Aug
06
2016

Pain Treatment

General practitioners see a lot of patients with various pain symptoms for which they seek pain treatment. The underlying conditions might be from an arthritic problem that suddenly becomes symptomatic, or an acute back injury may send pain from the lower back into one of the legs. Others may experience excruciating headaches like migraines or tension type headaches. Often these painful conditions require some immediate pain relievers to treat the pain, but this can turn into a nightmare of drug dependency and may even lead to the development of chronic pain. Here I like to review an article that I found in the June edition of ConsumersReports.org.  In my review I included most of the content, but added a few newer pain treatment modalities.

Acute pain

Here I’m discussing back pain as an example. When a disc bursts in the lower back because the person was lifting an object too heavy to lift, acute pain develops in the lower back. This is often located at the lower lumbar spine level (L5/S1) causing radiating pain into one of the legs.

In a case like this it will often take several weeks before the body can heal this condition.

Chronic pain

It can happen in many cases that the pain will still be there 3 to 6 months down the road. If a disc fragment pushes on the nerve root in the nearby canal through which the nerve root travels, this will cause the muscles supplied by the nerve root to melt away in the leg of the affected side. If nothing is done about this, the acute pain turns into chronic pain, which is much more difficult to resolve. The initial physician may refer the patient to a neurosurgeon who will review the case together with the help of an MRI scan that shows the underlying pathology. The neurosurgeon may determine that a mini discectomy will reduce the pressure onto the nerve root. This surgery may be able to prevent chronic pain from setting in. Once the pressure is relieved, the nerve can start the healing process. It is critical to not miss the point where acute pain crosses over into chronic pain. This happens at around 2 to 3 months into the pain condition. Chronic pain is much more difficult to treat as some of the neurological pain pathways that form after such injuries can persist within the spinal cord or even within the central nervous system, even after successful disc surgery that is done too late. With respect to the example given above, if the patient is operated on too late (1 to 2 years after the injury), the procedure may not be effective in relieving the pain. A chronic pain syndrome has started.

How pain treatment is done

  1. Avoid bed rest

In the past (up to the late 1970’s to mid 1980’s bed rest was the accepted initial mode of treatment. Even though patients often felt some relief of pain initially, this led to muscle atrophy (literally a melting away of muscles) in the muscles that are supporting the spine. These structural changes destabilized the spine and often made the pain more chronic until physiotherapy treatments and active exercises rebuilt the supporting muscles again.

  1. See a physiotherapist

Physiotherapists can use different treatment modalities like traction, a TENS machine, active exercises that all can help to alleviate back pain due to muscle spasm. If there is only a strain, this will often help to resolve your back pain within 4 weeks. But if there is an underlying disc herniation as previously explained, you need to be assessed by a physician in an urgent care center, primary care setting or by an emergency physician in the emergency department of a hospital. When the examination confirms an abnormal reflex from a nerve root compression, a referral to a neurosurgeon or orthopedic surgeon is usually made as previously explained.

  1. Chiropractic treatment

Some people have their backs treated periodically to prevent back troubles. When they get an acute back pain they likely will see the chiropractor again. In cases of a back strain, where one or more muscles are pulled, this approach will be helpful together with some home exercises and swimming to build up muscle strength along the spine. However, in the case of a herniated disc chiropractic adjustments should not be done (physicians say they are “contra-indicated”). Instead the patient should be referred to either a neurosurgeon or an orthopedic surgeon.

  1. Medication for pain

Often physicians prescribe Tylenol with codeine, hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet) or morphine for pain relief. All narcotic medication have side-effects; they can cause constipation, can cause vomiting, make you feel dizzy and can lead to falls, particularly in elderly patients. These falls can cause hip fractures and other fractures that complicate the recovery from the original pain. Never exceed the dosage of pain medicine prescribed on the label, and if it does not relieve the pain, see your physician again for a reassessment to rule out any complications. Often people with back pain also have depression. To address this issue your physician may prescribe an antidepressant like duloxetine (Cymbalta), which has been approved by the FDA for treatment of lower back pain. But there are two rare, but important side effects to know about. Cymbalta can cause lowering of blood pressure, which leads to dizziness. This can cause serious falls with the danger of fractures. The other complication is the risk of liver failure.

