Exercise Is Good For Us

It’s easy to ‘get’ that exercise is good for us. 

That our wellness, longevity and vitality is positively affected by exercise. But then it gets complicated when we start looking for what exercise we ‘ought’ to do.  Which exercise suits our lifestyle and personality.  And most importantly, finding something that we can motivate ourselves to actually do.

24/7 gyms work really really well for some people.

They are super affordable and generally well set up with weights machines and cardio equipment. Inbuilt in the easy access, low-cost model is user accountability and self-management. In other words, you make sure you show up and you manage your own training. Not surprisingly, the people who get the most out of these gyms have a history of training and an established exercise habit. If you grew up playing sport, doing weights or cardio training then these gyms work for you. You ‘get’ the habit of making time to train, and you can navigate the cables, plates, pulleys and platforms.

Interestingly it is not these self-reliant individuals that make the 24/7 gym business model work. The industry standard for the 24/7 gym model is 14% usage. Those folks that actually use their membership make up only 14% of all the people paying $10 per week. In fact, if 80% of membership holders showed up to use their membership, there wouldn’t be enough machines to go around. So that model works for people who know what to do and how to do it.

So what about the rest of the population. People who want to exercise but don’t know the how or what for themselves.

What about people who value the environment they workout in?  Those that might prefer a space that pays attention to details of aesthetics as well as function.  What about people who value the level of instruction they receive?  The experience of their trainer, the conversation they can participate in while working out.

This is not a gender question, which was famously answered by Fernwood gyms providing a women’s only space.  Fernwood was not essentially different to any other gym but for its female-only policy.

This is a question about a friendly, welcoming space that is at once pleasant to behold.  Staffed with trainers that make the process of learning new movements feel safe, supported and achievable.

It might seem like we’re asking a bit much for a workout space to be at once staffed with experts, well resourced in equipment, safe and supportive culturally for all types of people and pleasant to behold.

The funny thing is that a lot of exercise facilities spend big on fit out. Flashy new machines, state of the art treadmills, redoing bathrooms and change areas and forget that the special sauce that binds groups of people together is the shared experience and endeavour. The ability of a well-trained educator to hold a group of people and help them all to learn new, empowering skills is a far more valuable investment than treadmills and televisions.

This truth is often lost in our aims to maximise our use of time. In other words, the home workout trap. Everyone seems time poor these days. Kids, jobs, family, friends. It makes so much sense to combine exercise space with home space. And then the treadmill, spin bike, ab cruncher, yoga mat is next years garage sale fodder.

Australians spend billions of dollars per year on home exercise equipment. Some of us do use what we buy. Most of us don’t.

The problem with home exercise is that it is usually part of a new habit, or perhaps proto-habit is the accurate term and as such, it is all too easily bumped aside by other more well-established habits. The habit we develop doing 30 minutes on the treadmill, three times a week when we’re on our Christmas break is steamrolled out of the way by the return to work schedule.

Habits don’t get a chance to form if they aren’t actively prioritised.

This can easily be achieved at home. It’s just that all too often we think we can fit in our new habit without having to adjust our existing ones. It is there that the effort taken to make a couple of classes in a new place can help. Booking into a class, even once a week, is a much greater predictor of new habit adherence over time.  Much more so than the purchase of home exercise equipment. An interesting side note here is also that when measuring how effectively people create new exercise habits price is a big factor. The cheaper the exercise option, the less likely the habit is to hold. So it is well worth considering the cost/loss of a treadmill or 12 month 24/7 membership that is statistically unlikely to go the distance versus the outlay/benefit of a medium cost, trainer lead option.

This sounds like a sell, and frankly, it is.

We know from first-hand experience that what our members value is our level of expertise, the variety of sessions we offer and the environment we provide.

24/7 gyms and home exercise units work really well for a small number of users. They generally work really really well for the franchise companies that run them.

White Dog Studio and others like it work really, really well for people who value what we offer. A safe supportive and holistic space that welcomes all types of people, meets them with an appropriate challenge and keeps them challenged as they progress.

Why Hormone Cycles Make Workouts Suck

A womans biology fluctuates every 28 days due to their hormone cycle.

