The Haunted House Effect, Fear and Chronic Pain

October 30th, 2020


Photos are the property of Nightmares Fear Factory
This is an update from a post originally shared October 2015

The most current science on pain, tells us pain is an experience and not a sensation. Yes, we use words to describe our pain in terms of sensation (stabbing, aching, dull, throbbing, nagging, etc.), but there are many factors that contribute to just exactly how each of us get to the point where this pain is demanding our attention. Associated with this pain event are the many biological, psychological, and social elements that were present before, during and after the “experience”.

Many of you will be familiar by now with the bio-psycho-social paradigm used to better understand the pain experience. This video interview I did will help explain if you are not familiar.

The “Haunted House Effect” is a brilliant metaphor to add insight into our own experience.

We have all heard the saying “frozen with fear”. It is that brief but profound period of time where something is so shocking or terrifying that one cannot move. The body does not respond because the brain is overwhelmed with the danger or threat of danger at hand.

Similarly, consider what happens to your body and you mind the moment you have the fright of your life in a haunted house. The image above is from the web site Nightmares Fear Factory. They are hugely popular images on the internet of visitors caught at a moment in time inside the Nightmares Fear Factory’s haunted house.

If we got a little “sciencey” here and thought about all the things that happen to the body as this photo is taken and for the short time after, we would observe:

 A huge dump of stress hormones entering the blood stream (adrenaline, cortisol)
 The heart rate and blood pressure spike
 Blood vessels dilate
 Pupils dilate
 Breathing gets rapid and shallow
 Muscles all around the joints contract and stiffen the body
 Posture instinctively goes into a flexed protection mode
 Ensuing movement is guarded and apprehensive
 Language to express the experience are dramatic and emotionally charged

I purposely used boxes in the list above because I want you to think of “ticking the boxes”. In the haunted house examples, these are boxes that are “ticked” when an extreme scare has occurred. Now let us imagine these events happened within the first 5 minutes of a scheduled 30-minute tour through the haunted house. They still have 25 more minutes to take part in an experience where the tone has been clearly established as frighteningly intense.

So, what happens when they approach that next corner that they cannot see past? Are they relaxed and at ease? Absolutely not! Their body will reproduce the identical events it did from the first scare. Except all those responses will happen before they even get to the corner.

As they cautiously approach the blind corner, and their body is in full anticipation mode-anticipation of the next blood curling scare-they turn the corner to see a unicorn and rainbows.

No threat exists at this corner. Yet their body and mind went through all the same events as if the next big scare actually took place. That pattern continues through the remainder of the tour with each anticipation of the scares almost as physically and mentally real as a scare itself.

The source (which we cannot see) that created those responses in the photos is not the only part of that scare experience. Although likely not as obvious to those in the photos, the entire experience includes the people they are with, the smell of the room, the temperature of the room, the sounds and even how their clothes fit. And as the remainder of the tour continues, they all become part of the biological, psychological, and social contribution to that experience.

Now consider this scenario. After the first scare event, the participants get to put on full body armor and carry a 4-foot taser wand that can keep anyone or anything at least 4 feet away. Do you think this would increase their confidence and decrease the threat as they approached the ensuing corners? I would suggest it does make them safer and more confident. Perhaps they will have some fear, but not nearly as intense now that they have these protective “tools”.

So, what has this got to do with someone dealing with chronic pain? The scenarios can be almost identical except replace “scare” with “pain”. Let us say for example that after a long flight you felt a pop in your back as you lowered your carryon from the overhead bin. You begin to feel your back tighten up and you experience the pain ramping up as you exit the plane. Beginning with the “pop” you felt, you would begin to experience those same 7 traits listed earlier. And whether you realized it or not, the physical pain itself is not the only part of the experience. The people you are with, the smell of the airplane and then the terminal, the temperature, the sounds and even how your clothes fit all become part of the biological, psychological and social contribution to that pain experience.

These combined elements begin to form a neuro signature or neuro representation in your brain. Over the next couple of days as you are recovering from this episode, you experience those 9 traits (boxes to tick) any time you anticipate potential threat to your back. This could be something as familiar as putting on your socks. Some movements may in fact provoke pain, but others may not. Yet the net result is remarkably similar in terms of your physiological and mental response.

You can clearly see how patterns emerge that are counterproductive to your long-term goals. And the reality of this is that we can’t, and you can’t explain your way through process. Yes, you need an understanding, but your body and brain also need proof. This is where a strategic and structured corrective exercise plan can create the movement confidence you need to no longer anticipate a threat when the threat is not valid. The proper, strategic exercise program for you becomes your full body armor and 4-foot laser wand.

