ACACIA Freedom from Pain and the SIRPA approach

At ACACIA Freedom from Pain we use the SIRPA approach to helping people deal with their symptoms. The SIRPA approach was developed by Georgie Oldfield, a physiotherapist in the UK. It focuses on recovering from pain, rather than just managing it. You can watch a short video of Georgie explaining the SIRPA approach on her website.

A younger Afro-Caribbean woman sitting with her head in her hands looking in pain.

Pain and other unpleasant symptoms like IBS which go on for more than 12 weeks are often caused because our nerve pathways have learned to keep producing pain. The pain might have been triggered by an injury or a stressful event in the first place, but there is usually no physical reason for pain to go on for any longer than 12 weeks. This is more than enough time for the body to heal from any damage.

If that’s true, then why do people often experience pain which becomes chronic (long-term)?

Pain is caused when danger signals are sent to our brain from our body. You can think of pain as being a sign that something is wrong. Our brain has to interpret the danger signal and decide what to do about it. If our brain thinks we need protecting from the danger, it will respond with pain (or other unpleasant symptoms like itching, bloating, cold/heat, extreme fatigue or spasms). Over time, this creates a “nerve pathway” from our brains to the place in the body where we are feeling the pain. It’s a bit like our brain builds a new road (nerve pathway) in order to send vehicles (pain) to the place in our body which it thinks needs protecting from danger. Our brains have a lot to be getting on with, so they try and make it easy for themselves. Once pain has gone on for several weeks, pain pathways become the easiest route for our nerve signals to take. Before we know it, we can be experiencing constant pain or symptoms, while frustratingly, doctors may be telling us that there is nothing physically wrong or nothing more they can do.

A happy, active older couple. The woman is on a swing.

On top of this, stress, anxiety and the normal pressures of life can actually cause pain or make it worse. The nerve pathways our brains use to deal with stress, or “emotional danger” can be the very same pathways used to produce chronic pain.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to stay this way. Our brains are always changing and learning throughout our lives, and we can teach our brains to use new, pain-free nerve pathways. The SIRPA approach offers simple and life-changing tools to help people teach their brains to use the pain-free pathways. Our brains deal with “physical danger” and “emotional danger” in much the same way. That’s why the SIRPA tools we use at ACACIA Freedom from Pain focus as much on emotions and stress as they do on physical wellbeing. It is this whole-life approach which leads to such successful outcomes for people who use SIRPA techniques. If you would like to watch some videos of people who have got better by using the SIRPA approach, click here.

For more information about which conditions may be stress-related, see Stress illness.