Handled correctly, the fluctuations in women’s hormone balance can assist their exercise programs. So why do 9/10 exercise and diet programs written for women ignore this?

Do you wish you could find a diet and exercise program that took into account the fluctuations of your hormone cycle?  A program that works with them rather than in spite of them?

When you are exercising do you sometimes feel like you could take on the world, that nothing can stop you? And at other times, doing the same workout, lifting the same weight, feel like you just want to curl up under a blanket and never lift a finger again?

Similarly, at different times in your cycle, certain foods are EXACTLY what you need more so than other times. Chocolate is the obvious common example and it’s mainly the fast release of sugar (carbohydrate) that drives this craving. It might seem to be stating the obvious that the fluctuations of hormones in the course of women’s monthly cycle affects their energy levels.  But this ‘obviousness’ too often escapes the people planning exercise routines.

Too often the woman’s cycle is ignored in exercise programming, and even more so in women’s diet planning.

This is perhaps in part due to the effect that elite training has on a woman’s cycle; it usually means women don’t menstruate so there is no obvious cycle. Even for elite women athletes, there is still a fluctuation in the levels of progesterone, estrogen, testosterone and other critical hormones. In some elite circles, it is assumed that if a woman is menstruating she isn’t training hard enough.

For the non-elite woman, the woman juggling her exercise and body composition goals with the day to day reality of family, work, kids etc there must be a way to eat healthily, move regularly and keep trim without having to obsess about hormone cycles and fluctuations in carbohydrate requirements.

Consider this though.  What if the spikes in estrogen, testosterone, progesterone and others could be used to your advantage?

There is almost universal disdain for any use of hormones to enhance performance, but all of those hormones we are so suspicious of have their origins in the human body.

So why not use the bodies natural cycle to benefit your strength gains and assist your recovery periods?

Let’s look at the menstrual cycle during which follicles in the ovary mature, in a little more detail.

hormone cycle

In the follicular phase, estrogen is the dominant hormone.

Estrogen tends to get a bad rap.  But what we now know about estrogen is that it decreases appetite, improves insulin sensitivity, and protects against muscle soreness.

So, as far as physical training and calorie restriction periods, it’s one of the more helpful hormones. In other words, periods, when estrogen is high, might be times women can train a bit harder and might have more success with avoiding high carb cravings (chocolate etc.).

Progesterone is dominant in the second part of the menstrual cycle called the luteal phase. So, now we enter the luteal phase, and in this phase, you are progesterone dominant. During this part of your menstrual cycle, your metabolic rate will increase. Your system requires between 100 and 300 more calories a day.  On average, however, women instinctively eat about 500 calories typically craving sweet things – sugar, chocolate, biscuits, cake.

Paradoxically, in this phase of the cycle you become insulin resistant, so you won’t handle the extra carbohydrates as well as you would have in the follicular phase. It’s normal to feel heavier, or bloated in this phase which often prompts a step onto the scales – only to find that we are not losing kgs.

Some women experience significant effects on their physical output in the luteal phase. Experiencing strength decreases, coordination issues;  they go into the gym and they walk out feeling like they’ve had the worst session ever.

So maybe it makes sense to think about when to train harder and when to go easy based on your cycle. Perhaps it makes sense to cycle your carbohydrate intake with your menstrual cycle.  Increasing your carb intake when your body needs it in the luteal phase and restricting it during the follicular phase.

This video that you may have seen before describes the ups and downs of a 28 female (hormone-driven) cycle. It’s thought-provoking to consider that these effects are a result of hormone fluctuation.

Training with a sensitivity to the fluctuations in your biochemistry helps to keep you motivated, safe and on track with your goals.  Don’t shoot for personal best heavy lift when your estrogen is low.  Time your big efforts for the times in your cycle when estrogen and testosterone are up.

Knowing your hormone cycle will help you to become more aware of its effects.  That awareness will help you be able to train with it rather than in spite of it.

Making Exercise Your Habit

Starting exercise to lose weight, get fit, tone up and feel stronger are all great reasons to get started. But what can you do to about making exercise your habit?

Exercise can reduce, repair and resist.  Heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, and a raft of other maladies can be affected positively by exercise.

