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The VUCA World: Is uncertainty the new norm?

We are half way through the circuit breaker period in Singapore. As lockdown measures start to relax throughout the world, are we returning to times of certainty?

What does VUCA stand for?

V – volatility
U – uncertainty
C – complexity
A – ambiguity

VUCA stands for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Believe it or not, VUCA was first used in 1987. It has been used to refer to an “uncontrollable environment” from academic concepts in business schools and leadership development to the post-cold war situation by the United States Army War College.

While the acronym has never been used in healthcare, the parallels are clear.

Recovery from musculoskeletal (that is muscle and joints) conditions often comes with its own set of uncertainties, complexities, ambiguities, and sometimes volatility.

Remember the colleague who woke up one morning and had to call in sick because the pain was so severe they had to head to the emergency room? Muscle aches and joint pain, while always benign, can behave in erratic and scary patterns.

From guru to evidence-based practice

In times of uncertainty, as with the coronavirus situation, we start to see the rise of “experts” on social medial.

Many people are starting to make claims about how they can help with your chronic back pain. Some chiropractors and physiotherapists are launching “bulletproof” pain solutions.

Are “bulletproof solutions” guaranteed to work?

Recovery has a distinct lack of predictability

If recovery was straightforward and that there was one solutions for everybody’s pain, back pain wouldn’t be a multibillion-dollar epidemic.

Here is the painful truth: There is no certain, perfect recovery!

When it comes to healthcare treatments, there is nothing that works 100%. From Tiger Balm and Salonpas to spinal surgeries such as discectomy or spinal fusion, there is always a chance that it wouldn’t work.

Anyone who claims to have 100% success rate is an ignorant fool.

What VUCA really means for you

vuca, harvard business reviewHarvard Business Review published that you can prepare for VUCA environments. According to them, this is what you can do to address VUCA:

  • Volatility – devote resources to preparedness, i.e. saving for a rainy day.
  • Uncertainty – invest in information, i.e. be at the forefront of research so you are not an ignorant fool.
  • Complexity – restructure, i.e. develop processes that can simplify complexities.
  • Ambiguity – experiment, rest and re-test, i.e. use testing strategies to find clarity, avoid assumptions.

For most parts, all of these are applicable to you as a pain patient!

Let’s take for example, sitting at the computer gives you back pain and you work at the desk for 7 hours a day. Here are your solutions:

  • I can sit for 2 hours pain-free –> I will work to increase my lower back capacity so I can sit at the computer for 8 hours pain-free.
  • I cannot separate broscience/marketing fluff from scientific truth –> I will seek advice from an evidence-based professional.
  • There’s nothing I can do because everything makes my back hurts! –> I will work with a solutions-focused chiropractor and focus on process instead of outcomes.
  • I don’t know what’s wrong with me! –> I will work with a chiropractor who can systematically work out what’s going on with me.

Square One’s approach to a successful recovery

The first step to a successful recovery is to accept that you are in pain and that your pain is real.

The second step is to understand that your symptom presentation is unique to you. That is your back pain is different from the back pain of your colleague sitting just two workstations away.

The third step – if we accept that pain is unique to the individual -is that there is no one-size-fit-all solution.

With these in mind, we help our clients to be present in their current moment. This means being mindful of their symptoms and having self-awareness. This helps with both complexity and ambiguity.

With clarity, you may realise that your condition is not as complex as you think.

Patient-centred care

I am a big advocate of co-constructing a pain solution with you. Most medical doctors, physiotherapists, or chiropractors will assume the position that they are the expert. They will direct your recovery and tell you what to do. This is an authoritative or doctor-centred approach to treatment.

Yet we know, pain is often VUCA. How is it possible for practitioners to know what to do with such confidence, when nothing about your pain experience is clear?

If we don’t take the time to co-discover your symptom experience with you, how can I help you?

This is why I work together with you to help you find your own pain solution. It’s synergism between yourself and myself – we lead to follow, and follow to lead.

Yes, it is true that at some point I, as a chiropractor, may have to provide my professional expertise.

It is important that all professional advice that I provide for you takes into consideration your goals and expectations, as well as your feedback from the past sessions.

If you are living with chronic pain and you can’t seem to find a long-term pain solution, book in a session with me to discover the difference the right care can make. While I do not guarantee recovery, I am 100% committed to help my clients to achieve their recovery goals within four to seven visits.