People receiving therapy

New Year’s Resolution: Strengthen Your Gratitude Muscle

January, 2018

There’s plenty of research that tells us that expressing more gratitude supports a healthier life. Not just emotionally but the experience of gratitude releases chemicals in our bodies that support our physical health as well. Yet when faced with challenges our mind’s capacity to focus on the negative can take over. This is a primitive, survival and unconscious response – at least until we let ourselves consciously acknowledge it. It is in that moment that we have a choice: Continue to follow the wave of negative feelings and self talk that perpetuate the release of bodily chemicals that make us feel crummy, or find a way to make a shift.

Before blindly trying to shift to gratitude, it is also important to find a way to take care of the worry, fear, overwhelm, anxiety, or whatever the difficult experience or circumstance is creating. Trying to push away the discomfort rarely works, or is only successful temporarily, until the monster of negativity returns. New research suggests that any emotion, when truly felt, only takes 90 seconds to pass. To learn more, look up this 15 minute TEDx talk on-line: Emotional Mastery: The Gifted Wisdom of Unpleasant Feelings – Dr. Joan Rosenberg – TEDx SantaBarbara

Once you have learned to experience, feel safe with and honor the uncomfortable emotions that come up you can begin to look around you for things to be grateful for – of which there are many. Unfortunately once again, the judgmental, comparing mind can make this more complicated than it needs to be. Just being grateful for each breath is a simple start. Although many of us can be grateful for family, friends, our home, cars, jobs, health, etc. There are many other people whose lives have been so challenging that family and a support system may be distant or non-existent. Many of my patients are challenged with daily and hourly persistent pain, which can consume the thinking mind and blind them to seeing the blessings around them. It can require persistent diligence and patience to appreciate the capacity to shift ones attention towards what is working from what is not going well.

I have personally experienced several challenges this past year. Not the least of which was on December 14th when my husband had to be taken by ambulance to the Emergency Room at St. Charles for excruciating shooting pain from his upper back down both his legs while the strength and sensation in his legs gradually disappeared. (He is home and doing very well now, learning to find his balance and walk again). We were surrounded by so many people in the hospital, a few of whom we knew, who were in a much worse condition than he was. After our initial shock, we were able to receive the blessings of friends, family and caregivers, and recognize how grateful we were as things could have been so much worse.

I suspect my challenging experiences this past year ultimately helped strengthen my gratitude muscle as I learned over and over again to shift my attention and recall my blessings. Even in the midst of one of the most difficult experiences of my life: watching my strong, capable, can-do-anything husband succumb to a spinal cord injury, I was able to see how things were falling into place to support a successful recovery. That’s not to say that there weren’t and still are moments where I am overwhelmed by fear and worry. In these moments I have learned to stop, place my hand on my heart and gently say to myself, “90 seconds”. I pause, breathe, feel, often cry and just let it all out. Miraculously, the strong emotion passes, and I go on with my life. Eventually I remind myself to give thanks and feel into the gratitude of my many blessings.

Like any new exercise, living a more grateful life takes practice with pacing and patience. Some days will be better and more consistent than others. Some weeks you may forget completely then get back on the gratitude wagon the next week. If your thinking mind has practiced focusing on what’s not going well, it is in a habit. This means it doesn’t take any thought or energy to go to the place of negative familiarity. So making the shift takes gentle intention. You can’t beat, shame or demand yourself into gratitude. It takes developing your own kind and caring inner voice that will coax and remind you of your blessings and love and forgive you when you forget. Ultimately the pleasure of living a grateful life will begin to call you more often than the old habit of negativity. Not that you will ever be free from difficult experiences, but you may find more freedom in balancing the challenges with the awareness of the blessings of your life!

May you experience your blessings more fully in 2018!


Too much sitting? Get comfy in the New Year!

January, 2017


People with desk jobs are often challenged by too many hours of sitting (or standing) and not enough movement. Lack of movement can cause all kinds of body discomforts; Although back and neck pain are the most common, close seconds include shoulder, elbow and/or wrist pain from constant computer work. So what’s a poor desk-jockey to do?


First of all, make movement a priority. If you can alternate between sitting and standing, this is a great start. However, if that is not an option for you, find some way to change positions frequently. Sitting for long hours at a desk is a relatively new demand we place on our bodies, and not one that we evolved to do well. Our distant ancestors were hunting, gathering and taking care of their camp and the people in it. When they did engage in focused activities such as cooking, cleaning the hunt of the day or week, or sewing, they were probably squatting – NOT sitting in a chair and staring at a screen. Of course, movement includes regular exercise. The kind that YOU enjoy!