The great thing about exercise is that we can be doing it to get rid of lower back pain at the same time as burning fat and toning muscles.  At the same time it will improve our sleep, reduce depression and anxiety and we will start to feel more positive about ourselves, our relationships and our lives in general.

People decide to exercise for a mix of reasons.

In our initial 1:1 Pilates sessions, where 90% of clients have come to resolve persistent pain issues, they also mention that they would like to drop a jeans size or two. When it is not already a habit we usually decide to commence exercising for extrinsic reasons. To affect change in how we look, or our shape or to rid ourselves of some pain or other.

Exercise for pain management and body composition (industry speak for weight loss and toning up) are the leading motivators for commencing exercise.  But they are the lowest rated reasons given for converting an exercise to a habit.

If an exercise habit is going to become just that there are some super important factors to consider in our choice of exercise type and context. The factors that keep people exercising are:

  • Accountability – usually to others such as friends in a sports team, a personal trainer or teacher
  • Accessibility – hence the appeal of 24/7 gyms and home exercise equipment
  • Outcomes – something to aim for – team sports with a league table, lifting weights on a program that tracks your weight lifted 
  • Intrinsic reward – when it’s all about the feeling
  • Environment – where we exercise effects our experience and our persistence.

As an activity, make a quick list in your head of the three reasons you would exercise.  

If your list includes: lose weight, be more toned, feel fitter/stronger, you’re in good company. Interestingly these are the three most often quoted reasons for commencing exercise.

What’s interesting, is when we compare these reasons with those given by people who exercise on multiple days per week for longer than 6 months. The reasons they give are intrinsic. The way they ‘feel’ after training, some call this an endorphin rush, and describe it as’ satisfied, refreshed, fulfilled. Another reason is the way they feel if they don’t exercise: antsy, frustrated, pissed off with everything around me. A third reason chronic exercisers give for their efficacy is a connection to others.

Team sports tend to lend themselves to the gregarious in nature and it’s not hard to spot the extrovert in the gym.  They’re chatting freely to everyone and anyone, relaxed in their sweaty t-shirt and seemingly completely at peace in anyone’s company. However, even self-described introverts also describe feeling better after playing sport/working out alongside other people.  They often talk about the ‘bond’ they feel with training buddies that they hardly know outside of the studio.

Making exercise a habit is easy when you feel good about it, about yourself and the people you share it with.

Osteoporosis – prevention starts today

If you are a woman you have a 1 in 2 chance of breaking a bone due to Osteoporosis.

These chances are increased by prolonged use of female contraception, menopause, and childbearing. 

We tend to think of bones as fixed and immutable. In fact, for such solid, load-bearing structures they are remarkably changeable and responsive to stimuli.  When we run our hip joint absorbs between 10 – 20 times our own bodyweight! 

Osteoporosis, as the onomatopoeia predicts is related to porosity.

The microscopic spaces in a bones structure become larger. Think of an aero bar where the bubbles are getting bigger. The effect is that the density, or strength of the bone is compromised. 

Bone density reaches its natural peak at the age of approximately 30 years. Every year subsequent, our bones becoming increasingly porous.

The good news here is that in most cases Osteoporosis is preventable and even reversible.

Over the last half-decade or so White Dog has been working with a number of women of all ages to address bone density issues. 

We’ve got to a point now where with the results we’ve seen – confirmed by before and after bone density scans – we think we’re pretty darn good at it.




What is exercise anyway?

Global health organizations, governments, and scientists give remarkably consistent recommendations for health, the prevention of disease and general wellness.

Depending on what Facebook puts in your ad feed, you might be forgiven for thinking that working out for 4 minutes a day so hard you barf your brekkie back up is what you need for a long life. Or alternatively, that some quality time with yourself and thoughts of your pelvic floor will get you as fit and flexible as an Instagram yogini. So what is exercise?

There are ever more (seemingly) varied ways of exercising, in ever more time effective ways.

200+ minutes per week of moderate cardiovascular exercise and 2 strength training sessions.


So what exactly does that mean?  Let’s break it down….

Cardio exercise definition

200+ Minutes per week of cardio…

The differences between moderate and intense cardio are clearly explained here.

In short, moderate cardio is when you are slightly out of breath until you have trouble finishing a normal sentence. This is called ventilators threshold 1 (VT1).

