Tai Chi Beneficial For Chronic Neck Pain

Tai Chi Minnesota PainLast week we shared a story on how yoga may be helpful for individuals with low back pain. Today, we’re learning of new research out of Harvard that suggests another form of low-intensity exercise may be beneficial for people with chronic neck pain.

To better understand the benefits of the ancient martial arts technique, researchers gathered a group of 114 individuals who were at least 18 years old and who suffered from nonspecific chronic neck pain for at least three months. Half of the group was asked to participate in regular Tai Chi classes for a period of 12 weeks, while the other half acted as the control group.

It may not sound shocking that individuals in the Tai Chi group had better outcomes than individuals who did nothing to improve their condition, but that’s what researchers discovered.

“The study showed that 12 weeks of Tai Chi was more effective than no treatment to improve pain, disability, quality of life and postural control in persons with chronic neck pain,” said Peter M Wayne, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School in the US.

Something Better Than Nothing

The news about Tai Chi having benefits for neck pain isn’t revolutionary, but it speaks to the larger point we try to express to our patients – that you need to put in the work if you want to take control of your pain. Your pain isn’t going to resolve simply by sitting down and popping a pill, you’re going to need to take an active role in pain management.

The researchers went on to say that Tai Chi was no better or worse for chronic neck pain than targeted neck exercises, but it again stresses the importance of strengthening your body to fight back against pain. As we’ve said before, there is no magic pill for chronic pain, and that holds true here. Even low intensity workouts can have amazing physical and psychological benefits. Don’t just hope your neck pain resolves, attack it head on.

Pain Care – When Correlation Doesn’t Equal Causation

Opioid Abuse Smoking StudyIt seems that there are new articles being published almost every day on the dangers of opioid pain medications. Unfortunately a lot of the studies are not very enlightening. Worse yet, some are just sensational, dumb correlations without causation.

For instance, saying obesity is correlated to eating is a great example of poor research. If you eat, of course could run the risk of being obese, but if you do not eat you could die, so obviously these findings are not very meaningful.

The latest was an article stating that a third of all adults in the United States in the last year received a prescription of opioid medication, and this is larger than the number of people who smoke cigarettesThe reason this is absolutely meaningless is this number has no real meaning. If you add up all the prescriptions for opioids written in one year and divide by the adult population, this is very likely.

Another interpretation would be that 1 in 3 people had a serious medical issue in the last year and were prescribed pain medication. Most people who have been in the hospital or emergency room for a surgery or injury may get a short-term prescription for pain medications. This is one of the very legitimate uses of these drugs, and should not be demonized. Treating acute pain aggressively at the outset has been shown to reduce the incidence of chronic pain problems. Several days of pain medications after a surgery or serious injury is appropriate but it should not be an ongoing use once the acute episode has healed.

Making Bad Connections

A third of the world population also suffers from chronic pain. A small percentage of those people are helped only by opioid medication and use these appropriately to maintain function and ability. There are many who use these medications extremely sparingly and thus continue to be highly productive in society since then they can control their symptoms. These people are dependent on these medications, they are not addicted, and oftentimes other conservative treatments have failed them. If there were better legal treatments available, many of these people would never use opioids.

Taking a prescription pain medication for a legitimate medical problem is not a significant issue or statistic. Smoking cigarettes for most is a daily addiction, affecting 25 percent of adults. It is voluntary, it causes multiple health problems, and has a huge cost to society. Comparing pain medication use to smoking is a useless correlation with no meaning.

Yoga Has Benefits Similar To PT For Low Back Pain

Yoga Chronic Back PainNew research suggests that yoga can be as beneficial as physical therapy in reducing chronic low back pain, according to a study out of Boston.

Both yoga and physical therapy have similar mechanisms in that they work to increase our range of motion and strengthen areas of our bodies that may not always get worked, but this study wanted to see if yoga could potentially be a substitute for targeted PT for chronic low back pain.

