NEXT GENERATION IN TREATMENT… Back & Neck Pain Brisbane
MEET ANDREW AHERN
How did you start in this industry, and what is your perspective on how to treat injury now?
My background is in human movements and podiatry. I completed my degree in 2004. Despite already being a health practitioner, and seeking treatment from many different modalities, I struggled to find a solution to chronic injury. I consulted with a variety of practitioners of differing modalities all throughout my 20s. It was really impacting my quality of life in and outside of work.
I received a lot of contradictory information. As I struggled to work it out, I was often confused as to what to do, as the advice was not always consistent. I felt I had to consult with a variety of people as my injuries were extensive and certainly not “run-of-the-mill”. They didn’t fit into any particular category.
I was also reluctant to take pain killers, as I was unsure whether what I was doing was working. I made slow progress through pain relief, but the pain wasn’t cured entirely. Now I understand the exercises I was doing were merely forcing compensation behaviour into an unbalanced body. Eventually, my body could not adjust anymore to bury the ingrained injuries. It got to the point that I was simply aggravating the condition even further.
After years of trial and error, I finally found a solution after stumbling upon a unique muscle therapy. It’s called SLM Bodywork, and after experiencing its effectiveness, it entirely changed my perspective on pain relief.
I progressed onto learning the technique from its founder a well-known, highly respected practitioner from Sydney. That was seven years ago, and during that time, I have greatly increased my knowledge by accompanying acupuncture, exercise physiology, strength training, naturopathic and SCENAR practitioners.
This combined knowledge led me to realise the importance of alignment, and the best method to achieve it. Pain and injury that seems to come out of nowhere and will not go away is often caused by the accumulation of uneven loading on muscles and faultily moving joints. Load must be evenly distributed throughout the body, and simply concentrating on the location of pain will only provide temporary pain relief or no pain relief at all. The underlying cause of the injury always stems from another area.
How is this approach different?
It removes the stressors and compensation behaviours to equip the body to heal itself. It also takes a holistic approach to pain management, by not treating the body in segments. When a person has carried an injury for some time, and the body has already undergone a lot of compensation, certain treatments can simply force the body to bury the underlying problem further.
What must be considered is pain is initially felt when a worn out muscle spasms/shortens, and pain is felt where it is pulling away and aggravated where it is attached to the bone. The muscle has reached this point because it sensed trauma and attempted to prevent serious injury. It remembers the pain and does not want to feel it again, so it no longer responds. The body adapts to accommodate this dysfunction.
Most people sustain some sort of injury (such as back and neck pain) but as we continue to move, we sometimes adopt poor movement patterns as a result of the pain. In other words, the problem is eventually buried or goes away because the skeletal system alters its position and the way it moves around this inactive, shortened muscle.
Adding stretches or exercises without properly re-establishing muscle function will give the muscle more to do, forcing the body to move around the pain even more. The key is re-establishing the muscle close to its original integrity, not trying to force it in the state it’s already in.
If exercising and stretching works, it means the body still has the ability to twist or adapt movement around the problem as a short-term solution. It will survive in this state until it cannot compensate or alter its position any further. This is when a person remains in chronic pain and will not respond to conventional treatment methods.
The body has adapted to what has been thrown at it over time. Injured areas need to be shown it is safe to resume normal function and wake up; it has to be coaxed and grow strong at its own pace, not rushed or forced.
You experienced chronic pain and injury before you started in this industry. Have your own experiences taught you and changed your perspective on treating people?
I had experienced a range of injuries over the years (even through gentle movements). I got fed up and wanted it to go away as quickly as possible. I initially thought along the lines of “What’s the single, quick fix for this?” With chronic pain, your body is dealing with a multitude of stressors, so there is often no one answer.
There is usually an underlying cause which caused the compensation behaviour to occur in the first place, then cause a cascading affect which compounds over time if not addressed. At times, a person may have a poor diet, organ disruption or digestive issues which affect the regeneration and repair of soft tissue. Eventually, the tissue becomes so weak it is prone to injury. Some train too hard, or train the wrong way.
Others, for instance, may have a virus or systemic autoimmune condition, causing constant inflammation. All are putting an increased load on the body’s processes. Taking away the stressors will give the body less to do, make it stronger and able to heal itself. Eventually, the original stressor which began the path to the chronic condition will surface and be dealt with in a more efficiently functioning body with stronger immunity.
Sometimes, intervention outside of bodywork is required such as an integrative medical doctor or other specialist, to resolve chronic disruption. But their job is made easier. Others may begin the process by trying to identify the original stressor without removing others – this can make it harder to identify.
The SLM Bodywork alone will remove a great deal of stress from the muscle system in the body, but I was always looking for faster ways to heal people. This is precisely why I looked into SCENAR therapy; to settle the nervous system from “fight or flight” so the body is more responsive to treatment and healing can begin quicker.
Initially, I did this myself through a heavy alkaline diet and acupuncture to settle my nervous system. However, I think the SCENAR is a quick, effective treatment for people whose bodies have become accustomed to chronic pain.
The nervous system’s sensitivity is heightened and it reacts strongly to anything, as it is in constant defence against anything that may happen to it. Firstly, it needs to settle, then made stronger at its own pace, if shown the way. The body is a very intelligent piece of engineering and has an amazing ability to fix itself.
The body has an innate ability to respond to its daily environment, and with correct treatment, it responds positively to the new, better environment. When you begin balancing somebody, the body recognises immediately that “the position I was in and the way I was moving before isn’t necessarily helping me and this is better for me.”
With alignment, you are essentially recalibrating the system. In many modalities, the body is given little credit to self-heal. Just adding things to mask symptoms is not always the way. Make it stronger by eliminating strain, so it is better equipped to self-heal. This is the best way to get rid of any underlying cause. To achieve this, I am always to trying to improve the way I treat injury.
What is your role as a therapist?
I see my role more as a guide in making the body stronger, more agile, adaptable and resilient, so it is capable of healing itself better. Long-term benefits are often achieved by lifestyle improvements outside of what I do in the treatment room. Living and eating well for improved energy and repair, as well as smarter ways to train and reduced inactivity. This is a better way to treat the underlying cause.
In the end, I think a person has to be active in their own recovery and performance. It is their body and they have to live in it, and having this as motivation is what gets them over the line in achieving their health goals.
I think if pain reduction and improved freedom of movement is achieved quickly, a person is more motivated to engage and progress in their own health.