Intense or ‘High-intensity cardio’ begins when you are having marked trouble completing a sentence, and continues until you can’t speak at all.  This is called ventilators threshold 2 (VT2).

The great news about this is that the more ‘intense’ our cardio the more ‘heart health value’ it has. So if you run at a higher level of VT 1, i.e. you have more trouble completing a normal sentence, then that is worth ‘more’ minute for cardio than more moderate intensity.

So a game of indoor soccer, a game of Aussie rule or Hockey or Netball. Boom goes the timer. Join a judo club with your kids. Boom, again. Swing a kettlebell for some short sharp sessions per week and the ‘heart numbers’ start going through the roof

Activities that are at once demanding on our cardiovascular system and our strength system are the most effective training modes for heart health.


Strenth training exercise definition

Two Strength Training sessions…

The 2x per week allows for the approximately 72 hours our bodies need to recover from a session working to fatigue, and to come back stronger aka the ‘training effect’. The 72 hours depends on age, gender, diet, sleep, alcohol consumption and other variables.

There are other approaches to strength building – notably gymnastic training protocols – but science tends to focus on approaches that are applicable to a broader, busier population and which have more measurable, concise time blocks.

Strength is defined as the amount of weight one can move from point A – B.  Lifting things that you find heavy makes the skeletal muscles stronger – you can lift heavier things next time. It also makes our non- skeletal muscles aka our heart stronger. A stronger heart = less heart disease.  It increases bone density.  Denser bones = less osteoporosis.



If this exercise prescription brings to mind dull and mind-numbing images of hours on a treadmill or hanging around in gyms surrounded by beefy blokes and/scantily clad nubiles, despair not...

No consideration is given to power training(strength x speed is defined as power) in the recommendations for exercise. For the newbie, this is a good thing. Lifting heavy things quickly requires some practise and time for muscles and connective tissues to become ready. However, once you have got a bit of practise under your belt combining strength and endurance is a whiz-bang way to kill two birds with one stone.

There are other ways to get your cardio and strength dose!

Firstly, the more intense your cardio the more minutes it is worth. Cool, huh? So if you swing a kettlebell and get yourself gassed, you can get big chunks of your cardio minutes ticked off in a few short sharp sessions.

Cardio can be running and riding. It can also be crawling, cartwheels, dancing, skipping, wheelbarrow races and leapfrog.

Similarly, the mention of strength work usually solicits images of smelly gyms, big guys, big gals, big mirrors and a very ‘us/them’ feel for newcomers. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Worse still, a lot of people have had bad experiences lifting weights with inexperienced instructors, programming too much weight too soon.

A really important thing to know about strength is that it is not the same as size. Training for strength is really quick. Our classes have it done and out of the way in less than half an hour. Remember if size equalled strength, bodybuilders would win weightlifting events at the Olympics. As it is, they don’t even make the team.

At White Dog Studio, we have designed a strength and fitness class for people that hate cardio and gyms. We call it Bar+Bell.

We have a great group of people, from all walks of life, shapes and sizes. Each session incorporates:

  • Bodyweight exercises for cardio, flexibility and coordination
  • Carefully scaled and varied warm-ups that prepare you for the workout you’ll do
  • Safe, simple and scientifically proven approaches to strength training that don’t produce bulky muscles. Just strong lean ones
  • Constantly varied cardio blasts that keep you on your toes, fit and curious
  • We finish with a stretch that makes sure you recover quickly and leave feeling great

If you're interested in getting healthy, preventing disease and increasing your general wellness, try a few White Dog Bar+Bell classes.



The Problem We All Have With Habits…

Our eyes are bigger than our tummies.   Our intentions are bigger than our schedule.  And our ‘shoulds’ are bigger than our ‘musts’.

There are lots of things we should change. Our income, our relationship, our jeans size.  It’s only when a should gets bumped to a must that we change our habits.

If your goal is based on ‘should’ you can forget about it.

You can forget about it because there is a must just waiting to kick its half-hearted ass off the schedule.

  • A catch up with friends.
  • Getting the kids to ballet
  • Helping your partner out with something
  • Whatever it is this week at work

‘Shoulds’ just don’t stand a chance.