Side effects of pain treatment

  1. While there seems to be an urgency to treat a patient who is in pain with pain medication, the treating physician must not forget that pain medication is potentially addicting and patients often use higher doses than advisable. However, pain medication has a narrow therapeutic window meaning that the toxic levels are not much higher than the drug levels necessary to relieve pain.
  2. There are medications that are only marginally effective, if at all. Glucosamine and chondroitin are used for relief of arthritic pain in osteoarthritis sufferers. They are eliminated by a liver enzyme system that also eliminates blood thinners. If a patient is on blood thinners, the addition of glucosamine and chondroitin can lead to dangerous bleeding. Instead of using glucosamine and chondroitin when you experience pain and inflammation in joints, reduce your activities, but stay as active as you can to avoid your symptoms from getting worse.
  3. When a patient has a severe migraine headache it is tempting to want to rule out a brain tumor. But a CT scan exposes the patient to dangerously high radiation doses that over time could cause brain cancer or leukemia. There are physical examination methods to rule out a brain tumor. If the findings are positive, an MRI scan can be used to get much more detail of the brain than a CT study would reveal. MRI scans do not have undesirable side effects.
  4. Before you rush into using anti-inflammatory drugs, use gentle movement to remobilize the painful joint, back or limb. Activities like swimming, walking or yoga can reduce pain and allow you to recover from a painful condition according to a Cochrane Library analysis of 61 studies.
  5. For more pain relief NSAID (non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs) pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) for a brief period will also help. The problem with long-term use of NSAIDs is that it can cause kidney damage. With longer use of NSAIDs there is also a danger of stomach bleeding, heart attacks and strokes.
  6. The pain drug acetaminophen (Tylenol) has a narrow therapeutic window and is less effective in pain relief than the NSAIDs. The FDA has recommended as the highest daily dose 4000 mg of acetaminophen. But if you are a heavy drinker or you have liver disease, your daily dose of acetaminophen should not exceed 3250 mg to avoid liver toxicity. Long-term use of acetaminophen can also damage your kidneys, therefore the recommendation to use acetaminophen only for a short period of time (a few days).
  7. Migraine headache drugs: The newer migraine drugs, called triptans temporarily narrow widened blood vessels. This relieves severe migraines within about 2 hours. However, these medications are not recommended for those with high blood pressure, chest pain, heart disease or circulation problems in the legs, as blood vessel constriction could bring on heart attacks or worsen circulation problems.

Common sense approach to pain treatment

The key for any pain condition is to treat the pain right away to minimize the impact that pain has on you and to prevent developing chronic pain, which is more difficult to treat.

Here are some examples.

  1. Migraine headaches

    If you have a migraine headache, use an over-the-counter pain reliever like naproxen or ibuprofen to treat the migraine pain very early. A combination of acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine (like Excedrin Migraine or a generic copy) will also do. This will stop the release of prostaglandins, which would send pain signals to the brain. Heat packs or cold packs on your head can also help in the treatment of a headache. A 2013 study from Germany has shown that migraine sufferers can get rid of their migraine headaches in 60% by having sex. It sounds like a nice idea, but what they have not considered may be the fact that somebody who has a splitting headache is not feeling like sex at all! If your home remedies did not help, see your physician for one of the triptan pills. Sumatriptan or a similar drug constricts blood vessels to the brain. The doctor will also look for common triggering factors that can bring on a migraine. Weak neck and shoulder muscles may respond to physiotherapy strengthening. In women a condition called estrogen dominance is associated with migraines and can be treated with bioidentical progesterone to balance estrogen and progesterone in the body by elevating progesterone concentration.

  2. Acute lower back pain 

    Acute lower back pain usually follows an event where the person lifted something too heavy or injured the back from a fall. The important part is to rule out a fracture. Most of the time there is no underlying fracture, just a muscle strain. A muscle strain usually sorts itself out in time. Stay active as much as possible. But if the back pain does not resolve within a few days, see your physician for more tests. An X-ray may be required to rule out structural changes like a fracture. As explained earlier, an MRI scan may be required to rule out a disc herniation. Instead of neurosurgery, further options nowadays are prolotherapy, stem cell therapy or a combination prolotherapy/stem cell therapy. This type of therapy will also work for knee injuries (meniscal or ligamentous tears).

  3. Hip or knee pain

    Conventional medicine usually treats osteoarthritis with NSAIDs, but may not warn you about the possibility of gastric erosions that can lead to massive stomach bleeding, heart attacks or strokes when using NSAIDs. It also can lead to kidney damage that can cause sudden kidney failure. The key is to use anti-inflammatory medication only for a few weeks. If arthritis persists, it is wiser to seek the advice of a naturopathic physician for prolotherapy treatment. Pain relief is usually achieved with one or two treatments of prolotherapy. If prolotherapy does not succeed, it is best to move on to mixed stem cell therapy with bone marrow and mesenchymal stem cells (from fat cells) as well as PRP (platelet rich plasma). This usually leads to complete healing of osteoarthritis and eliminates the need of total knee or total hip replacement.

  4. Neck and shoulder pain

    This often develops because of poor posture, shoulder tendinitis or neck muscle spasm. Physiotherapy is often successful treating this. If not, intramuscular stimulation (IMS) with acupuncture needles can be used. This may be more successful in interrupting the abnormal neuropathic pain pathways. Alternatively electro acupuncture with a TENS-like device can also be successful. The newest treatment modality is the Weber medical system using a low-dose laser applicator. Prolotherapy can also be used for shoulder and neck problems, if the ligaments are lax. It requires a lot of experience on behalf of the health professional to choose the right treatment protocol for the condition.

  5. Tension headaches

    Anxiety, stress and fatigue can all lead to tension headaches. Initially you may want to drink liquids, as dehydration is related to tension headaches. If your headache is still present after one hour, use naproxen or acetaminophen. Take a warm or cold shower and lie down with a cool cloth on your forehead. If you still have a headache, check with your doctor whether it is indeed a tension headache or a migraine. You may have jaw clenching or teeth grinding during your sleep. If your bite seems off, see a dentist. For stress control use relaxation techniques. Some suggestions sound mundane enough, but they can be effective: Get enough sleep, get enough exercise, and work on improving your posture. A physician trained in trigger point injections with local anesthetics (often anesthetists or general practitioners) can freeze your suboccipital and supraorbital nerves with lidocaine, which I have seen to work in 60% to 70% of cases in my former practice.

Pain Treatment

Pain Treatment

Conclusion

Pain treatment can be confusing as pain itself can be very multifaceted. The key is to search for the cause of the pain and then treat pain very quickly before it has time within 2 to 3 months to turn into a chronic pain condition. Chronic pain is much more difficult to treat. Every effort should be made to treat acute pain successfully. Conventional medicine has to yet learn from naturopathic medicine and alternative medicine practitioners that prolotherapy, stem cell therapy, IMS, trigger point injections with local anesthetics and low-dose laser therapy (Weber medical system) are valuable alternative methods that can successfully treat pain conditions and get incorporated into general medical practice.