Take any chance you can to stand and do one or two simple stretches. Whether it’s reaching for the sky, the floor or the side, or making circles with your arms, your legs, your trunk, movement is always good! If you work from home, (more…)


Calm Your Pain with JOY!

December, 2016

During one of the big snow storms in the past few weeks I decided to cancel my Calm Your Pain class. It was disappointing as I had planned a theme based on JOY! So I’ve decided to share what we would have been doing for this class.


The Calm Your Pain classes have had various themes so far: Safety, Breathing, Habits, Spaciousness, and Gratitude. I chose JOY for the holiday season partly because I personally enjoy focusing on friendships, special hand-made gifts, uplifting holiday music, decorations, and the many opportunities the holidays offer to refocus our attention on what really matters. I also know that JOY can be difficult to experience when you are having constant pain. Studies have shown the brain exhibits seven times more activity with negative information than with positive so it is very important for people who experience persistent pain to learn to shift their attention to anything that brings joy, pleasure, happiness, a smile, laughter, etc. (more…)


Politics and Pain

November, 2016

NO! I will not be making any political statements here. But in “painfully” watching this political season, I have had some insights into how our brains attract information that “fit” and perpetuate our current beliefs.

As I watch friends on both sides of the aisle, it is fascinating to notice that people who are equally educated and informed make diametrically opposed decisions about candidates. This year is more intense than ever and it’s made me wonder; how is it that we can take in similar information and come to such different conclusions.

I find myself thinking of a well-known scientific theory for pain called the Hebbian Theory: Neurons that fire together, wire together. So as you spend your life collecting information to support your political ideology, your brain will continue to be attracted and reinforced by the information that is consistent with your prior beliefs. Imagine what it would take for you to consider voting for the “other” candidate — Yikes! (more…)


Calm Your Pain-Brain

October, 2016

Teaching regular classes to help folks understand their pain is incredibly rewarding for me. Just last week a woman came up to me after the class and shared something valuable she had learned. She had broken her ankle a while back and ended up with the diagnosis of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. This may be one of the worst types of pain a person might experience.

After the class, she told me, I have been “hating my foot”. She realized this was not helping her healing and probably adding to the stress/pain cycle. I consider these kinds of “ah ha” moments to be liberating for anyone in pain.aha When someone resents a part of their body because it is painful, the emotional charge creates a release of chemicals in the brain which can influence and exacerbate persistent pain.

I celebrate that this information is no longer the “airy-fairy” stuff of holistic medicine. Rather, research has discovered the complexities and physiological contributions that our stress, in all its forms, can become inter-mixed with ones physical pain. I tell my patients that this does not mean that “your pain is all in your head.” Instead, we (more…)


It’s time to CALM YOUR PAIN

October, 2016

My Calm Your Pain program begins this week and I am excited to see how it unfolds. My FREE Need to Know INTRO classes have been full with people learning that the pain experience involves more than a bio-mechanical diagnosis such as arthritis, bulging discs, meniscus tears, etc. (Details are on the website under the top tab: Our Services, then the right hand tab for Persistent/Chronic Pain).

This program is the accumulation of many years of studying pain and how to calm the brain and nervous system that is part of the pain experience. In my own life, I have had difficulty adhering to a regular calming practice – whether it’s meditation or any number of resources I’ve learned to keep my own system regulated. So I know what it’s like to know what is “good for me” and still not be able to do it.

The patients that I’ve worked with that regularly practice calming strategies such as meditation or Feldenkrais, (or any number of practices) experience great success in decreasing or eliminating their pain. Then there’s (more…)


The Sensations of Pain

September, 2016

People often isolate their pain experience into one big area of PAIN! Yet there are many finer distinctions that can be made. When pain is reduced to a singular experience of “pain”, the brain’s capacity to assist in healing and management becomes limited. Learning a new language for sensations can provide an opportunity to meet your experience with more kindness and openness and less fear to provide a more positive opportunity for a sense of well-being.


How a person experiences him or herself is not “black and white.” Yet when one is experiencing pain, it is easy to forget the myriad of other physical sensations that are also present at the time. For people who experience chronic pain, when their attention gets focused on their pain, I refer to this as the “brain-pain super highway.” (more…)


What is Pain?

