Vitamin D’s Role In Controlling Chronic Pain

vitamin d painWhen it comes to controlling chronic pain, we all know how important it is to get a restful night’s sleep, but that’s easier said than done when you’re in regular pain. However, new research suggests that adding something to the mix may help control pain and provide you with a better night’s sleep.

According to research published in the Journal of Endocrinology increasing the levels of Vitamin D in the body can help manage chronic pain conditions, including arthritis. The correlation between the sun vitamin and pain control is no secret, as previous research has suggested that the vitamin can help inhibit the body’s inflammatory response, which sometimes triggers pain sensations. Other research has shown that Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to sleep disorders, so correcting the problem may lead to a better night’s sleep, and in turn, less pain.

New Findings on Vitamin D

The newest findings regarding Vitamin D are that when used in conjunction with a good night’s sleep, it can actually make other treatment methods more effective. This means that patients who increase their levels of Vitamin D and who partake in physical therapy for their chronic pain condition may notice more pain relief than individuals who only partake in physical therapy.

“We can hypothesize that suitable vitamin D supplementation combined with sleep hygiene may optimize the therapeutic management of pain-related diseases, such as fibromyalgia,” said Dr. Monica Levy Andersen, who led the review.

They concluded that pain management specialists and primary care physicians should consider asking patients about their Vitamin D intake or begin monitoring it in order to see if increasing intake on a daily basis helps to mitigate symptoms from certain pain conditions. Now, it’s important to remember that simply taking a Vitamin D supplement isn’t going to take your pain from a level 8 to a level 2, but there’s a chance that when paired with other treatment options that it could help take your symptoms down a level or two. It’s certainly something worth exploring.

The Uphill Battle Against Chronic Pain

Pain Pills insuranceOn Thursday May 4, 2017, a headline article in the Minneapolis StarTribune was on the effect of opioids on chronic pain. The article was written about a study at the Minneapolis VA hospital about not using opioids for patients with chronic pain. The study was done by Dr. Erin Krebs, an Internist who studied patients at the VA. The study involved two main groups of patients who all had back, hip or knee pain. One group received opioids and the other did not during a year of treatment, and both received extensive use of alternative pain management techniques.

The conclusion drawn by Dr. Krebs is that chronic pain patients do not need opioids since the non-opioid group did well with decreased pain intensity. Furthermore, Dr. Krebs, by her limited study, is implying opioids are ineffective to manage chronic pain and should not be used. This is a significant disservice to chronic pain patients and is an especially irritating claim being made by a physician who has practiced in pain management but only in an academic setting and is not even Board Certified in Pain Management.

Chronic Pain and Insurance Coverage

The first take home message for pain patients is that chronic pain is incredibly complex, opioids are only one medication management tool among many treatment options. This study is very limited, and the patient population does not truly reflect the complexity of many pain management practices with people who have multiple medical problems with multiple body locations of pain.

The patients in the study were given comprehensive and unlimited access to a number of treatments from physical therapy, psychological counseling, exercise, acupuncture, interventions and a variety of medications. In the “real” world, it often is extremely difficult to obtain insurance coverage on an ongoing basis for appropriate treatments including for anything that is not generic for medication, exercise programs, or psychological counseling (if a psychologist with interest in pain is even available).

Often the most appropriate management options for a patient are rejected by insurance companies, including a variety of interventional treatments, exercise programs, and non-narcotic medication. Proven interventions like spinal cord stimulation are rejected while the insurance companies have no problems with opioids. Patients who have failed all conventional treatments may benefit from a trial of options such as medical marijuana, and this is definitely excluded by insurance coverage.

The Complexity Of Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is not a single entity. It is a very complex outcome that is associated with multiple medical problems. Pain physicians and most doctors are not treating a single problem like osteoarthritis of the hips or knees – the main group of patients in this study by Dr. Krebs. Simple problems such as those in this study are often easily managed with a combination of conservative strategies and can oftentimes be treated quite well without opioids.