Incoming search terms:

Aug
14
2015

Intramuscular Stimulation For Muscle Pain

Dr. Gunn was working for the Workers’ Compensation Board of BC, Vancouver/BC in the 1970’s when he encountered a number of patients with chronic muscle spasm from work injuries. Being confronted with these difficult to solve pain issues he developed a hybrid of Chinese acupuncture and trigger point injections, called intramuscular stimulation or dry needling in 1973. Instead of hitting acupuncture points as is done with traditional Chinese acupuncture he concentrated on finding out where the trigger points were, and he needled them. This often elongated the chronically shortened muscles, alleviating or eliminating chronic pain. A trigger point is a focus point located within the muscle that has created the chronic pain. According to Dr. Gunn chronic muscle pain is a form of neuropathic pain. It means that there is an irritation in the junction of the nerve that controls the contraction of a muscle and the muscle itself. The physician or trained therapist feels the trigger point as a tender point and slightly lumpy sensation within the affected muscle and places an acupuncture needle right into it. Gentle manipulation of the fine acupuncture needle helps the irritation to gradually settle down. Typically it takes 4 to 6 visits, 1 week apart for one area with chronic pain to settle down.

Here is another site that explains intramuscular stimulation.

In the US IMS may be more known under the term “dry needling”, but the method is the same.

Trigger point injection

In Germany the Huneke bothers, two general physicians who took an interest in pain medicine developed what is now known as trigger point injections or neural therapy in 1928. Dr. Peter Dosch wrote a Manuel of Neural Therapy according to Huneke (Ref.1). It is interesting that the 11th edition of Dr. Dosch’s book is the first English edition. Essentially in this treatment modality for pain relief trigger points are identified and a local anesthetic (either Procaine or Xylocaine) is injected using a thin needle. I have used this method clinically in thousands of patients in my practice for over 16 years for back pain, neck pain, migraines and various localized pain issues involving muscle spasm. Sometimes scars from abdominal or other surgery can become a focus of irritation of nearby muscles, and freezing the trigger points in the irritated scars can suddenly relieve these painful muscle spasms. This happens so fast, literally within seconds, so the Huneke bothers called this “Sekunden-Phänomen”, which translates into “phenomenon of seconds”. Neural therapy or trigger point injections are quite commonplace now in pain centers. In the mid eighties it was not that well known among physicians. But since then anesthetists have incorporated trigger point injections into treatments at pain clinics. Unfortunately they often use Marcaine now, but Marcaine has been found to shorten telomeres, so Procaine or Xylocaine, which do not have a negative effect on telomeres, should replace Marcaine.

Here is a video how trigger point injections are done in the clinic.

Criticism of IMS and trigger point injections

There have been several critical reviews comparing dry needling (IMS) versus trigger point injection with local anesthetics. Some reviews find that IMS is giving more relief at a faster pace, but others say that trigger point injections with local anesthetics are less painful. All seem to agree that there is a place for both methods in myofascial pain. The initial criticism of a few conventional doctors that these methods would be “bogus” have been dispelled by the identification of trigger points on high-resolution ultrasound images (see next subheading) and also by clinical results, which stand for themselves.

A new look at trigger points

From the beginning conventional medicine has been fighting the existence of trigger points as an entity, so it was important to show that trigger points actually exist. To that end ultrasound investigations were done on patients, which confirmed trigger points as a small focus within the muscle.

Here is an article that states that with a high-resolution ultrasound it has been possible to locate trigger points within muscles and you can click on the image on the right side to see where the arrow points to.

Here is another view of a trigger point on a high-resolution ultrasound.

The theory is that these trigger points fire pain signals that are going up the dorsal spine and are perceived as pain in the thalamus and the cerebral pain centers. This is automatically switched to the motor neurons that will contract the muscles around where the trigger points are located in an attempt to “protect the muscle from getting injured”. This pathological reflex is what the pain specialist is attempting to interrupt by either dry needling (IMS) or using trigger point injections with local anesthetics.

Migraine headaches

One of the rewarding treatments for the therapist who does trigger point injections with local anesthetics is treating migraine patients. There are 6 nerve points that are injected with a local anesthetic: two supraorbital nerve exits; two infraorbital nerve exits and two greater occipital nerve exits.

