Case Study: 100 Days to Beat Chronic Pain

John McKenzie, of Wellington, New Zealand, joined the Life After Pain community in order to get his life back from chronic pain. In this case study, we’ll review how he’s managed to turn things around and get back to active living.

The Before Picture

To begin with, John’s main symptoms were neck pain starting 9 years ago after an accident at the gym. Picking up something heavy or holding a weight for too long would set off pain that could last hours or days. Over time, the pain spread down his back and side and into his hip. John had hip surgery 4 years ago, but the pain continued. Exercise tended to cause pain flares.

The other problem was sitting. John needed to spend hours using the computer as a programmer, but he could only work for an hour at a time before the pain in his neck and back forced him to stop. All in all, the pain was really limiting, and made it hard to do normal daily activities and household chores.

The Process

By the time John found Life After Pain, he “didn’t have anything else to try,” and was feeling fairly desperate. He certainly had doubts before beginning the course, but decided to test it out anyway.

“My doubts weren’t whether NeuroMind techniques would work, they were more around whether they would work for me.”

John read Dr Jonathan Kuttner’s book ‘Life After Pain,’ and joined the program. This “accelerated my learning – it finally all fit together & made sense.”

After absorbing the first part of the program material, John embarked on:

The 100 Days Experiment

John gave himself the time window of 100 days to do things intensely. This meant one hour of NeuroMind practice every day.

As well as this, he worked at changing thought patterns like avoidance, catastrophising, and other mental thought processes that lead to anxiety.

John pushed himself to get back into things. This was certainly not all at once though. He started with NeuroMind practice, then slowly began to add other habits.

He read more on chronic pain process from different points of view to reinforce the concept that he wasn’t physically damaged. His pain may have started as physical problem in his neck, but what he was experiencing now was a pain system problem – pain sensitisation in action.

He developed a 10 point plan to step by step change his outlook and transform his life.

John’s 10 Point Plan

  1. Understand how chronic pain works and the modern science of pain sensitisation.
    This may be the most important point.
  2. Stop trying to problem solve the physical symptoms.
    For 100 days, John went cold turkey on going to physical therapy, as an experiment to see what would happen. (It didn’t make a difference, proving the problem was indeed a pain sensitisation issue.)
  3. Become aware of what’s going through your head when you feel pain.
    John taught himself to not take seriously his deepest fears about his pain. “If you start worrying about it – will get worse.” Instead he focused on understanding what was going on, and on what he could control.
  4. Practice breathing and relaxation.
    John learnt how to look for tension in his body and release it. He still regularly does a body scan meditation. “It’s an ongoing process, and requires extra work when you’re in a stressful or challenging environment. Look for when you’re holding your breath, and the practice releasing tension.”
  5. NeuroMind techniques.
    After an intensive practice period, John now only applies these techniques on the go when he needs them. He put a lot of work into them at first, and this made him aware he have the ability to control how he processes pain messages.
  6. Trigger point release.
    John does trigger point releases regularly, and has found them very helpful.
  7. Consistent incremental increases in physical activity.
    Habituate the nervous system to a physical activity at the lowest possible level and then slowly increase. Develop a formula / set of rules for this and stick to it so you don’t have to think about it at the time. I never decreased, only paused or went up.
  8. Cold showers.
    John found these a great way to reset his parasympathetic nervous system. While it’s not a comfortable experience, in John’s words “I get endorphins and feel great after. It’s a way to safely challenge my parasympathetic nervous system each day.”
  9. Understand how the boom and bust process functions and how to work through it. Have a plan in place and stick to it so you don’t have to make decisions at the time.
  10. Challenge your fear, hypervigilance and avoidance.
    If he was avoiding something (like going for a bike ride) then John decided he would instead go and do it. He was on look out for recurring thoughts about his pain, and decided to change his focus to getting back into life and doing things he enjoys.

The Approach

John approached his 100 Days in the true spirit of experimentation. For example, stopping medical treatment was a simple, reversible trial. He could always restart this if it turned out it was making a difference. But if it wasn’t – then he wouldn’t don’t need to.

Another benefit of this approach was the commitment to go the distance. Once John decided to do the 100 days experiment, he was committed, so when he doubts, he’d already decided to push on through.

The After Picture – One Year Later

The physical improvements that came from turning down amplified pain have been dramatic. John is now able to go to the gym 4x a week. He’s doing clean and jerk weight lifting, and has put on 5kg of muscle.

Pain flare ups are no longer an issue. He’s now able to work on the computer for 5-7 (with micro breaks) hours at a stretch, which makes a big difference in his work productivity.

John estimates that from when he started the program he’s now 85% better. There’s still improvements to be made, but he’s well on the way, and has put chronic pain behind him.

Last words:
“Don’t wait until you feel better before you start to do things. Doing things helps you to feel better. I was holding off on living life until I felt better, but I didn’t improve until I started challenging myself. Expect setbacks and roadblocks, plan for them, but keep your eyes on your goal.”


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