Now, most physicians are trying to avoid the use opioids for these issues when they can. Unfortunately, most physicians do not have enough training and experience in treating many of the problems that cause pain and up until recently, opioids were the easy solution to see a patient in a limited time and get them out of the office with a smile on their face. The solution to the opioid epidemic problem is much more complex then demonizing patients and a medication.

Most physicians are usually trying to do the right thing for their patients. Pain physicians are especially aware of the issues in treating these complex patients. First, coverage for alternative medical treatments for pain must be more easily approved, especially when recommended by a Board Certified specialist. Secondly, pain affects over 30 percent of the adult population and research into pain needs significant funding. Third, addiction to opioids is a separate issue beyond pain management, and needs to be treated in a different sphere, as only a small number of pain patients are addicted versus dependent on their medications. Lastly, there are multiple treatments for pain available, if alternative treatments were easily covered when recommended, less use of problematic drugs would surely occur.

If the media was more interested in telling the life of both legitimate pain patients and their treating pain physicians, a better understanding of how pain affects one’s life may occur. Too many people who have not been there are casting judgement on patients and physicians who are trying to treat a very complex problem. A third of the world population suffers from some sort of chronic pain, far exceeding the number who suffer any other medical problem, but there is hardly any money being spent on research and promoting safe management strategies. Moving forward will require less negative casting of the patients and physicians treating these problems and more investment into positive solutions.

Help Us Learn More About Daith Piercings

daith piercingThe internet is a wonderful thing. Not only has it made it easier for patients to find information, but it has also allowed doctors who would never otherwise meet to connect with one another. The latter recently happened with us.

As we’ve mentioned on the blog before, our posts on daith piercings have far and away been our most popular, which is interesting because the science behind why the piercing may help alleviate headache pain isn’t perfectly clear. However, we are working on changing that. Recently, we were contacted by Dr. Chris Blatchley from across the pond at the London Migraine Clinic. Dr. Blatchley has been helping patients find relief from migraine pain for years, and he has worked closely with a colleague who has performed more than 3,000 daith piercings. He stumbled upon our fascination with the piercing, and combined with his own experience, Dr. Blatchley has decided to try to compile some concrete evidence about why the piercing is effective for some patients.

Daith Piercing Study

To best do this, Dr. Blatchley put together a survey questionnaire on his website London-Migraine-Clinic.co.uk. On his website, he has a link to the survey which he hopes to use to gather responses from individuals who have undergone a daith piercing for pain relief. You can access the survey by clicking the link that will take you to his site, or you can go directly to the survey by clicking the link below.

Daith Piercing Questionnaire

The survey will only take a couple of minutes to complete, but we believe it will be a valuable tool for getting a collection of responses from individuals who have firsthand experience with the piercing and its effects. So please, if you’ve undergone the procedure, take a few minutes to complete the survey and share it with others who have received the piercing. The more we learn about pain pathways, the more pain we can take out of this world!

Thanks,

Dr. Thomas Cohn

Sleep and Caffeine May Play Key Role In Controlling Chronic Pain

sleep caffeineNew research out of Boston suggests that sleep and caffeine may play integral roles in controlling chronic pain flareups.

It’s probably not a huge surprise that sleep is beneficial for controlling chronic pain, as we’ve talked about the restorative benefits of sleep on our blog many times before, but the part about caffeine is interesting. Here’s what the researchers had to say.

Benefits of Sleep and Caffeine

For their study, researchers looked at the effects of sleep (or lack thereof) and caffeine on mice and their pain sensitivity. Researchers began by tracking normal sleep cycles and measuring brain activity, then they began to disrupt this healthy sleep cycle by giving mice toys and activities that entertained them and kept them awake (much like Netflix or our iPads do for humans).

“Mice love nesting, so when they started to get sleepy (as seen by their EEG/EMG pattern) we would give them nesting materials like a wipe or cotton ball,” says Dr. Alban Latremoliere, PhD and pain expert at Boston Children’s Hospital. “Rodents also like chewing, so we introduced a lot of activities based around chewing, for example, having to chew through something to get to a cotton ball.”

