Over a year ago, I set out to review Kelly Starrett‘s book Becoming a Supple Leopard and its claims to “improve your athletic performance, extend your athletic career, treat stiffness and achy joints, and prevent and rehabilitate injuries.”

This is not that review. (Sorry to disappoint.)

Starrett came to my attention as the CrossFit coach on Youtube with good videos about stretching against resistance bands, smashing your butt with lacrosse balls, and the importance of deep squatting like you’re pooping in the woods. Supple Leopard is Starrett’s attempt to collect up all these tips and tricks into a systematic framework. My opinion on how well he did that will come at a later date.

What has delayed my review so long is the twisting rabbit hole I fell down once I began researching the science (and pseudoscience) of sports performance, physical therapy and especially pain neurology. Every time I think I finally had a handle on the topic, I find another study, another expert, another methodology that makes sense but contradicts the others.

The purpose of this post is not to try to sort out what is right or wrong (as if I could) but to share the most interesting talks and articles on pain science I’ve run across. These will be referenced when the real review comes out, but I’d like to get this out first.

Studying the material below, you’ll learn how our understanding of pain is very different than how it was traditionally taught, especially the neurological aspects of chronic or persistent pain. These forms the basis for the main criticisms I’ve seen of Starrett’s methods, or more accurately, all physical therapy that focuses solely on the body’s mechanical and tissue problems without addressing the neurological, psychological, and even social/cultural aspects of pain.

If you find some of the pain science hard to swallow–like how bad MRI’s are at predicting if a patient reports pain, the effectiveness of “fake” knee surgery, and how the biggest predictor of a back injury causing chronic pain is not severity of tissue damage–I don’t blame you. It is weird. Any time I learn more about the brain–and the brain is the key to understanding pain–the weirder it seems to get.

For a good explanation of how the understanding of pain and its treatment have evolved–and how much of what we were taught as “common knowledge” is wrong–I highly recommend Pain Education by BBoyScience.com.

Here are many of the videos, articles and podcasts about the neurology and psychology of pain that I found most educational:

Body in mind – the role of the brain in chronic pain

The mystery of chronic pain

Pain, Is it all in your mind?

Lorimer Moseley on ABC Classic FM

The Science of Pain podcast by Scientific American

  1. How sports psychology can be used to treat sports injuries
  2. Biopsychosocial Pain : Pain and brain – the biopsychosocial method of chronic injury rehabilitation

Pain really is in the mind, but not in the way you think

A Revolution in the Understanding of Pain and Treatment of Chronic Pain

What should fitness professionals understand about pain and injury?

Overcome Pain

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
  3. Part 3

The Science of Pain

Focused symposium: Pain Management

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