September Is Pain Awareness Month

pain management awarenessIf you don’t deal with pain on a regular basis, odds are you don’t realize how big of a problem pain is in our society. That being said, there’s a good chance you do deal with pain, because roughly one in three adults is the United States is battling a pain condition. Whether it’s from arthritis of the hips, carpal tunnel in the wrist or another painful conditional, pain is very prevalent here in America.

To help bring awareness to the pain problem, September has officially been declared Pain Awareness Month. Today, we hope to share some facts about pain and bring attention to the problem so that we can work towards a solution.

Everyone’s Pain Is Different

Pain is unique to the individual. Even though you may share a diagnosis with thousands of other people, your pain is going to be unique to you, so it should come as no surprise that treatments can differ greatly even if two people are diagnosed with the same pain condition. For some, physical therapy, exercise and a diet change can help keep pain at bay, while others will find relief with acupuncture, yoga and anti-inflammatory medications.

The key to treating pain is to treat the underlying condition, not the symptoms. Some passive treatment techniques like opioids or pain injections help to decrease pain levels in the short term, but they do nothing to treat the underlying problem, which means these patients will never truly be rid of pain. Pain specialists are great at finding the underlying cause and developing treatment strategies to fix the true source of pain. It’s not always going to be easy, but trust us when we say it will be worth it in the long run.

Treating pain also needs to be a two-way street. There is no magic pill to cure your of your pain, so while a doctor can help diagnose your pain and suggest treatment options, we can’t force you to take part in therapy or eat a healthier diet. The desire to get rid of daily pain needs to come from the patient. We will do everything possible to help you on your journey, but we can’t do it for you. Meeting with a pain specialist is a great way to set and manage expectation between doctor and patient.

Facts About Pain

To better explain just how prevalent chronic and acute pain is in today’s society, check out some of the facts about pain below.

  • Over 75 million Americans deal with a pain condition, more than those diagnosed with cancer and diabetes combined.
  • 30 percent of adults between the ages of 45-64 experience pain that lasts longer than 24 hours.
  • The estimated annual cost of chronic pain in the US is more than $100 billion.
  • 1 in 5 people experience pain that disrupts their ability to sleep.
  • Back pain is the leading cause of disability for people under the age of 45.
  • Less than half of pain sufferers feel like they have control over their pain.
  • More than 75 percent of individuals with chronic pain say they suffer from depressive thoughts or anxiety.
  • Headaches were the most common type of pain that led to lost productivity in the workplace.
  • Only 15 percent of people with a pain condition go to a pain specialist. Most prefer their primary care doctor.

If you are dealing with a pain condition, consider setting up an appointment with a pain specialist. Your doctor has a wide range of medical knowledge, but they lack the depth of knowledge about specific pain conditions that a specialist has. If you want to set up an appointment, reach out to Dr. Cohn’s office today.

Let’s Focus On The Pain Epidemic, Not The Opioid Epidemic

pain opioid epidemicA recent article in the Star-Tribune noted that every three weeks, the death toll from opioid overdoses matches the death toll from the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Not only is this a concerning number, but trends show that the death toll from opioid overdoses is continuing to skyrocket. The government and even President Trump have stated that the opioid epidemic is a problem that needs to be solved, but are they looking at the problem in the right way?

The opioid crisis is a huge issue, but it’s only a symptom of a larger problem, which is the pain epidemic in America. More people are turning to opioids in the United States because more of them are fighting a losing battle against pain. We need to be finding solutions to the pain problem, because the opioid crisis is a symptom of the problem of pain.

Stopping Pain

Think of it this way. Let’s say you’re in your house and you see smoke. You run to the kitchen and notice a fire behind the stove. You quickly fill up some water from the sink and douse the flames with water, stopping the fire in its tracks. It’s great that you stopped the fire, but you wouldn’t just go back into your living room without investigating what caused the fire to start in the first place. If you don’t fix the faulty wiring that caused the fire, you’re prone to another fire in the future.

In the above instance, throwing water on the fire is like trying to treat the opioid epidemic. It is a problem that needs to be addressed, but unless we also focus on the root problem, which is pain (or faulty wiring in this case), then the problem is only going to continue to be cyclical. Eliminating opioids may reduce the number of overdose deaths, but it will also hurt patients who use them responsibly to manage their pain, and severely cutting back on opioids will do NOTHING to solve the pain problem.

What We Need To Do

Enough about what’s wrong with the current system – here’s a definitive list of what we as a nation need to do in order to fix the opioid crisis and the pain problem in America.

  • We need to educate both patients and doctors about how opioids work in conjunction with a multi-faceted approach to pain management.
  • Opioids can play a role in pain care, but they can’t be the only treatment option. They can help manage pain, but they are not a long term solution to treat pain. Anybody who is only taking pain medications for their condition is at a high risk for dependency and has a low chance of ever recovering from their pain.
  • We need to open up insurance coverage to other non-traditional methods of pain management. Let’s get creative with pain management, because what works for some will not work for others.
  • We have to pound home the message that there is no magic pill for pain, but tangible solutions are within your reach.
  • Doctors need to do a better job of pushing people towards tangible solutions instead of quick fixes. Things like physical therapy, aqua therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, etc. over writing a quick prescription.
  • We need to invest research funding into pain treatments, whether it’s medical marijuana or new diagnostic tools, we need to spend money on solving the problem of pain. Invest in pain solutions like we’re investing in treating cancer or diabetes.

If we can check off all the items on this list, I’m confident we can find new ways to treat pain, and in turn combat the opioid crisis in America.

The Truth About Chronic Pain

When it comes to chronic pain, one thing is clear – You are not alone. In fact, chronic pain affects roughly one in three people in the world. Whether it’s a sore back, neck pain or complex regional pain syndrome, we all deal with different kinds of pain. But just because our pain is different, doesn’t mean we’re not all going through something similar.

To help illustrate this point, we turn to our friends at WallMassagers.com. They specialize in pain management tools and they’ve created this wonderful infographic to help explain just how widespread chronic pain is in the United States. Check out the infographic below!

chronic pain infographic

A Doctor Who Understands Your Pain

spine pain cohnI have been known to preach a little about the work it takes to control pain. It is not about taking a pill or just going to therapy and it will all be better. I often offer advice and I rarely cut people a lot of slack. I also do not like opioid medications, but that is for obvious reasons related to effectiveness and addiction. But most people wonder if I actually understand pain. The answer is yes, I deal with my own issues daily, but my patients are not paying to listen to me complain. The reality is I had to learn what works for me to manage my issues.

My Pain Story

My story started in medical school. Keeping in shape was important just to have the energy to spend countless hours in class and studying. At one point, a housemate convinced me to try weightlifting. The second time I tried I had the weights in the wrong position, lost my balance, and took out my back. I probably herniated a disc in my lower back, but there were no scans available then. I did therapy and over months it became manageable most of the time, not slowing me down if I was generally careful and not doing stupid things.

In my mid forties, 20 years later, my back started to become more noticeable. I had regular low back pain, and it started to frequently radiate down the leg. I gave up on running since that set it off, and just tried to keep in reasonable shape. This worked until I was in my late forties, and then finally I had a MRI scan that showed a significant slippage at the bottom of the spine, a disc that was pretty much shot and a lot of narrowing where the nerves exit the spine. The radiologist that read the scan had only one question for me, and that when was I thinking about having surgery. Surgery had not crossed my mind since my issue was pain. I decided to follow the advice I had given others; If there was no weakness and no loss of bowel or bladder control, surgery was not the answer.  

Conservative management was my goal. I had a couple of lumbar epidurals that brought down the worst pain and I did a few physical therapy sessions and they gave me a ton of exercises. The exercises were repetitive, and they seemed to be focused on the same muscles, doing all of them took about 40 minutes and they were boring. As the pain improved, I gave up on the program. Within 18 months the pain was again bad and I had another epidural, but I thought I needed to condense the exercise program. I narrowed it down to a set of core exercises that were all different parts of my core muscles, and I added a stretching regimen. Core work was about 10-20 minutes depending on what I did, and stretching was only about 5-10 minutes at the most.

My kids were hockey players, and my daughter had scoliosis and had exercises and a balance board. When I tried the balance stuff, I was terrible and it proved to me I needed to work more on core. I also felt since I was getting old, general strengthening would be a good thing to add to my workouts to reduce muscle loss. Lastly, I needed to also throw in general aerobic conditioning to maintain cardiac health.