I was amazed how quickly the patients with migraines responded to this; in several hundred patients about 60 to 70% had a complete response of relief from their migraines and another 10 to 15% had a partial response. Apart from directly helping patients with trigger point injections for migraines the doctor should do hormone tests. This is particularly important in women where estrogen levels need to be balanced with progesterone levels. In pre- and postmenopausal women missing progesterone hormone levels can cause estrogen dominance, which are frequently the cause for migraines.

Stretches to prevent trigger point development

It is well known that in order to prevent muscle injuries one should do frequent stretches. This is particularly important for any desk worker or for people doing a lot of work on computers. We tend to hold our head bent forward, which is hard on the muscles in the back of the head, the neck muscles and the shoulder muscles. The counter remedy is to engage these muscles by stretching them as shown in this link.

Why IMS (dry needling) and trigger point injections are helping patients with pain

According to the gate control theory of chronic pain it is possible to block a pain sensation that is generated through transmission in one nerve by creating a competing nerve impulse, in this case dry needling of injection with a local anesthetic (trigger point injection).

Once the pain sensation has been modified, the pain is diminished and stays diminished; in many cases, when switches are reset, the pain is gone. This is the principle behind the success of these procedures.

Prolotherapy and IMS

Prolotherapy is also a method that can be helpful for control of chronic pain. In cases that respond to prolotherapy often an area of the body that has lax ligaments or lax joint capsules is affected with chronic pain. By injecting sterile hyperosmolar dextrose solution with or without local anesthetic the ligaments or joint capsules are tightened up the way they used to be in the past. This allows the surrounding muscles that were in spasm and had trigger points in them to relax more and the pain is diminished or cured. Two to four such injections may be required for a successful treatment. The method can also be combined with stem cells and platelet rich plasma treatments to get higher healing results. The remaining milder pain can be treated with IMS (dry needling) to resolve any residual pain.

Conventional medicine approach

Conventional medicine does not have much to offer for pain control. When something is identified where surgery might be successful, this is often pursued, but the chronic pain may just get worse. In these cases of chronic pain often conventional treatment methods have nothing to offer. The patient is then told that the pain would be treated symptomatically with morphine tablets or injections or other similar prescription narcotic drugs such as codeine (e.g. Tylenol #3), hydrocodone (e.g. Vicodin) or oxycodone. However, this creates a new set of problems. Side effects such as drowsiness and impaired judgment can occur, and the patient is cautioned not operate a motor vehicle or other machinery. Even a seemingly harmless glass of wine in addition to the medication can cause severe impairment to the patient. Constipation is a well known side effect of pain medications, which can lead to impaction, where old, hardened stool forms a huge plug. Often these cases find themselves on the way to the emergency room to get relief. In addition there is nausea or vomiting, which can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. When you finally decide to get off narcotics you can have withdrawal symptoms.

Intramuscular Stimulation For Muscle Pain

Intramuscular Stimulation For Muscle Pain

Conclusion

Chronic pain associated with the musculoskeletal system can be caused by a variety of conditions. But the end result is often that trigger points develop, which set up pathological pain feedback arcs that perpetuate the effects of trigger points and the associated muscle spasm in the affected area. Fortunately in the last few decades alternative methods for pain control have been developed like IMS (dry needling), trigger point injections and prolotherapy. Many patients have experienced relief or even cures from their chronic pain. Chronic back pains, shoulder pains and migraines seem to all respond to these methods. Even scar-associated pains can be relieved. If you have chronic pain, search for alternatives: see a naturopath or an anesthetist who specializes in pain issues. Often physiotherapists have taken special training in IMS and can offer this service to the public. Any of these methods are better than depending on chronic narcotic drug administration.

 

References:

  1. Peter Dosch, MD: “Manual of Neural Therapy according to Huneke”,  Haug Publishers, Heidelberg, 1984 (eleventh revised edition, first English edition).

Incoming search terms: