Welcome back to the Healing Pain Podcast with Phaedra Antioco.
Thank you for joining me again for another week where we talk about integrated strategies for healing chronic pain naturally, for both the practitioner as well as those who are looking for solutions, those that have chronic pain. If you’ve been following my podcast over the past almost a year now, you’ll know that I love to bring experts on that give you a different viewpoint on the pieces to your pain puzzle; the pieces that you might need to help you heal from chronic pain. This week I have a wonderful guest on that is a practitioner. She’s an occupational therapist. She also has a very interesting story about her own traumatic injury and how it really shaped her life not only as a person, but also helped shape her as a practitioner who helps people with chronic pain and other types of injuries. Her name is Phaedra Antioco. She’s an Occupational Therapist and a Pain Relief Specialist. Like I said, she had her own traumatic injury and her own healing journey. Today, she’s pain-free. She supports clients by looking at the whole person; putting all the pieces of the pain puzzle together and looking at things such as past trauma, lifestyle, daily movement patterns and really everything, which I think is wonderful in a holistic manner.
Navigating Your Healing Journey with Phaedra Antioco
Phaedra, welcome to The Healing Pain Podcast.
Thank you very much, Joe, for having me. I really appreciate your work and your book. It’s been very helpful, all the strategies you recommend, in my own healing journey.
I spoke on your Pain Treatments that Work Summit and it was really great. You put a lot of effort into it. Having done two summits myself, it’s a wonderful thrilling experience. You put your heart and soul into it. Thank you for that. Obviously, you’re an occupational therapist, so you work in the realm of physical medicine. Tell us how you became involved in OT and what your early career is like and what it looks like now and what the transition was.
I’ve been an occupational therapist for over seventeen years. I studied in Miami, Florida. Then I migrated to Phoenix, Arizona. I started off with pediatrics. I loved working with children. I started seeing in early 2000, there was a lot of autism spectrum disorder, a lot of self-regulation nervous system dysfunction in children so I began becoming a Sensory Integration Expert. I had a really great exciting job where I would drive from Phoenix down to Nogales, Arizona, which is the US side of the Mexican border in Arizona. I would treat babies on the border there and just have such a great time there making a difference.
One day in 2008, I was driving home and I didn’t make it. My world changed, my life changed. I woke up two weeks later from a coma. I had a rollover car accident and I had a brain injury, near spinal cord injury that was three millimeters form a spinal cord injury. My leg bones pierced the skin and it was really severe. I then was the therapist who became the patient. My world just suddenly changed. It’s been about eight years and I’ve been on this healing journey. Finding strategies and things that have really peaked my interest of what works and what doesn’t. That’s why I created the Pain Treatments that Work Summit because I wanted to be able to look at all the pieces of the pain puzzle.
Can I ask you a couple of questions about your experience around having a TBI, a traumatic brain injury as well as just a traumatic injury in general? It’s interesting because we go to school, we learn about trauma, we learn about the physical rehabilitation process, both the acute phase as well as the longer term phase, what it takes to really heal, if that’s the right word to use because some people don’t fully heal from a TBI. You did. How did your view about something like a TBI or traumatic brain injury different now today than it did before your injury?
I was the therapist who worked with brain injury. I didn’t think that it was supposed to happen to me. I was fortunate enough that I didn’t have to have a craniotomy where they drill into your skull. My brother was a Trauma Nurse and he rescued me talking to the neurosurgeons and monitoring my medication, because they had me on too much Ativan and I was sedated. They kept saying, “Wake up. Squeeze my hand.” That would be a sign that they wouldn’t need to drill. My brother said, “Decrease the Ativan,” and then I woke up. I was blessed.
I had a really severe brain injury that’s called diffused axonal injury. It was sheering. All lobes except the occipital lobe were damaged. What happened was, I had already been seeing and referring to an osteopathic physician who does manipulation. As you know, the cranial bones, we used to think they were solid but they actually move. He came in and he treated me. I feel that really set the stage for my recovery, but I also had this inner fight in me and I knew how the system worked. I was a therapist so I had to read my own notes. I said, “I am going to fight this.” I went to one of the top neuro rehabs in the country, Barrow Neuro Rehab. That’s where I want to talk too about how I got into trauma. Number one, waking up to find out what happened, with any illness, whether it’s a cancer diagnosis or an injury, it’s just, “What? This is happening?” Just that alone can be very traumatic. It was for me. I had to go through extensive neuro rehab, which meant neuropsychology, testing that was incredibly challenging. When I was in a state of trauma, I had many broken bones. I had such severe pain that my body somatically remembers every day. That was the extra challenge.