Researchers kept mice awake for up to 12 hours in one night or for six hours five nights in a row. They examined that fatigue, stress and pain sensitivity all increased during this time.

“We found that five consecutive days of moderate sleep deprivation can significantly exacerbate pain sensitivity over time in otherwise healthy mice,” says Dr. Chloe Alexandre, a sleep physiologist.

Caffeine’s Role

According to researchers, common painkillers did not help mice combat pain, and morphine was less effective in sleep-deprived mice, meaning chronic pain patients who are tired may have to up their morphine dose in order for it to be effective. However, researchers found that caffeine helped to block pain sensitivity.

This led researchers to conclude that a good night’s sleep combined with caffeine during the day (along with other good habits like regular exercise and a healthy diet) may be more effective for managing chronic pain than simply relaying on analgesic medications.

“Many patients with chronic pain suffer from poor sleep and daytime fatigue, and some pain medications themselves can contribute to these co-morbidities,” Dr. Kiran Maski, M.D. at Boston Children’s hospital who studies sleep disorders. “This study suggests a novel approach to pain management that would be relatively easy to implement in clinical care.”

How Unregulated Opioid Use Can Lead To Heroin Addiction

Opioids pills heroinIn the 1960s, the drug culture was known for psychedelics, LSD and marijuana. Eventually, some of those users sought a stronger high, and that led them down the path to heroin. At least that was the message pushed by the government in its fight against drugs.

Heroin was actually not that common and it was often a drug of addiction found in Vietnam veterans due to its availability in that region. Intense drug programs and interventions to rid production significantly reduced heroin use in the U.S. from the 1970’s through about 2000. In the 1990’s, the era of everyone needing opioid pain management began and along came Oxycontin. The quick and easy option for most doctors to treat pain was to write a prescription for the magical opioid pill. For the last ten years, we now have discovered the rising tide of opioid addiction and now deaths from overdoses is catching up to the number from auto accidents.

Link Between Pills and Heroin

Oxycontin first came on the market in the 1990’s and was extensively marketed as a safe drug for management of pain. The manufacturer would fly physicians to resorts, wine and dine them, and then try to hire them to lecture other doctors on the wonder of their drug. By about 2005, some of the problems with addiction were becoming evident. The government convinced the manufacturer to develop a formulation that would deter abuse by making anti-crush pills, and these came on the market around 2010. It was still a potent drug, but it was not as fun to take and the pills became expensive on the black market. However, the damage had been done and now the main way to treat pain was with opioids, any many people had become addicted to the powerful medication.

A study recently done by the University of Pennsylvania and the Rand Corporation explains why heroin has now become a problem. The development of the new formulation of Oxycontin made this drug more expensive and harder to abuse. Heroin has become cheap, more pure, and once you’re hooked on opioids, it is now easier and less expensive to obtain. So once a person is addicted to pain pills, the cheaper route to get high and prevent drug withdrawal is to use heroin.

Now the latest trick for those with an opioid addiction to get high is to use heroin or oxycodone that is mixed with another synthetic opioid like fentanyl or cor-fentanyl which are a hundred to over a thousand times stronger. These drugs are often been manufactured in China or India, and they can be easily mailed anonymously without much suspicion into the U.S. If mixed wrong, these newer synthetic opioids are often deadly.

Takeaway Points

The message from the opioid crisis is that pain has many ways to be treated, and left unregulated the use of opioids is often more dangerous then helpful. Addiction is a disease; without treatment, some resort to the use of heroin since it is cheap, and many cut that drug with other potent drugs that are deadly.

Stopping the opioid crisis will take time and effort. Treating pain is not just about taking opioids – that has led to the addiction crisis. Money needs to be spent on pain research and the development of better pain management strategies. A third of the population has issues with pain, making it more prevalent than heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined. To solve the problem of pain and drug abuse, a concerted government investment into pain research and better medical management is needed.