Our habits have grown out of behaviors that met a particular need at a particular time.

When a few extra kilos have crept onto the hips.  When we find ourselves drinking red wine more nights than not.  When we have unhealthy communication patterns with our loved ones.

We tend to overcompensate with our plans for new habits… and the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

So, where an extra couple of sessions of cardio a week would strip the unwanted kilos, we promise ourselves we’ll hit the gym 6 days per week (and take out a new 24/7 gym subscription because all those hours of available access mean we can train any time of the day or night, right?).

Where we could schedule three alcohol-free days per week we declare that we’ll have 12 months of the turps…

We aren’t helped in this by the media.

We’re force-fed compulsive behaviours like sugar saturated junk food or sanctioned binge drinking.  

Alternatively, we are pitched short-term sales driven lifestyle improvements like 12-week churn and burn ‘transformations’, gym memberships that 85% of people will never use, cleanse diets that create a false (nutrient-deprived) sense of wellbeing.

At both ends of the spectrum, common sense is lost.

So at the beginning of the new year – notorious for the false, but well-intentioned, promises we make to ourselves – here are three things you can do build a new habit that will last i.e. a habit that will become a habit, not a memory we look back on at Easter with a pinch of remorse and self-flagellation.

  1. get some advice
  2. start small and build slow
  3. make yourself accountable

I recently decided it was time to have a break from alcohol.

I knew I didn’t rate as a heavy drinker, but I suspected (and my research immediately confirmed) that I did count as a binge drinker – 5 drinks in a 4 hour period.

First, I got some advice – I googled ‘health effects of alcohol’.  Sobering reading.

Then I printed out a blank one month calendar and pinned it to the fridge.  Every morning when I woke I put an X on the calendar.  I set myself the initial goal of 7 days.  I told my daughter that I was going to stop drinking for a while, starting with 1 week, and showed her my calendar so she can see and understand the growing chain of X’s.

Every day that I haven’t had a drink, I get to put an X on the calendar.

I did the week, and then the month and now I’ve set myself another goal.  It’s a little longer, requires a separate achievement and I’ve told my kid about it to keep myself accountable.

I did the same thing when I wanted to get back into shape after being seriously ill a few years ago. I wrote out on a piece of paper “minimum 10 minutes” and for every day I did a minimum of 10 minutes of constant exercise, I earned an X. After a month I changed the heading to “minimum 15” and so on until the habit was embedded and I could switch it to 4 sessions exercise with three days off. When I completed the week I would X the week past.

I’ve used the “Don’t Break The Chain” method made famous by Jerry Seinfeld to build and break a number of habits. You can Download my template here for a weekly, monthly or yearly calendar to get you started.

Download Weekly Template  Download Monthly Template  Download Yearly Template  

I love those three rules – getting advice, starting small and making yourself accountable.  They bullsh*t-proof my intended change. If I catch myself aiming for big changes in short periods, these three little chestnuts put a reality torch on it.

Scientists, governments and health bodies all over the world increasingly agree that the majority of preventable diseases and causes of death (including cancer, heart disease and obesity) can be avoided.

The means to this is remarkably consistent.

(Next blog we talk about the last point and really drill down into what the term ‘exercise’ really means)

If you would like realistic, no bulls**t help to create healthy new habits, take 30 seconds and complete our quiz, come in and see us, bring your pals and build yourselves some new chains.


Take the Quiz


How healthy is your heart?

Hey ladies, how do you think you are going to die?

When asked what the greatest disease risk to women is, the great majority men and women respond that breast cancer is the biggest killer of women.

There are a lot of ways to die. We all get one. In some cases, our gender predicts our ending. Young men tend to die in fast cars. It is widely assumed that men die of heart attacks more often than women. As a race, broadly speaking, we all tend to die of heart disease.

Healthy Heart Blog Insert

In fact, heart disease kills more women than the next 6 causes of death combined.

When women have a heart attack and survive they are far more likely to die in the next 12 months than men. This is partly due to women responding less to anti-clotting medication and to do with what happens to the lipids in women after menopause.

If you are wondering what tells us a woman is in danger of a heart attack:


Top heart attack symptoms in women

One month before a heart attack   During a heart attack

Unusual fatigue (71%)

Sleep disturbance (48%)

Shortness of breath (42%)

Indigestion (39%)

Anxiety (36%)

Heart racing (27%)

Arms weak/heavy (25%)


Shortness of breath (58%)

Weakness (55%)

Unusual fatigue (43%)

Cold sweat (39%)

Dizziness (39%)

Nausea (36%)

Arms weak/heavy (35%)

Source: Circulation 2003, Vol. 108, p. 2621.


Reassuring stuff, eh. That first column looks pretty much like the week before Christmas for EVERYBODY.

If you want to choose another way out of this mortal coil, if you want to opt out of the nearly 40% of women who’ll choose heart disease, the steps are remarkably simple and relatively easy.

  1. Don’t smoke & drink only occasionally
  2. Eat a diet high in fibre and plant-based foods
  3. Complete 200 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a week and 2 x strength training sessions

It doesn’t matter when you start to make a change – any move towards these three lifestyle factors improves your heart health and it’s never too late. Never.

Over the last half-decade or so White Dog has been working with women of all ages and in particular women over 50 incrementally introducing weight training of various kinds and high intensity cardio (more on this in coming weeks but what’s important to know is the more intense your cardio the more ‘minutes’ that it’s worth).

We’ve got to a point now where we think we’re pretty darn good at it.


Best practice when it comes to eating

I have spent a lot of time talking best practice when it comes to eating.

There have been plenty of heated (though happy) discussions with fellow therapists about “diets” and how to eat. It’s mostly always argued that it’s best to be “general”. And to follow the already widely available food pyramid and healthy eating guidelines offered by the Health Department.

For fear of upsetting the boat, alienating people, creating “food fear” or asking “too much” of clients.  Or of a genuine belief that the healthy eating guidelines are correct (they’re not), the vast majority of nutritionists still offer eating templates that include dairy, grains and starchy carbohydrates in large daily servings.

I don’t agree with this and so I don’t do it.

Instead, please read on for a summary of what White Dog Studio professes to be the best and most wholesome way to eat for good health. There are disclaimers here, as always.  Health isn’t black and white and everyone has different dietary needs and requirements.   So, eating well requires you to be responsible, take time to listen to your body, exert control and intuition and feel your way through a health regime.  That regime should involve the following:

  • Eat plenty of leafy green and brightly coloured vegetables, every day.
  • Choose grass fed, hormone and antibiotic free meats and eat some with most meals, about a palm sized piece of protein will do nicely.
  • Add a thumb-ful of fat and if you like about half a cup of starchy vegetables, such as white or sweet potato.
  • Here and there snack on a piece of fruit or a small handful of nuts and seeds.
  • Enjoy some fermented foods such as sauerkraut.
  • Avoid grains, starchy carbohydrates, dairy (unless fermented and well tolerated), legumes and sugar.

There are some people who can tolerate carbohydrates better than others and can eat more starch. The only way you will know is by cutting processed and carbohydrate based foods out of your diet and eating real, whole foods and nothing else for 30 days and then slowly, one by one, introducing them back in to gauge your reactions (such as gut aches, constipation, headaches, afternoon energy dips, blood sugar crashes, cravings, that feeling of just needing “something” after your dinner etc).

This is not to say you can’t eat these foods ever again – a suggestion is not a gun to your head.

But when you eat well most of the time and bring balance to your blood sugar, hormones and digestive system, you find that the foods you so often crave now are actually not that good when you do come to “treat” yourself.

As you go on, you’ll choose them less and less, your reactions to them will become more averse and you will crave the right foods and be thankful for them.

In a nutshell, I offer you these sentiments because all the good research shows it’s the best way to eat to heal your gut  and avoid or manage autoimmune conditions, depression, anxiety, metabolic syndromes, hormone dysregulation, weight problems and behavioural disorders in children (and adults) such as Autism, Aspergers, ADHD/ADD. And because over the past decade my experience has been the same time and time again, if you heal the gut with the right foods, you heal the body and mind as well.

If at first you feel like this is too hard, make the change gradually.

Aim to eat one whole foods meal once a day for four weeks, then add the second for a month then add the third. The hardest one is breakfast, so I suggest doing that one FIRST!

