whole range of tools – from meditation to writing a journal.
Georgie says working mums often suffer from stress-induced pain because they feel they have to balance everything and suppress how they feel about that. They also lack the time to sit down and take time for themselves, whether that is just being still for a few minutes in the car when they get home before going into the house or taking a regular lunch break outside the office.
She says there are often little things people can do to make life easier. “People these days live very busy lives and suffer from information overload. There’s never enough time to make any sense of it all. A lot of people wake up to emails or radio and never have a moment of no noise in any 24-hour period,” says Georgie. “It’s important to have moments when you can sit quietly and be mindful. It’s all about self care.”
*Georgie is organising a two-day SIRPA retreat in the Wirral for a small group of people to practice meditation and to take time out to focus on themselves. It takes place from 29 September to 1st October. More details – http://www.georgieoldfield.com/. You can download the SIRPA audio recordings here and find out about the retreat.