Finding What Works For Me

The workout for the last few years has been pretty consistent. I start every day pretty early to get it done. After I climb out of bed, I stretch for a couple of minutes, and my dog gets a belly rub while I loosen up my back. After that comes core work that includes planks on a balance board, sit-ups, leg lifts and upper body/core with rubber tubing. I use a universal gym machine for additional strengthening and a roman chair device for abdominal work and pull-ups. Cardiac/aerobic workouts rotate between an elliptical, bike and rowing machine doing intervals. The rowing machine is the most recent addition. It supposedly works 85 percent of all your muscles, and it really seems to loosen things up and get the body moving well without stressing things out. During the summer I get outdoors and bicycle. Since I have a big dog, she gets twice a day walks daily year around.

As with everyone, as we get older, we all start to gain weight. I like to eat, and often enjoy snacking on junk food. Eventually my wife convinced me that I needed to change my habits. I had to stop eating as much carbohydrates, eat more vegetables and protein, and get rid of sugary drinks and snacks. I am no where near the weight I was in college, but I think I probably have more upper body muscle and some extra gut, but I have lost a few pounds.

For most people with back pain, sleep is a huge problem. Like many, I never feel well rested. I used to be a stomach sleeper, but with my back, extension is the worst position and that is absolutely out.  Side or back sleeping is feasible. Multiple pillows are my best friends keeping my knees bent while on the back, between the legs while on the side, and adjusted under my neck to keep that in a neutral position. A good memory foam pad adds to the comfort level to help relieve pressure points. I am not a deep sleeper, and after four hours stiffness often wakes me up. Instead of fighting it, I get up and stretch for just a few seconds, and then go back to bed and I can sleep for several more hours. For me, sleeping over 7.5 hours just hurts my back, so I get moving after that amount of time. To fall asleep, I do not do work right before bed, I do some reading and try to clear my mind of anything serious.

Like everyone else who has back pain, I have to take care of my back. It is not easy to do, but it is a priority to stay healthy.  It would probably help me if I could figure out how to get more sleep at night since some experts say this is good for general health. Maybe I should try to meditate, but this would also take time, and I am not yet into that either. I may spend to much time exercising, but a large part of it is walking my dog, and someone has to do it. Eating a more healthy diet has reduced my weight slightly. To lose more weight, another major change and reduction in calorie intake would be necessary and no fun. Life is a matter of balancing multiple options. If you have pain, one of the best treatment options is a comprehensive exercise program. There will never be a magic solution for pain, it will always require lifestyle choices.

Two Reasons Why Smoking And Chronic Pain Don’t Mix

smoking chronic painAs someone who has dealt with both acute and chronic back pain, I understand why patients want to control certain aspects of their life. Chronic pain can lead to anxiety and stress, and oftentimes patients just want 5-10 minutes where they can turn their brains away from their pain and feel a little relief.

Unfortunately, some people turn to cigarettes for this relief, and while it may offer you short-term relief, it’s making it hard for you to achieve long-term relief from your chronic pain.

Smoking has been linked to cancer, but today we’re going to focus on its impact on your chronic pain. I understand where the smoker’s head is at, but here are two reasons why smoking is seriously jeopardizing your likelihood of ever solving your chronic pain problem.

Why Smoking Worsens Your Chronic Pain

Smoking does a number of different things to your body, but one specific side effect of smoking is the impairment of oxygen-rich blood to your bones and soft tissues. Think of it like watering your garden during a week-long drought. If you water your garden once during the middle of the week, the plants will get some nutrition, but they will also suffer because they need more water. If you watered your garden 3-4 times throughout the week, your plants would never be without nutrition and thus could grow and prosper.

The same thing happens when you smoke. Some oxygenated blood reaches the lower back, but more would help your body heal faster. Giving up smoking will ensure that more healthy blood reaches areas of pain, decreasing your likelihood of a flare up.

Along a similar vein, the second reason why smoking makes it harder to recover from a chronic pain situation is because smoking has been linked to fatigue and slower healing rates. Exercise is a great way to combat chronic pain, but if you are tired or unable to exercise for longer periods due to your smoking habits, your chronic pain is more likely to linger. Similarly, blood vessel restriction means that your body can’t always get the nutrients to heal as quickly. Chronic pain can easily become cyclical if smoking slows your body’s ability to heal, or if it contributes to the onset of other painful conditions, like arthritis or degenerative disc disease.

It’s easier said than done, but if you can kick the habit for a healthier one, odds are you’ll be amazed at the health improvements you’ll see. We understand the desire to find some control in what seems like an uncontrollable situation, but turning to cigarettes only makes the problem worse.