I first saw James Davis in October 2017 and after two sessions he referred me on to his colleague Ian Cowell, purely because of geographical accessibility. I had been suffering with persistent low back pain for almost a year.
This, my second bout (the first having started in 2000 and lasted for over six years) had started some months after hip surgery for a labral tear and had seemed to come from nowhere. My pain level ranged from medium to severe, very rarely let up, the strongest opiates barely touched it and I had given up almost all social, work and sporting activities. The pain was having a huge impact on my life and I was deeply depressed. Despite having been through something similar before and recovered, I was terrified that this was to be my life from now on, and it didn’t really seem worth living.
I wasn’t surprised to find that an MRI hadn’t revealed any structural problems that might account for the pain as I had spent many hours researching modern concepts and ideas about persistent pain and knew that there was little correlation between symptoms and what can be seen on a scan.
Rather I understood that persistent pain was a problem of sensitisation of the central nervous system and I had spent the year seeing a number of practitioners to try to ‘fix’ my pain through a bio-psycho-social approach. This included trying to return as much as possible to a ‘normal’ life (which I failed to do), doing things that gave me pleasure (almost nothing), regular appointments with a ‘pain-physio’, a psychotherapist, a clinical psychologist and a cranial osteopath, meditation two or three-times a day, frequent mindfulness, visualization, mind-body exercises, relaxation, self-massage, improving my balance and so on. None of this helped.
Very occasionally late at night or when I was deeply distracted by something pleasurable, my pain would unpredictably and mysteriously disappear. Other than that I woke up with it and went to bed with it every day and the only slight relief I had was from a TENS (Trans-cutaneous electro-stimulation) unit and from cold water swimming which temporarily numbed the pain.
Endless Googling, frequently reading and re-reading the same stories, finally led me to James, Ian and Cognitive Functional Therapy. After two appointments with James and five or six with Ian I began to feel better. I now consider myself completely recovered, at least for the time being!
So what did James and Ian say and do that was different? Two things: – firstly they recognized that the muscles in my mid-back were in a constant state of contraction and had probably been this way for some time and taught me how to relax them. Secondly Ian’s view, as I understood it, was that my brain needed to learn that my body was not in danger and I needed to stop all ‘pain behaviour’; no more researching about pain, no more reading about pain, no more listening to radio programmes about pain, no rubbing or stretching painful parts of my body, no grimacing or moaning; in fact absolutely no specific activities or treatments designed to relieve pain at all, not even the use of the TENS.
All I can say is that it worked! Today I am pain free, back to doing everything I was doing before the pain struck, and am off on a skiing holiday next week. Life is back to normal, which I never dreamed it would be – and I’m still cold-water swimming! I will be forever indebted to James and especially to Ian Ð it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that they might actually have saved my life.