By Stephanie Bell - Sunday Life
SUZANNE Walsh struggled for years with pain so debilitating that at one stage she completely lost the power in her arm for two months.
As a self-employed hairdresser, it had devastating consequences for the Belfast mum-of-two, forcing her to close her business.
Exhausted after years of fruitless treatments, which included undergoing a course of steroid injections, acupuncture, paying to see doctors privately and countless visits to A&E and physiotherapists, she turned to alternative therapy.
Suzanne, who is now pain-free, was stunned to be told that the cause of her unbearable pain was stress.
Fortunately, the clinic she chose specialises in physical pain and anxiety management, and therapist Dympna Hannon soon identified the root cause of her problems.
It is only in recent years that scientists have established a link between stress and physical pain, with research still ongoing.
For Suzanne (44), discovering that her emotions were at the heart of her problems was a shock.
“My life had been totally on hold for over two years before I went to Dympna,” she says.
“I had virtually no movement in my arm and was constantly in excruciating pain. I had been told I had a frozen shoulder and was on the waiting list for surgery.
“I hadn’t been able to lift my arm even halfway up for over two years, but after one session with Dympna I was in tears as I lifted my arm over my head.
“I very quickly became pain-free. During my sessions, I got to know Dympna and we talked a lot, and when the pain started to come back she was able to see that it was stressors in my life causing it.
“She gave me tools to cope with stressful situations, which I hadn’t even been aware were affecting me so much.
“It was amazing how I would find myself in a situation that was stressful and suddenly the pain was there. Now that I know how to deal with the stress, my life is back to normal.”
Suzanne is married to Ciaran (49), a scaffolder, and has two children, Conall (21) and Aislinn- Rose (15).
Her persistent pain struck without warning when, one morning in May 2014, she woke up and was unable to move her arm.
Alarmed, she went to A&E, where she was told she might have pulled a muscle. It was to be the first of many such visits to the hospital.
Eventually, after an MRI scan, she was diagnosed with a frozen shoulder and given strong painkillers.
“I was so desperate that I paid to go to a private doctor,” Suzanne says. “He took one look at me and confirmed I had a frozen shoulder.
“He gave me a steroid injection — the first of eight — but nothing helped. Eventually, I was told I had an appointment for surgery, but the waiting list was about a year-and-a-half.
“I had so much restriction in my arm that I couldn’t work. I didn’t work at all for eight months because of the lack of movement and the pain.
“Every day was hard. Things like hanging out the washing I couldn’t manage and I relied on family and friends for everything.
“A friend told me about Dympna. To be honest, I was so desperate that I was willing to try anything and everything. She’s my saviour — a wonder woman with miracle hands.
“Dympna put her hand on the base of my spine, which I thought was quite strange, then she rotated my arms around my head, working on my good arm first.
“I was terrified of her doing it with my bad arm, but she was able to give me the confidence that she wouldn’t hurt me and then she did a few other things.
“I remember going out to the car where my husband was waiting. I tapped the window and had tears in my eyes as I showed him how I could lift my arm over my head.
“For over two years I could barely lift it at all. He was amazed.”
Suzanne pain’s left after just a few sessions with the therapist and she found she had movement in her arm once again.
She continued to go to Dympna because she got so much out of the sessions, and a friendship soon developed.
It was when her pain returned after a few months that the therapist suspected the underlying cause could be stress.
She not only helped Suzanne to identify the stress in her life but gave her techniques to stay calm.
“I didn’t realise that certain things in my life were causing me so much stress and were actually affecting me physically,” Suzanne says.
“I became aware then of certain situations I was in and my pain coming back. (Learning this) was amazing to me. Using the tools Dympna gave me, it was unbelievable how I was able to take myself out of any annoyance.
“I’m back to enjoying a normal quality of life again and, if anything, my life is even better because I appreciate it more. The pain I had was horrendous — it took over my whole life. I’m just so grateful that I’m pain-free now.”
The Hannon Clinic, which recently relocated from Moira to Upper Crescent in Belfast, offers a gentle but highly effective alternative method of dealing with pain.
Trained principally in traditional Chinese medicine, Dympna uses elements of cranio-sacral therapy, kinesiology, lymphatic drainage and massage to realign the body.
Her approach involves placing her hands on certain parts of the body and working with a person’s energy to draw them back, pelvis, neck, head, shoulders and legs back into their correct, natural position.
For Dympna, her techniques are as much about healing a person’s spirit as they are about healing their body.
“Many of the clients I see have physical pain, in some cases for years,” she says. “The effect that this has on a person is to slowly wear them down mentally and emotionally.
“Not only do I deal with the initial pain, but also the pain caused by the worry of this pain.
“In the last year, I have seen around 20 people that have come to me with physical pain, but it becomes apparent that the pain is being caused by stress or anxiety. Often their language will give this away.
“We work with people to teach them how to deal with the stress, as well as working out the strain in the body, so the chance of recurring pain is reduced.
“Stress in the body can manifest in many forms — muscle pain, fibromyalgia, itchy scalp, rashes, urinary infections — so when we look at the pain we look at the whole person to see not only how to clear the pain, but also how to reduce the chances of it coming back.
“Stress is something we mostly don’t realise we have. It has become so much a part of normal life that people just accept it. Unless there is some extraordinary event, such as a death or job loss that we can attribute stress to, we tend to see a lot of our pain or problems as normal.”
Dympna’s approach is to teach people how to move forward in their lives. She does not focus on the past, but rather on how to get over what is happening at present.
“Our teachings are based on understanding our own thoughts and what we are doing to ourselves, how to break this and change it,” she explains. “This leads to less stress and anxiety, and to greater, energy, focus, happiness and joy of life.”
÷ The Hannon Clinic, 8 Upper