In the next blog post I will introduce the concept of counting macro nutrients for weight loss and body sculpting, which can be done in two ways.

Firstly, using flexible dieting (which does not fit within the principles of White Dog’s food philosophies but has a place in the fitness industry and maybe your life which is totally fine by us) and secondly, by using a whole foods approach but still counting macros for best results in the gym.

Stay tuned!

The Truth About Pain

The Truth About Pain

The truth about pain
Biomechemical model of pain


For the last few hundred years, we have thought about pain in the same way.  

The biomechanical model of pain sees us and our bodies as essentially mechanical in nature – muscles/ropes and joints/levers. Stimulus travels to the brain, the brain accepts the information and returns a nerve signal to the area = sensation. We put our hand on a hot plate, it hurts and we learn from the experience – don’t touch hotplates.  The biomechanical model holds up pretty well for injuries while they are healing. However, it fails to explain pain that persists after the injury has healed. It also fails to explain injuries without pain – like when we notice a bruise and can’t remember getting it.  So what is the truth about pain?

Pain is instructive. We learn from it. Hotplate = caution. People who canʼt feel pain die sooner than those that can.

Pain is also contextual. When we are tired, hungry, cold and sad a stubbed toe REALLY hurts. When we are slept, fed, warm and happy, the same stubbed toe is less of an issue.

Our bodies are really good at repairing themselves. Last time you cut yourself, how long did it take to heal? 2-3 weeks? Broke your arm falling out of a tree? Six to eight weeks in plaster, then a bone as good as new.  An Achilles tendon torn off the bone is back on the playing deck and almost as good as new in 12-18 months. So a microscopic bulge in the ligaments surrounding our spine healed in a matter of weeks.

Why do we experience persistent pain if the body has had time to repair itself?  Is it because the injury persists or is it a richer tapestry than that?

It is widely accepted that a disc bulge (an injury to the tissues around and within the spine similar to a tendon strain or minor muscle tear) in the lower back equals pain.

However, 68% of adults in their 40ʼs with no back pain have disc bulges when put through an MRI. That’s 70/100 adults in their 40ʼs with NO pain have back injuries.


The MRI – Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine – is really, really good at picking up details inside our bodies. Namely cancer and degenerative abnormalities such as disc protrusions (bulges). As the numbers above show us, however (70/100 pain-free adults have disc bulges) MRI machines are really crap at predicting pain.

So an MRI that proves a disc bulge but does not predict the truth about pain.  The truth is that 70% of adults who are pain-free in their 40ʼs DO actually have disc bulges.

Better indicators of chronic pain than a disc bulge are:
• Sleep. If you donʼt get enough or itʼs broken sleep you are more likely to be in persistent pain than if you have a disc bulge.
• Stress. If you feel stressed about work/money/home etc you are more likely to have persistent pain than if you have a disc bulge.
• Exercise. If you do you are more likely to be pain-free and/or recover faster. If you donʼt you won’t.
• Belief. If you believe your back pain will pass, it most likely will. If you believe you are your back pain is with you for good, it most likely is.

This illustration shows the Bio-psychosocial model of pain. Increasingly supported by compelling scientific evidence it shows persistent pain as a result of a more complex web of variables than a simple A+B=C.

the truth about pain
Bio-psychosocial model of pain

It explains why the way we are feeling about ourselves, our lives, our jobs our partners and our kids all have an impact on the severity and duration of persistent pain.

None of this is meant to suggest that pain is not real or that it’s all in our headʼ.  Pain is very real. As anyone whoʼs been in pain knows, itʼs hard to ignore it when itʼs there and we tend to forget to do the things we know help when it is upon us. What we are finding is the truth about pain is that itʼs affected very powerfully by many more factors than the injury site.

Solving our persistent pain is more complex than simply getting an operation to remove a bulging disc (that we now know has no bearing on 95% of all lower back pain, AND that people with no pain still have disc bulges). It doesnʼt necessarily work to just go and see your osteopath or physiotherapist and get a back adjustment. There needs to be a shift in our exercise, in our sleep and in what we believe about our bodies and our pain.

We are robust.  Pain is temporary.  Exercise is the best medicine and guards us against pain.  Good quality sleep is not a luxury but a human need.