Cognitive Functional Therapy (CFT)

Not all pain is the same.

Most of us are familiar with acute pain that comes with injury and eases over time as things come good with treatment or sometimes without it. Logical right?

What if pain comes back even though there has been no major injury? What if pain seems to have no pattern to it, or seems to get worse even when at rest? This makes no sense in light of an acute pain model but it is a common experience and needs firstly to be understood before it can be addressed properly with any real hope of gaining control over it.

Let’s call it chronic pain. Put simply it is pain that hangs around and becomes a real bummer, sucking the joy out of your life one spasm at a time, preventing you from doing the things you love.

Cognitive Functional Therapy (CFT) is an approach to pain management that deals specifically with this type of pain. Acute pain management is about facilitating the initial healing process after injury; CFT is about unlocking the key pain drivers that make chronic pain seem so elusive and frustrating.

The aim of CFT is to restore functional ability and give you confidence in your body again. Often one must first be able to get comfortable in their body – hard to do when you’ve been fighting pain for a long time as your body can feel like a hostile environment after a while.

Identifying and understanding pain drivers in your body gives you control. Some key pain drivers shown to be major influencers of pain states are fatigue, stress and poor fitness. Taking back control of your body is an amazing concept to those that have been a hostage to pain for any length of time.

Recent advances in the understanding of the nervous system have identified certain immune cells therein that respond to pain events and can influence how we perceive the pain as a result. These cells are called microglia, astrocytes , T cells and natural killer cells.

Pain input in the presence of perceived or real danger sets the scene for long term or chronic pain and it seems that the best way to unwind this predicament is to tackle the feelings of worry, stress and being under threat. This de-escalates the immune-mediated pain and allows us to get on with normalising movement.

CFT takes a little more time than the standard physio consult. This is initially to allow the opportunity to properly screen and assess the pain history for likely pain drivers. It is a reflective process carried out in a non-judgmental way to assist in making sense of the pain.

The next phase involves looking at how the body has adapted to the pain in how it moves and functions.  How is pain shaping your behaviour? What is it causing you to avoid; what is it causing you to do differently?

Then comes the challenge – to see if pain can be changed with subtle movement adaptations, breathing control and staying relaxed. This is particularly confronting for some as ones beliefs about their body/injury need to be encountered and assessed during this process of exploring their pain triggers.

If pain control can be established in any way during this initial assessment this marks the beginning of a gradual process of restoring normal function one movement at a time. As one accumulates bodily proof that previously threatening movements and activities can be done with less pain, the whole system begins to normalise and things get exciting. Life can start to be fun again without the fear of pain getting in the way.

If your pain is not easy to understand, hard to identify; if it is hard to control and is unpredictable; if pain is causing major changes in your life choices and making your future look gloomy….then CFT is going to be the most evidence based method of addressing it.

These stories may help in understanding how it could help you: