All in complexity

The Big Picture of Pain

Pain can be a complex phenomenon, and complex systems are often nested. That means the system as a whole is composed of smaller subsystems, which are also composed of smaller subsystems and so forth. The reason this is interesting from a practical perspective is that each nested system provides a different level from which we can attempt to explain and treat pain.


The Intentional Stance

According to very smart guy Dan Dennett, we use very different kinds of thinking tools to predict the behavior of different systems, depending in part on the system’s complexity. In this post I'll describe three levels of analysis described by Dennett that we can use to understand the body: the physical stance, the design stance and the intentional stance. 

Experts And Gurus: What's the Difference?

What’s the difference between a guru and an expert? The dictionary assigns the two words the same basic meaning: someone with a high level of knowledge in a particular field. But the term guru definitely has an unwholesome connotation. People respect experts, but worship gurus, imagining they have totally unrealistic levels of knowledge and power. In the context of science, that's a problem.

Is Movement Therapy Rocket Science?

Pain and movement are pretty complicated right? In a sense yes. But in another sense no. Pain and movement are not complicated, they are complex, which is a different animal.

Imagine you are Elon Musk trying to send a rocket ship to the moon. What sort of thinking process, analysis, modeling, research, predictions, and methods of control would help solve this problem? How would that process be different from solving the problem of say, raising a child? 

Movement That Gives You the Feels

A baseball player walks into the batter’s box. He shifts weight from front foot to back while circling the bat. Rotates his right heel into the ground. Orients his gaze to the pitcher while pointing his bat to center field. Slowly swings his bat three or four times to an imagined contact point with the ball. What’s the point of all this seemingly useless motion? 

A Systems Perspective on Chronic Pain

We can better understand the complexity of chronic pain, and its relationship to other multi-symptom disorders, by learning something about systems theory. The basic idea is that chronic pain is often driven by dysregulation of a “supersystem” that coordinates defensive responses to injury. The supersystem results from dynamic interaction between different subsystems, most notably the nervous system, immune system, and endocrine system.

This blog is focused on the central nervous system - how it affects the way we move and feel, and what we can do to change its function in that regard. But that doesn't imply that the structure of the body is unimportant, or that good movement is “all in your head.” The structure and health of the musculoskeletal system are essential for quality movement, just as a mechanically sound car is required for safe driving.

I really enjoy studying biomechanics. I find it totally fascinating to learn, for example, that a certain muscle is very well suited to stabilize a joint, but not to move it through a large range of motion; or that it is active in one movement but not another; or that it becomes atrophied in people with chronic pain. I think this kind of detective work is very cool and I always look forward to applying it to help one of my clients. But that is where things get frustrating, because with biomechanics, as with so many other subjects, the more you learn, the more you realize you don't know as much as you would like to know. And sometimes you don't know enough for your treatment protocols to make any sense.