The Importance Of Complementary Medicine

As we talked about in our blog post on Tuesday, there’s no simple way to treat chronic pain. No magic pill is going to cure your pain. Instead, you need to have a comprehensive and multifaceted approach to controlling your chronic pain. Sometimes, that approach includes complementary medicine options.

We are a traditional pain clinic, but it would be wrong to simply ignore the benefits of some complementary options. We’ve talked about the benefits of acupuncture on our blog in the past, and our most viral post isn’t exactly a traditional medicine method.

Complementary Medicine Benefits

Mindfulness, acupuncture and other complementary medicine methods are key components to finding the best way to treat chronic pain, and that’s a sentiment shared by our friends at Burning Nights CRPS. In fact, they believe in the benefits of complementary approaches so much that they designed a wonderful infographic to help inform others. Take a look at the infographic below, and be sure to check out their site for more helpful information on how to best beat chronic pain!

complementary medicine

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.

The Complexity Of Pain Management

complex spine careBack pain patients often state if they just lost some weight, maybe their low back would feel better. It would be nice if it were that easy, but it is often much more complex. Usually someone who has back pain has multiple causes of the pain, from simple lack of strength in the muscles, to nerve irritation, degeneration of the joints and discs in the spine and problems with body mechanics. Yes, weight can stress every structure in the back and make things harder and more painful, but oftentimes all the other things causing pain may be more important in order to control back problems.

Controlling Back Pain

Asking most doctors about how to lose weight is often not very helpful. About 75 percent of medical schools do not provide the recommended 25 hours of nutrition training, and many older physicians have had minimal to no training in nutrition. Complicating everything is the fact that older research was often sponsored by major manufactures of food and conclusions of the studies were not scientifically sound. Current research is showing that every person often responds differently to a diet, and what is helpful for one person will not always work for another. The more one reads, the more complex the human digestive system becomes and our understanding is really limited. Everything affects us, from our genetics, to what our mother’s ate during pregnancy, to the bacteria in our gut.  

Eating a healthy diet is probably the most sound advice, and then pay attention to the amount you eat as well as when you eat. Healthy eating means eating less processed substances like pre-made foods. Some people equate this to eating from the fringes of the grocery store, where the fresh fruit, vegetables, salads, lean meats, and diary if often kept. Limiting simple carbohydrates like bread, potatoes, pasta, sugar and white rice can help many people as well. Protein sources from poultry, fish, beans, nuts and diary, and not from red meat are recommended in many diets.  If you have gastrointestinal problems like inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease with gluten intolerance, diets change play an even bigger role in solve the pain equation. In general, a plant-based diet is often the healthiest.

Managing Weight and Back Pain

Since low back pain is caused by many factors, it is rare that the most important issue is weight. The most common factor is usually the lack of exercise. Often a patient will go to physical therapy and learn what to do but after the formal sessions, they do nothing on their own. Those who are overweight are no different than most patients; they are not actively exercising and taking care of their health. Every patient must find their own internal motivating factor to take care of themselves and exercise. Staying healthy takes a lot of work. There is no quick fix and those who actually do the best take care of their physical and mental health. Those who do the best follow through with the three components of exercise – stretching, strengthening and aerobic conditioning. If you are doing the work of exercising appropriately and eating a healthy diet, it is likely that weight will not be an issue.

Those who do have back pain and who are significantly obese often can improve their back pain with weight loss. However, the improvement is relatively minor with the loss of weight. The patients who notice the most improvement in pain are those who adopt a healthier lifestyle. Despite being obese, they start consistently exercising, often finding a way to participate in a pool exercise program so they do not stress their joints. They also have changed their eating habits, and the combined efforts usually lead to a sustained weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week. Believe it or not, it becomes obvious who actually is exercising, as they start feeling better and have markedly less pain. Low back pain affects millions of people nationwide, the simplest solutions often are the best – exercise and a healthy diet.

Pain Management Needs To Be A Complimentary Approach

Complementary medicineA recent publication in Mayo Clinic Proceedings explored the benefits of complementary therapy in the greater picture of pain management. This is a subject we’ve preached on the blog time and time again; There is no magic pill for chronic pain, and you need to put in the effort to have the best results. Oftentimes this comes in the form of other activities in conjunction with the standard care of rest, rehab, physical therapy, etc. Some of these complementary methods include:

“Medications may not completely relieve chronic pain or can produce unwanted side effects, including the potential for addiction. Thus, many people may turn to complementary health approaches to help manage their pain,” said Richard L. Nahin, PhD, MPH, lead epidemiologist at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

Complementary Medicine Benefits

Without going into too much detail, the article looked at a number of complementary approaches to common chronic ailments. What they found was that acupuncture and yoga were beneficial for individuals with back pain, acupuncture and tai chi had benefits for knee osteoarthritis, and massage therapy was proven useful for individuals with cervical spine and neck pain. Considering that more than 120 million Americans deal with some sort of chronic pain, these complementary approaches have the potential to positively affect millions of people.

This beneficial link is important because unfortunately many people have to pay out of pocket for some of these treatment techniques. In fact, national data suggests that people pay more than $8.5 billion annually for out of pocket complementary treatments for back pain alone. Now that there’s a link between these approaches and chronic pain improvement, there may soon be a push to make some of these options at least partially covered by insurance. It may require insurance companies to spend a little more in the short-term, but if it helps people recover faster and more fully, it could greatly reduce expenses in the long run.

We need to continue investing money into chronic pain research to find the best methods to treat pain, reduce costs and help patients.

Applying Pain Lessons To Our Every Day Life

Managing Chronic Pain health wellnessI try to skim the medical news every couple of days to see what’s making waves in the field of pain management. Most of what I see has to do with a variety of topics related to musculoskeletal medicine and pain.

A lot of articles I see have limited value to my current practice, but some topics have interest because there is science that may be important if it is applied in a more broad way. Other things are interesting because they are rooted in obvious facts.

Last week, the Star Tribune had an item on cancer prevention. JAMA Oncology had an article that 63 percent of men’s cancer and 41 percent of women’s cancer was preventable. The interesting thing was that if we just lived a healthy lifestyle, a lot of cancers would not occur. The obvious is the simple stuff, like not smoking and wearing sunscreen. The other aspects are a bit tougher, like eating healthier foods, not being obese, exercising, and sleeping adequately. It is a potent reminder of how we live life significantly impacts our overall health. The best way to cure cancer is to prevent cancer in the first place.

Another article in the paper was on baby powder causing cancer.  The most common cancer was ovarian, but lung cancer may also be linked.  The connection to cancer is that baby powder is a very fine particulate.  It is also very similar to asbestos.  If these fine particles get inside the body, they can cause immune reactions and stimulate abnormal tissue growth as well as cancer.  So a supposedly harmless substance we use can cause deadly problems.

Take Away Points

There is a message here from these news pieces about cancer that applies to all of us. The first is that if we work at keeping ourselves healthy, we will have less illness and medical problems.  Secondly, keeping compounds that naturally do not belong in our bodies out helps prevent cancer.

Applying this logic to pain management is natural. Let’s first look at the ideology of keeping ourselves healthy to prevent chronic pain. Exercises including stretching, strengthening and aerobically conditioning the body all help prevent pain. I used to be able to do parts of a program sporadically and function fairly well. As I have aged, consistency with a well-rounded program of exercise has been essential, as skipping days does not work well for me. Getting enough quality sleep is a problem; I have not yet focused on how I will try to improve my sleep. Eating healthy has been issue, but I am slowly changing my diet, lowering my carbohydrate intake, and concentrating on protein, vegetables, fruit and some cheese. I am trying to find a diet plan that makes sense and is sustainable.

The second point of focus is not adding things into my body that may not be healthy. That means keeping my medicine intake to what is necessary to prevent illness, such as taking cholesterol medicine (I have a familial variety of high cholesterol), and asthma medicine when needed. I keep away from addictive medicines. Overall, the most important aspect of health and pain control comes down to eating right, exercise, and good sleep. There is very little magic and a lot of personal work put in on my end, and my body thanks me for it.