“We know that yoga is effective, we know that PT is effective, but we don’t know their comparative effectiveness,” said Robert Saper, director of integrative medicine at Boston Medical Center. “To get a complementary health practice into mainstream health care, I would say that (at minimum) it has to be as effective as the conventional therapy, and perhaps offer other benefits, like cost-effectiveness.”

How Effective Is Yoga For Back Pain?

Due to its obvious cost-effectiveness, researchers wanted to learn just how effective yoga was at treating chronic low back pain compared to physical therapy. They started by getting 320 patients in the Boston area who suffered from chronic low back pain with no obvious anatomic cause. The average pain score from their pain was a 7 out of 10, and nearly 75 percent reported taking pain medications for their discomfort.

Patients were then split into one of three groups:

  • Yoga
  • Physical Therapy
  • Education

The yoga group attended a 75-minute yoga session each week and were given tools to perform some yoga exercises on their own in their home throughout the week. The PT group consisted of 15, hour-long sessions of individualized physical therapy, while the education group received a comprehensive book on back pain. The yoga and PT sessions lasted for 12 weeks, then patients were tracked for a year, with random sessions assigned throughout the year.

At the end of the study, researchers noted that individuals in the yoga and PT groups reported similar levels of function, and both scores were higher than the education group. Individuals in the yoga group also reported high levels of satisfaction with their pain and their progress. Yoga also proved to be a pretty safe option, with only a few patients reporting flare ups of pain during or after a yoga session.

Saper concluded that while the findings were interesting, patients received a highly targeted form of yoga, and individuals with chronic low back pain may not see similar results if they just head to the yoga studio down the street. He hopes to conduct more studies down the road to better understand the best yoga techniques for handling spine pain.

Common Hidden Illnesses Explained

Happy Friday! We were recently contacted by our friends at Burning Night CRPS to see if we would share a new infographic that they put together. We are always happy to share relevant and informative pieces on our website, so we’ve included the infographic below. Check it out to learn more about common hidden illnesses, and for more information about Burning Nights CRPS, head on over to their website. Thanks for reading!

Hidden Illnesses Chronic Pain



Proper Opioid and Painkiller Disposal

Opioid Pill Disposal MinnesoraWith the increasing problems with drug abuse plaguing our society, there often is a question with regards to disposal of unused medications. The old training used to be to crush it up and throw it down the toilet. However, this is not a very environmentally friendly method of disposal. Tests performed at water treatment facilities often test positive for compounds like Prozac, an antidepressant. Fish are currently showing up with human hormones from ingesting residuals from birth control pills to testosterone. Clearly there are better solutions.

Recently, several different solutions have been proposed. A common suggestion has been to crush the pills and mix them with used coffee grounds and then throw them in the trash. Most likely, this is not much better than flushing them down the toilet. If the trash is incinerated, that would destroy the medications safely, but most trash is still placed in landfills, and again may end up in the environment.

Another solution offered by some pharmacies involves a special bag provided by the pharmacy with a chemical agent that neutralizes the drugs when they are placed inside the bag, making them unusable. The drugs then can be thrown away in the trash, or in some places returned to the pharmacy for disposal. There is a push on the state level to make it legal for pharmacies to take back unused drugs and then they can send them to an incinerator to be fully destroyed. High temperature burning leaves no significant chemical residual that may be harmful.

Police Intervention

One of the best solutions currently available is returning them to drug take back boxes that many police departments use. My local police department has a disposal box that is in the lobby, and is can be used 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The police will then make sure the medications are sent for safe disposal at an appropriate incinerator.

The most important thing to be aware of is that unused medications sitting around the home are a significant safety hazard. They can be abused, misused, or even accidentally taken, which can lead to overdose and death. Proper disposal is essential. Currently, the best solutions are to use police disposal boxes, neutralizing pouches, or to return them to a pharmacy. Avoid flushing them down the toilet when possible.

Sometime in the future, hopefully some genius will figure out how to safely recycle medications. This would not be an easy task. Each individual medication would need to be separated, and then chemically reprocessed and purified to the same standard as the original production. Whether this would be cost effective, no one currently knows. In the meantime, old and unused medications need to be safely disposed on a timely basis since these are dangerous and toxic compounds.