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Physio Hilary Armitage reviews new book titled Master Your Chronic Pain: A practical guide

The book encourages readers with chronic pain to make 'meaningful changes' to their lives


Title: Master Your Chronic Pain: A practical guide

Author: Nicola Sherlock

Publisher: Hawksmoor publishing

Price: £15.99

ISBN: 9781914066108 (softback) 

Nicola Sherlock is a pain psychologist with more than 20 years’ experience in an NHS pain clinic. She aimed to create a self-help book covering the non-medical aspects of pain management that is both relatable and easy to understand. 

Dr Sherlock draws on principles from acceptance and commitment therapy and outlines practical strategies to manage problems common to many who experience persistent pain such as poor sleep, low mood, anxiety, stress, fear of exercise, diet and strain on relationships.

Completing the book takes some commitment as it covers a huge amount of information relating to different aspects of pain management over the course of 14 chapters. Dr Sherlock encourages the reader to read the chapters in the order in which they were written and to participate in the regular pen and paper exercises. 

From a reader’s perspective, this is a somewhat daunting undertaking, and if readers are already struggling with some of the problems described – such as sustaining attention, inconsistent motivation and persistent pain – I would imagine the drop-out rate may be high. 

Despite this caveat, I can clearly see the effort that has gone into making the writing as accessible as possible, with large print text boxes making the most important messages stand out and the bullet point summary list at the end of each chapter reinforcing the take home messages.

It must be challenging to write a book covering everything that readers could change about their lives without sounding self-righteous, but this has been tempered by a non-judgmental writing style that includes a consistent, compassionate thread, reminding the reader to be kind to themselves. 

'Refreshing honesty'

Dr Sherlock is clear that her messages are not quick fixes and she consistently acknowledges the sacrifice that making meaningful changes to our behaviour involves [Hilary Armitage]

There is also a refreshing honesty in the writing, with the author beginning with a story of her own experience with pain, reflecting on how difficult it was to follow the advice she knew so well. 

From the start, Dr Sherlock is clear that her messages are not quick fixes and she consistently acknowledges the sacrifice that making meaningful changes to our behaviour involves (this important message is sometimes missing in self-help books, in my experience). 

Her depth of experience in this field adds value and credibility throughout the book. Dr Sherlock offers simple explanations and stories to tackle complex subjects, including what makes our lives meaningful and the role of thought processing in relation to behaviour.

With the amount of information covered and variety of stories used to illustrate different struggles with persistent pain, it is clear that Dr Sherlock has tried to ensure  there is something for everyone to relate to in her book.

Attempt to bridge the 'theory-practice gap

It is all too easy for this wealth of information to be overwhelming, and I found the best approach was to read in small chunks, going back to some sections to re-read. I certainly didn’t feel ready to engage in the practical written exercises on an initial read, but I can see the value in going back to revisit these to consolidate motivation and develop a personalised guide for behaviour change.  

While it sometimes felt that certain points were explained more elaborately than necessary, the extra examples helped to bridge the gap between theory and practice for implementing self-help strategies. This included a realistic view of the barriers people face when trying to implement positive life changes – a reassuring reminder for those trying to engage in behaviour change and a reality check for health professionals making recommendations. 

Overall, it means that if readers make it through the whole book, they are likely to will something relatable, practical and hopeful. This is a pretty good place to start if you are looking to make meaningful life changes while living with persistent pain.

Hilary Armitage is an advanced practice physiotherapist and a member of the Physiotherapy Pain Association (PPA)

To find out more about the PPA, visit: https://ppa.csp.org.uk

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