August, 2016

The word pain has a lot of different meanings. One of the premises of Pain Neuroscience Education (PNE) is that the more a person knows about pain, the less they fear it. And, less fear of pain results in less brain/nervous system activation and thus, less pain.

The definition used by the World Health Organization is: “An unpleasant sensory or emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.” An additional definition used in my Pain Neuroscience Training is: “Pain is a multiple system output activated by the brain based on perceived threat.”

Let me break this down a bit.
1.   “An unpleasant sensory experience.”
Duh. This is what we feel. However, it includes multiple types of sensations which can be burning, tingling, stabbing, throbbing, dull, achy, annoying, etc. This list can be extensive. (watch for my next blog-post 🙂 )

2.   “An unpleasant emotional experience.”
This is where the pain experience gets interesting. (or some other expletive of your choosing). Pain can cause an emotional response and emotions can cause an exaccerbated pain response.

a. On-going pain can contribute to depression. Not knowing how to fix or control the pain can cause anxiety. Not knowing how to (more…)


Success with Pain!

July, 2016

Using Pain Neuroscience Education (PNE) (What is PNE link- here)
Allison Suran, PT, GCFP, TPS

I have spent over 30 years learning everything I can about pain. I started studying something called “Explain Pain” in 2008 and immediately knew this was the future of helping people who experience chronic pain. Recently, the International Spine and Pain Institute (ISPI) initiated a 5 month intensive training (partly on-line) to become a Certified Therapeutic Pain Specialist. I jumped at the chance and am awaiting word of my full Certification.

Our Healing Bridge team of therapists is now implementing the Pain Neuroscience Education with all of our chronic pain patients and experiencing excellent results. I will be launching on-going classes for our patients to attend to help them learn not just to manage their chronic pain, but to decrease it while improving their ability to re-engage in life activities. Stay tuned for more information.

Here is a recent success story experienced by Zeyla Brandt, PT with one of her patients:
Betty* is a lovely lady (more…)


Are You Ready for a REVOLUTION in Pain Care?

June, 2016

Ready for a REVOLUTION in Pain Care?

I am! I have just completed my five month training to be a Certified Therapeutic Pain Specialist (certification pending a passing grade for my final project 🙂 ), and I’m on fire! What my therapists and I are already experiencing with our patients is that the new science of pain has given us the missing piece to help our patients significantly decrease and sometimes even resolve their long-term pain issues.

My team and I will be sharing pain stories and insights that we’re experiencing in our clinic. Our hope is to help as many other people as possible experience LESS PAIN and MORE LIFE!

A few pearls I’ve learned:

1. Pain is NORMAL: We have become a culture that tends to over-react to pain and rush to medications, x-rays and rest, when often all that is needed is a little time, consistent but safe movement and knowing that healing happens. The body is amazing in this way 😀 .
2. Acute pain (1-3+ months) can predict chronic pain (pain that lasts longer than 3-6 months). Manage the healing after injury well, and avoid the experience of pain for months or even years.
3. X-rays, images and other scans and tests only show a piece of the pain puzzle. Just because someone shows a bulging disc, arthritis, curves in their spine, shoulder or knee issues, does not always mean that is the only cause of pain. Studies show that 30-50% of people without pain will have x-rays and MRI’s that have “issues” that we usually believe should cause pain but don’t.
4. Our old bio-mechanical model of diagnosing and trying to “fix” pain is not as effective after the acute healing phase is over. Tissues HEAL – so what’s going on when the pain continues?
5. When fear of any kind (fear of the diagnosis, fear of finances, family issues, etc), is part of the pain picture, the nervous system can over-react to the pain and create more pain and sensitivity.

The program that has provided me the opportunity to delve deeper into the pain science is the International Spine and Pain Institute (ISPI). I was first introduced to their revolutionary way of viewing pain at an “Explain Pain” class in 2008 and have followed their work, writings and teachings ever since. There is a small group of teachers, therapists and researchers around the world that are complete pain-nerds. They look in every nook and cranny to review or create the research to help us all understand our bodies and our responses to pain better. To this end, they have created a system of working with people in pain that works!

The foundation of what we do to help people in pain starts with teaching them about pain and why their nervous system got so reactive and sensitive in the first place. For many it started with an injury or sudden back-strain. For others, it started gradually, as in many cases of fibromyalgia.

Stay tuned for upcoming information and classes to help support YOU, your friends and family in living an enjoyable life with less (or no) pain!

In Health,

AKS Signature