Saturday, 24 October 2015

It's All About The Nervous System: What We Learned Last Weekend

We recently had the wonderful opportunity to attend a two day workshop, “Occupational Therapy Best Practice: Chronic Pain Management.” The presenters were Sue Schellinck and Linda Cundiff, Occupational Therapists who specialize in pain. After the workshop, we joked with each other that we could write hundreds of blog posts around what we had learned in those two days. Hundreds of blog posts take time to write, so today we just want to share a few key points with you.

It was so exciting for us to be able to attend a workshop meant specifically for occupational therapists. We believe that there needs to be a greater occupational therapy (OT) presence in pain management. After all, research is growing to support the concept that the primary reason people seek help for pain isn’t the pain itself, it’s the impact on their lives (Crombez, Eccleston, Van Damme, Vlaeyen & Karoly, 2012). Occupational therapists are all about function and helping people to engage in meaningful activities. Sounds like a good fit! Pain management gives us an excellent opportunity to look at the whole picture of what is going on in a person’s life and use a wide variety of OT skills. As a result  we can have a profound impact in helping people navigate the world of pain and begin to reclaim their lives.

An essential key point we took from this workshop is that management of persistent pain is all about calming the nervous system. Persistent pain is not necessarily an “issue in the tissue” (although it may start out that way), but a symptom of a wound-up nervous system. We may not be able to eliminate the pain, but we can definitely change the inputs that the nervous system receives. By calming down the nervous system, we can begin to increase function and over time reduce the pain response. And that’s really exciting! 

This workshop combined the concept of calming the nervous system with the Canadian Model of Occupational Performance (if you’re curious about the model, see our “About Us” page). Together, these two concepts helped us create a solid framework and foundation for a deeper understanding of pain. This was an excellent way to solidify and connect the concepts we have come to understand from our education, personal experiences, and continued learning, while at the same time building on this knowledge.

As well as impacting us professionally, this workshop also had a personal impact. It helped both of us as we continue to make sense of our own lives, and how we can help others do the same. At a few points in the workshop, we turned to each other and said “it all makes sense now!” One of us even cried as a particular statement hit very close to home, so maybe going to the workshop was actually a form of therapy for us. 

Overall, we are so glad we went, and we’re excited to share what we’ve learned with you. The workshop made so much sense in terms of what we each have experienced in our own lives and made us even more excited about sharing what we’re learning through this blog. You’ll definitely see concepts from this workshop in our future blog posts. Stay tuned for more!


Diagram by Ashley and Colleen at Reclaiming Life. Graphics used are from


Crombez, G., Eccleston, C., Van Damme, S., Vlaeyen, J.W.S., & Karoly, P. (2012). Fear-avoidance model of chronic pain: The next generation. The Clinical Journal of Pain. Volume 28 (6), 475-483.

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