The exciting think that I learned is that the brain is a muscle. It’s very dynamic and it can change and it can grow. In fact, I definitely recommend it for all of my patients to participate in brain game-type stimulation activities. As we get older and we get in our career, we’re in our little box and our brain gets wired a certain way and new learning can be a bit more of a challenge. Websites like Lumosity.com, super challenging but wonderful. I had such extensive testing. I was in a full-body brace. I couldn’t even tuck my chin down to look at the test. It’s really exciting. If you’ve never had neuropsych testing, it will really expand your mind. It just really made me sharp. When I have any test nowadays, I do really well with them. I’m an expert test-taker now. It was mathematics. It was counting front and back and remembering sequences of numbers. I was in a full-body brace in a wheelchair. I had to plan an executive day. It’s your mother’s birthday and you need flowers for them. You need a parking pass for your assistant to get to. You’d have to do all of this planning strategically. I was very grateful that I got excellent care both with osteopathic manipulation and the brain exercises as well as really great physical therapy.
How long was that process for you? I guess you were in a rehab center for a period of time, right?
I was a total of 34 days in the hospital. I was two weeks in the ICU in an induced coma, which meant I was on a ventilator. That’s really interesting because I still feel like we don’t think about it, “Someone’s been on a ventilator.” We don’t think about what that does to the body, but I do feel some days, I’ve got this tissue memory of remembering it being in there. I was there and then I got transported up to Phoenix in Barrow Neuro Rehab.
What part of the experience or was it the entire experience that went along your path to recovery? Because we’re talking about a healing journey, your particular healing journey, and using it as a model and a framework for other people. When along your journey did you figure out, “I’ve been in a physical trauma, i.e. a car accident, and I know this is creating some kind of emotional trauma in me.” Where along those lines did you say, “I really think I need to delve deeper into the emotional trauma aspects of it”?
What happened was, I was treated in the hospital by a John Barnes-trained Myofascial Therapist. He was an occupational therapist. I had heard of John Barnes, but I was never really into going to those trainings. I had so much pain in my leg and so much fear. He just placed his hands on it. That was the most memorable experience of my neuro rehab and getting treated that way with Myofascial Release. I found some practitioners in Sedona, there’s a treatment center there and I went. They did a simple diaphragm release where they put their hands into my diaphragm and my stomach. I felt such fear. My body remembered the trauma. It was real, it was visceral. Then I started crying. Just such fear throughout my body and releasing to the point I fell off the table down to the floor. It turns out, I was strangled by the seatbelt and that was a memory that my body remembers. I said, “Wow, this is amazing. I need to get trained.” I went fast as I could through that training to become an expert level practitioner. I combine that nowadays with my work with craniosacral therapy. That’s when I really got physically, with every cell of my being and my emotions that it is all tied together and connected.
Tell us how you interlace some of the myofascial techniques you use with the craniosacral. We have both practitioners who listen to the podcast as well as people seeking relief. What does Myofascial Release mean and what does Craniosacral Therapy mean as far as treatment goes?
There’s still some confusion between it; its different teachers and different theories. Craniosacral is more lighter touch and it is focusing on the cranial rhythm of the body. The brain has ventricles that pump the fluid throughout our body. Myofascial Release and the John Barnes method is a sustained pressure for up to three to five minimum minutes. When we get massage, they go on and off the body, which can set the nervous system into a fight or flight state. When my leg was really hurting, I just needed love, nurturing, supportive touch to my nervous system instead of really deep work because that would send me clenching. John Barnes does do light touch, but we also have some deeper techniques, which is different from cranial, which is more light touch. It’s really the sustained pressure hold for both of the disciplines that I practice.
In OT school, did you learn manual therapy type techniques? In physical therapy school, you do. I know in OT school, I think nowadays it varies which OT school you go to. That didn’t go as deep into the myofascial treatments as you learned with John Barnes, right?
Not at all. John Barnes has been doing this work for over 30 years. It was just whatever my teachers were comfortable and had training in. I love continuing education training. I have hundreds and hundreds of hours. I did learn some basic shoulder mobilization techniques. As an occupational therapist, we typically say it’s upper body. Physical therapists work the lower body. I do treat the whole person from head to toe literally. One thing that with my injuries and being in that full body brace, we call it TLSO, Thoracic-Lumbar-Sacral Orthotic, I really had such tight shoulders. Just being bed bound for over a month, you really tighten up. When my physical therapist and my occupational therapist came in, they mobilized my shoulder blades, we all need that. Anyone who comes for treatment with me, they’re definitely getting scapular mobs because it’s so important because we use our hands and shoulders and body and jaw clench all day long.