Pain is an extraordinarily complex experience for everyone. And many people will attempt to chase one aspect or another of their pain. The science now tells us that we must look at the entire bio-pyscho-social context from which chronic pain is experienced.

Don’t live your life waiting for the next ghost or goblin around the corner. Suit up, educate yourself and show your brain that you are not broken.

Happy Halloween!

Corrective Exercise Static Wall Femur Rotations

October 27th, 2020

The following exercise is taken from our library available at www.functionfirsted.com

We share this example with you as an exercise that you might find useful as well as to add to your understanding of the bio-psycho-social considerations we apply during programming.

This Level B exercise can also be found in my book, The Pain-Free Program: A Proven Method to Relieve Back, Neck, Shoulder and Joint Pain.

Biomechanical Outcomes:
•Increase bi-lateral hip rotation autonomous from gravitational influence over the pelvis and entire upper body.
•Enhance transverse plane hip rotation independent from the pelvis and lumbar spine motion.

Neurological | Physiological Outcomes:
•Enhance cognitive processing mechanisms associated with the planning phase (evaluation) and motor unit recruitment involved during the execution of exercise.
•Promote connective tissue extensibility associated with internal and external hip rotation.

Psycho | Social Outcomes:
•The introduction of localized and independent hip rotation fosters a novel experiential awareness designed to help expand maladaptive appraisals and challenge any associated neurosignatures of hip rotation avoidance.

If you have not taken advantage of the 24 FREE PASS to Function First Academy to see all of the great stuff there, now is your chance!

30 – static wall with leg rotation.wav from Kevin Murray on Vimeo.

How PFMS Programming Excels

August 13th, 2020

What drives your decision making when designing your client’s/patients exercise program? No doubt some of the decision is based on your client’s goals, as it should be. That is why they are seeing you.

But there are often many routes to a goal. And when we throw conquering pain into the equation, the route that is chosen becomes much more significant.

With the Function First Approach and its Pain-Free Movement Specialist curriculum, the sequencing of the exercises is critical. Much like a phone number, the same elements in a different order will often yield a different result.

With the client who has experienced or is experiencing chronic pain, the biomechanical, neurological and physiological characteristics of the exercise are critical. But those characteristics can be negated and potentially pain provoking if we have not acknowledged, validated and considered the psychological state (readiness, expectations, apprehensions, preconceived ideas, etc.) as it applies to the exercises we will provide.

And this is where the PFMS excels. Marrying the critical movement and mechanical needs to the psycho-social needs of the client at that time. Delivered with empathetic and confident coaching and you can see why Function First has served clients from around the globe who could not have their needs met elsewhere.

As such, I want to give you a peak into one of the many ways our Function First Academy can be a resource and support you in your mission to serve those challenged by chronic pain.
In the video below, I will walk you through a few of the aspects of the site that will change the way you program.

Corrective Exercise Kneeling Aztec

May 28th, 2020

Any exercise that requires you to match a force with a counter force to maintain stability, will be self regulating. In other words, you can only push or pull to a level that can be stabilized by your own internal force generation.

The opposite of this would be ground reaction forces (GRF). The limitations on force production would be strength issue because you can push through the ground. This is the case with most exercises when the force is moved vertically against gravity. But when the force applied is horizontally or perpendicular to the field of gravity, we don’t get the same benefits from the GRF that we get with a vertical load.

Instead, we must turn to our own internal stability from which to create an anchor point for force generation.

As such, this corrective exercise is an excellent core exercise predominantly for the sagittal plane that does just that. It’s also happens to have some great foot benefits too.

Leave your questions and comments below.

The Problem is the Problem

April 29th, 2020

It’s amazing how a few simple concepts can completely change the way we process and approach challenges.

That’s why were so excited to share with you this brief conversation that I had with Kevin Murray, our Director of Education.

Kevin brings a dual perspective to our work with clients in pain that most other practitioners do not. After almost 10 years of learning and growing with the Function First Approach, Kevin went on to complete is graduate studies in Counseling Psychology.

Set aside 30:00 for some incredible insight and actionable items that we can all experience massive value from.

How and Why a Function First Virtual Appointment Works

March 31st, 2020

Did you know that we have been working with clients from around the world via video since the VHS days?! Today’s technology allows us to to communicate much faster AND you get a video record of your exercises!

The beauty of working this way is that you get to follow along a video, work at your own pace and keep a video archive of your exercises. Everything on the video is 100% personalized for you and recorded AFTER a face to face video consultation.

