Pain mechanisms and osteopathy

Pain mechanisms are a very interesting thing to study in order to change the way we treat our patients. Don’t worry, it won’t change the techniques you’ll use, because they don’t matter. But it might change the way you see things and the way you explain your action. And this is a big deal.

How did I start to study pain mechanisms?

I remember thinking that most people come and see me in order to find some kind of relief from their pain. And the thing is that I didn’t know much about it. That’s not a real issue nowadays, when you don’t know anything about something, you just go online and find people who are willing to explain those stuff to you. That’s what I did because I’m smart. And I can tell you that I couldn’t realize how much I didn’t know (and still don’t) about pain.

Pain mechanisms: a very shitty summary for the few people who read my texts

Look at the picture that is used to illustrate this article. Now, take a few minutes to realize how good I am to use Canva and create illustrations without being able to draw. Done? Okay, good, now focus on what I’m trying to talk about.

Imagine a bone fire is set close to you. You don’t pay attention to it and at one point your hand gets too close to the flames. Can you imagine/feel the reaction of the arm?

If you do, then you understand why people come to see an osteopath. Oh, you still don’t see it? Let’s go then!

Every time something is PERCEIVED as a threat, as a danger, your body protects you. I insist again on the word PERCEIVED. Why?

Because sometimes there’s a real fire (and we need to ask you to check with your GP for example), and sometimes there’s a situation interpreted as a danger. Such as…bending forward to pick up your ridiculously expensive iPhone 14 hoping the screen is still fine because you won’t be granted another loan to change the glass!

Pain and osteopathy

So the perception of threat is the reason why people get tensed up. Their body prevents them from getting close to what is perceived as a danger, and pain is triggered just as a fire alarm does in order to tell you something’s happening.

So what does the osteopath do? We use touch (no needles, no cupping therapy, no massage guns, etc) to communicate with our patient’s bodies. And what do we communicate? We show them that there is no/less danger. We convey safety with/through our hands.

Because the thing is, most people who come and see me KNOW that there’s no danger. But going on defense mode is decided on a more subtle level, more subconscious. So that’s where we need to act. And touch is a great tool to do so as it is a form of silent communication. The different techniques the osteopath uses are just different communication styles: some are very direct (stretching, structural), some more subtle (functional work), and some, the ones I like most, are about feeling and listening, giving space.

Osteopathy: conveying safety as a way to decrease pain

I know it sounds like nice words, right? A bit cheesy even. But don’t try to interpret those words, because I am actually being very literal: an osteopath needs to convey safety with their hands and through their presence. How?

If you’ve read my texts, you might know that I tend to feel my patients’ pain as if it were mine. They are actually mine because ‘It’s one Life’ as Doctor Becker used to say. But let’s not go too far here. The point is, if you can feel people’s pain, it means that people can share what they feel with you. So if you want to share safety with people, maybe one needs to experience safety in their own body.

Osteopathy is osteopath centered. So maybe next time you see a patient with a defense mechanism activated, stop trying to pull on it and start experiencing safety. This is the way my friends, osteopathy and pain mechanisms for the win.


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