Jaw clenching is a big one for a lot of patients. When we talk about TMJ and people are wondering where it’s coming from, oftentimes it’s stress and that’s just a reaction in the way that you’re exhibiting your stress basically. I know you’ve also worked in somatic experiencing into your treatment, which is wonderful. Can you talk about what somatic experiencing is, how you found it and how that plays into now this trio of techniques that you have?
There’s that missing piece because I found some patients get better and some don’t. What I learned, and this might be a little esoteric, but when we’re in pain, a lot of times people have a hard time feeling into their body. I was often told, “Phaedra, you’re not in there. You’re disconnected.” My body was just a shell. The somatic experiencing helps you, as well as the John Barnes method, he really does teach what we call dialoguing, helping the client get into their body. Say I’m working on your low back and it’s empty, the muscles aren’t moving, I will have then feel somatically internally called Interoception to go in and feel. The tissue changes completely. It’s a little different when you go to a massage, the therapist is massaging you, but what if you were there, mentality focusing, directing your body, your mind and your brain to that area? I literally feel the muscles start unwinding and melting in my hands. I wanted to take it a step further because some people get better and some don’t. I was one of the lucky ones and I fought hard and I got better. In my practice, I see people who have tried everything and they’re just not getting better.
Then we start to look at the root cause of the problem. I do an extensive intake and I really want people to look at your past trauma and injuries starting at your birth because birth could be the very first trauma we experience. I have people then tell me their stories and I get it so many times, “I fell out of a tree when I was a child, but that was 30 years ago.” Think about the act of falling out of a tree, it’s high speed, it’s violent. What happened to you? Were your friends making fun of you? Did you just fall quick and brush it off? The body remembers those injuries. If you think about how maybe this morning you were walking and you banged your elbow in the door jam, it’s this flinching, “Oh.” That memory over time gets stuck. It could be physical injuries and trauma, emotional injuries and trauma and a lot of times, with past childhood trauma, that tends to be a root in a lot of physical pain according to a lot of the experts I’ve interviewed.
What percent of your practice would you say are patients who have some past emotional trauma from childhood? We’re learning more and more about it. Obviously, patients aren’t always going to tell us that on that first intake, but oftentimes it comes up as you’re treating them. In your practice, what percent do you find that that is part of the puzzle?
I think pretty much everyone has had some degree or another. It could be so mild, it could be you’re a football player and you hurt your knee and you get hurt really bad on the field and you have to suck it up and keep on going. Then you’re here 30 years old, all of a sudden your knee starts to hurt every once in a while. That memory, if we don’t face it, if we don’t stop and feel it, then it could get trapped in there. It could be something simple as being a football player with an injury. Or it could be someone who’s had repetitive trauma. I look at how does the nervous system handle that, how does it cope, which goes to what I call self-regulation.
Sometimes if we had parents who weren’t there to give us the nurturing, our nervous systems are a little on fight or flight, a little on edge. With the somatic experiencing, I help people go in, feel inside their body and notice when they’re activated, when they’re stressed and then when they’re calm. Somatic experience helps people regulate their own nervous system. It can take some time, it depends on how motivated you are. It’s also about a word I call coregulation. Sometimes we just need someone there when we’re in pain, when we’re hurting. Even if it’s just having the presence of someone, that can be so therapeutic. That’s the type of work that I do, is I help people coregulate. When they’re here with me, my hands are on them, I teach them to go in their body, check in, see what’s working, what’s not working and have them participate in their own healing. I’m basically just a coregulator.
I think your point is that the therapeutic alliance between the practitioner and the patient is probably the most important aspect of care. Just by putting your hands on someone and developing that bond, that relationship and especially if it’s the type of relationship where when you put your hands on someone, they feel better and they start to trust you, they start to obviously accept you into their life. Oftentimes, when you’re in pain, it’s very difficult to accept people because some of our relationships are starting to break down because pain has interfered with our work, it’s interfered with our intimate relationships, it’s interfered with our friendships and our family. Oftentimes, a good manual therapist can be that one person that can get under the skin, metaphorically, for the right person.
I hear so many times and I’m sure you do, “My doctor said this.” The doctor will say something, like for me it was, “You should be on a ventilator for the rest of your life.” Don’t you think subconsciously that’s going to make me clench in fear? Because I bring it up eight years later, it’s still there. I have a vivid memory that they said to me, again it was all blurry, altered brain state, “Don’t get out of bed or you’re going to have a spinal cord injury.” That is absolutely scary, especially being a therapist, you know what goes into being a spinal cord patient. I clenched. For eight years, I was holding that. Last October 2016, I worked with Dr. Peter Lavine on stage of a training for an hour and a half and my back pain went down about 85%. It was that story. A lot of people don’t want to believe that emotions or thoughts can cause the pain. I tell you, my back pain diminished. I was having so much fear based on something somebody told me when I was recovering.
