When the body says STOP

Do you experience pain that can't be explained, fatigue, trouble concentrating/remembering, digestive issues, or chest discomfort? You might be suffering from a functional disorder. But more on that in a moment. 

I went to a fascinating seminar a short while ago, presented by Dr Chris Kenedi, a physician with a special interest in psychiatric medicine and pain. It was called 'Chronic unexplained pain', and was directed at GPs and specialists who were seeing clients who presented with pain and symptoms that no one can explain. Often, patients will go through specialist after specialist, undergoing treatments and tests, but experience no improvement in their condition. Dr Kenedi's presentation was about how to help patients like this, and once again - a holistic approach was recommended. We know about the links between mental and physical health, so why are we consistently surprised when there is new evidence discovered for the effect of stress/anxiety/depression on the body.

An interesting fact presented was that 75% of people who end up suiciding, will go to their GP and complain of stomach pain or a headache. This makes GPs the first line for spotting symptoms like these, and asking questions about how someone is doing generally. 

It's important to note that many people will be very cautious about suggesting psychological components to pain. They're afraid a patient/client will hear 'it is all in your head', and feel they aren't being taken seriously. What we are suggesting by citing the brain-body link, is that it should in fact be viewed from a holistic perspective. Rather than a 'broken' body part to be 'fixed', we want to look more widely and see where help would be most helpful. 

Chronic pain


I mentioned functional disorder before, and you might be wondering what it is. It basically means that a collection of symptoms impact a person so significantly to the degree that they impair daily functioning. But, no cause can be found, and the body parts look completely normal under all kinds of investigation. 

Here is an incredible document about functional disorder, chronic pain, and how to look at physical pain with a wider view. It was put together by the Danish Committee for Health Education, and explains simply and clearly why some people might experience unexplained pain more often than others. 

A quote from the pdf linked above: "A lot of people consider the body, mind and social aspects to be three separate entities that do not have much to do with one another. Nonetheless, scientific research indicates that it does not make sense to split up a human being like that."

Other things that Dr Kenedi mentioned:

- A lot of people with a functional disorder have experienced a great deterioration in their physical fitness, which will likely be incredibly frustrating for a previously active person. 

- The importance of meeting patients where they are. By this he means, primarily, listening. Listening, and also not pushing people beyond what they're ready for.  See page 18 of the above document for an excellent explanation of the ideal balance of challenge/comfort. 

- The crucial role of relaxation and mindfulness on health and happiness.

- That the number 1 predictor of happiness (and I would suggest, general wellbeing) is the number of first-degree connections one has. The number 2 predictor, something to give life meaning, something to believe in. 

Cover page of PDF about functional disorders, chronic pain. Click the image to view the full document. 

Cover page of PDF about functional disorders, chronic pain. Click the image to view the full document.