Many people have thought we would charge more for this appointment because of the extra time we put into filming your video. But we don’t. The price is the same as the in-person appointment.

You don’t require any special technical skills. We work via Skype, Facetime or Zoom.

Admittedly, there are advantages to in person appointments as well, but with the current distancing for our local clients, that is not an option. For our long distance clients, they have been working successfully through this medium for many years.

We are here to help!

Corrective Exercise Ankle Rocking with Stability Ball

February 24th, 2020

Limited dorsi flexion isn’t always a “tightness” issue. Sometimes the ability for the talus to pass through the mortise of the true ankle joint can be compromised. As the joint approaches the individual’s current limit of dorsi flexion, often the nervous system will up-regulate increased tone of the surrounding musculature, which can approximate the joint surfaces and further restrict the gliding route the talus needs to take. This can often be experienced as a “pinching” or “bunching” sensation in the front of the ankle.

Using the principle of rhythmical motion and passive self-assistance, improved joint motion can be achieved. Anybody can do this for themselves with a stability ball. An excellent option to send your clients home with!

Pain and the Guessing Game

December 23rd, 2019

As your 2019 wraps up, I’ve got a valuable message for you that will pay dividends for years to come, but it may be most relevant to you right now, as you welcome the holidays in full force.

There’s a great video that has made its way around social media about what occurred when 5 wolves were reintroduced to Yosemite. There are several versions of the video, but essentially the message is how introducing these wolves even changed the flow of the rivers and streams through the park. Watch on YouTube here if you’d like to see this video.

Now we would all be hard pressed to draw a direct line from a wolf to impacting the way millions of gallons of water flow. But what it does illustrate is the profound output that emerges from multiple inputs, especially with a biological ecosystem OR a biological human=YOU!

In the case of the changes to Yellowstone, it was the interaction of all the sub systems initiated by the introduction of a predator that had been eliminated from the ecosystem. Overgrazing was controlled, smaller animals for birds of prey returned, etc. and nature took over.

As humans, when we experience physical pain-especially chronic pain-there are always multiple contributing factors that are related to the bio-psycho-social paradigm around pain. You are more than a bulging disc, osteo arthritis, spinal stenosis or anything else you’ve been diagnosed with.

Which is why it is often so difficult to determine why you are having a “bad day”. But we search for answers and as humans, desperately strive to find a connection or relationship with something so that we can make sense of it. But how come we don’t do the same with “good days”? We welcome them but we don’t drive ourselves crazy trying to determine what led to that good day.

Let me help you. Lots of things lead to both good and bad days. And there are often patterns that we don’t look for or recognize. And it is almost never just one thing, unless the pain was felt immediately (within seconds or minutes) of a physically taxing or traumatic event.

The greatest gifts you can give yourself during challenging times of experiencing pain are these (in no particular order):

 Corrective or restorative exercise (ideally your Function First program)
 5-10 minutes of deep, diaphragmatic breathing in a restful position
 Non proactive aerobic exercise that elevates your heart rate for a sustained 20+ minutes
 Quality sleep
 Avoiding over processed and/or gut irritating foods
 Plenty of water
 Occupy your mind with social interaction or deep, meaningful work or projects

Happy Holidays from all of us at Function First!

Corrective Exercise Floor Glides with Leg Extension

November 14th, 2019

In this video we are bringing you a very influential exercise that does a surprisingly effective job at lower back stabilization as it challenges the mobility of the shoulders and efficiency of the the thoracic spine in extension.
As you are probably acutely aware, when working with corrective exercises and the client in pain, it is more than just the exercise, it is a thorough understanding of:

“For Whom?”

“For What?

And “When”

Insight into the biomechanics, psychological mindset of the client and social setting/implications of the movement all come into play and are critical to the client’s success.

Corrective Exercise A-P Cat and Dog Rewind

October 4th, 2019

In one of our past newsletters where we talked about myofascial mobility with rhythm, timing and amplitude, we revisited the Anterior Posterior Cat and Dog as one of the examples of applying those principles.

In this exercise, we take the A-P Cat and Dog and progress it into a surprisingly challenging core exercise. We call it the A-P Cat and Dog Rewind.

You’ll see as the clients center of mass moves forward with the change and limits of base of support, the core has to switch on in a very novel way.

The beauty of this is that the response is reflexive with no feedforward response necessary by the client or patient.

This helps us move beyond the bracing and “keep your core tight” cues that are not part of our long term goals and authentic movement.

Try it, feel it and let us know what you think.