I think people who follow my podcast and read my book, they know that pain is both a sensory and an emotional experience. When you’re working with clients who have past trauma, what type of emotions are you finding they have the biggest struggles around?
A lot of times, they’re disassociated. They can’t get in touch with that. I had a patient today and I’m working on her and things just weren’t releasing. “What does this feel like? Is there a color, a shape? Is it solid, is it loose?” She’s like, “It feels like resentment. It’s resentment that I was at this workshop this weekend and people didn’t hold the door and they didn’t help me and they didn’t help me when I had my thyroid removed.” As soon as she got in touch with that, it just melted the tissue under my hands. She left here feeling safe.
I love the combination of skills that you have. It’s an important combination that not too many therapist or other practitioners really go out and try to weave into their practice. There are people who focus on just nutrition or there are people who focus on just exercise, but I think the hands-on is really, really important, especially when you have trauma, especially when you have the worst types of pain. In the beginning especially, there’s a place to have the various manual-type therapies that not only help your body, but really also help your brain and your nervous system. I know one of the things that you talk about and you work on is obviously pelvic floor treatment and pelvic work. Can you talk about how that interplays into the entire nervous system approach?
The pelvic floor, vaginally and rectally, we have muscles down there. There is a technique that releases. I go in internally with patients, both men and women, and we release their pelvic floor muscles. If you look at the nervous system, you’ve got the brain and the spinal cord and that is covered by a sheath that’s a membrane called the Dural Tube. At the base of the spinal cord where your pelvis is, where your reproductive parts are, there’s a large bunch of nerve fibers. The skull and the jaw are all related to the pelvis and below.
First, what I do is I always check the jaw. When the jaw is tight, we have to open up the cranium. All of these bones right here, we have to open up. I have different techniques. The brain is inside this so the nervous system would stress, jaw clenching can push all these bones together and just create so much stress. I free up the jaw, I work in the mouth to do the jaw work, then that sets the stage oftentimes for the pelvis. Then we work internally. I have mostly women who say, “I feel like a new person. I’m a new woman,” because we sit a lot. How many times have we all fallen on our tailbone and clenched? The tailbone is very mobile and pliable and it gets shifted. Many people have deformed tailbones. All those muscles that connect onto it get tight and clenching. Women who’ve had vaginal tears, hysterectomies, episiotomy scars, we go in and we help that out. The muscles are often tight and clenching. They have bladder frequency, having to go all the time, wake up several times through the night.
I go in, I treat that and they leave just feeling such a whole person; light, looser, just open, like, “I can conquer the world.” Because when life happens, as a child, we might have little traumas, we clench, we brace, we’re not as free-spirited. That all adds up and we lose our essence, as John Barnes teaches. I help people let go of stress, get in touch with who they really are and what their essence is so that they can feel more joy.
The joy part is really important because people start to lose their sense of joy, they lose their sense of radiance and purpose when you’ve had either trauma and/or pain, and trauma and pain really go hand in hand. Oftentimes, they’re one and the same. Phaedra Antioco, can you tell everyone where they can find out more about you?
My website is PhaedraAntioco.com and it links up with my Myofascial Release practice. I do intensive treatments so I have people who fly here and get treated. I also do an online consulting business as a health mentor because I know what it’s like. I know what it’s like to navigate the medical system, to find the right therapies. I was there myself, thousands of dollars, trying this treatment and that treatment and trying to figure out what works. That’s why I created the Pain Treatments that Work online video series. I’ll be having a 2.0 Pain Treatments that Work in the fall. If they wanted to pick up the first series, it is available for purchase. It has 28 experts who explore every topic of pain.
Please check out Pain Treatments that Work. Of course, you can check out Phaedra on her website at PhaedraAntioco.com. Thank you all for listening this week on The Healing Pain Podcast. Make sure you share this with your friends and family. Of course, sign up to receive the podcast update each week. I will talk to you next week on The Healing Pain Podcast.
About Phaedra Antioco
PHAEDRA ANTIOCO is an occupational therapist, pain-relief specialist and health mentor, dedicated to helping those struggling with pain. She shows her clients how to overcome life’s struggles. Phaedra experienced her own healing journey and overcame traumatic injuries, a gift that has allowed her to fully understand the pain and suffering felt by her clients. Today she is pain free and supports her clients by looking at the whole person, putting the pieces of the pain puzzle together looking at things such as past trauma, lifestyle, and daily movement patterns. Phaedra is the creator of the Pain Treatments That Work Online Video Series.
- Phaedra Antioco
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