Nov
26
2016

Chronic Shoulder Pain Treatment

This overview is about chronic shoulder pain treatment. A 71- year old health conscious patient was exercising in a gym. When he used the shoulder machine, he suddenly experienced a stinging pain in his left shoulder. The pain seemed to be localized in the upper (superior) portion of the trapezius muscle. With this he also felt pain in his left neck.

This was fitness gone wrong! It can happen, that exercise is overdone or lack of judgment leads to injury. Trainers caution us, when we embark on exercise programs, and yet, it happens! Often the road to recovery is a bumpy stretch, and if the problem is not corrected, it can lead to chronic pain. With this knowledge the patient sought help. The first approach was visiting a

Chiropractor

He sought the help of a chiropractor and had 6 manipulations in the neck and thoracic spine. The spine had good range of motion, but the left shoulder pain in the trapezius muscle stayed.

He found that heat application to the trapezius muscle helped, so he bought an electric heating pad that he applied once or twice a day for pain relief. He also sought the input of his G.P. He was offered

Pain pills

This was the predictable regimen, but the patient was concerned about the side effects of pain pills, and he declined. He had heard of a supplement, called Trilipotropic (from Trophic), which contains 300 mg of choline bitartrate, 300mg of inositol and 300 mg of methionine in one tablet. He learnt at a medical conference that two of these tablets were as effective in relieving the pain as one tablet of Motrin, an anti-inflammatory drug. He took two of these pain relievers from the health food store a couple of times per day alternating with the heating pad to control his pain.

Since the condition improved only marginally, he looked at the option of

Prolotherapy

When the chiropractor mentioned after 5 treatments that he could not treat the pain successfully, the patient decided to try prolotherapy, because he had heard that this would be good for chronic musculoskeletal pain. The naturopath whom he saw examined thoroughly and determined that the patient would be a good candidate for 2 to 4 prolotherapy treatments. After one treatment on the left side along the cervical spine and the left trapezius area the pain was reduced by 30% of what it was before. The second prolotherapy treatment was given again to the left side and also to the right side to keep it symmetrical. The naturopathic physician told the patient that he would see him for follow-up in 4 weeks. The treatment of the right asymptomatic side did not cause any pain, but the left side started flaring up after the second treatment, causing pain that was almost as bad as the original pain. When the patient returned to the naturopath and told him about the flare-up of pain in his left shoulder, he was told that this is what sometimes happens when treatments are not spaced far enough apart. He felt that this should be observed now and reassessed in 6 months in case there was

No progress. It was time to look at other options:

IMS treatments

When the chiropractor had admitted that he could not help removing the pain, he suggested that maybe a physiotherapist trained in intramuscular stimulation treatment (IMS), also known as dry needling could be of help. The patient was waiting for the appointment with the naturopath for prolotherapy when he saw the physiotherapist for IMS treatments. He examined the patient and noticed a persistent trigger point in the upper trapezius muscle, which he thought was causing the chronic pain.

Two IMS treatments relieved the pain by about 50%. But about two or three days later the pain came back to about 75% of the original pain after the gym injury. The appointment for the prolotherapy by the naturopath had taken two months to wait for, so he had already had 3 IMS treatments just before the prolotherapy to get some pain relief. The IMS trained physiotherapist thought that perhaps a few more treatments, up to five or six might be able to take the pain away. So the patient continued treatments on a weekly basis.

Unfortunately the hope for pain relief did not materialize. The pain improved to about 30 to 40% of the original pain, but it always came back just 2 or 3 days later. Fortunately for him he could apply the heating pad and the pain would stay away for 3 to 5 hours. It also responded to taking two tablets of the choline bitartrate/inositol/methionine combination that took the residual pain away for several hours. Self-massaging the trigger point also gave some relief. But occasionally the pain came back with a vengeance and felt like a charley horse that suddenly could occur in his left shoulder making it difficult to move his left arm, particularly when he needed an outstretched arm for ballroom dancing, lifting of heavy objects or for working out in the gym. Even just holding on to the rails of the treadmill when doing a fast walk on the treadmill for half an hour could lead to a flare up of the left shoulder pain. It is frustrating, when there is only temporary relief, but no real cure, but giving up is no option. Often we find more information on the Internet. What came up was

Low-dose laser therapy

The patient remembered having heard of low-dose laser therapy that might be useful in treating chronic pain. This method, called interstitial low-laser therapy was used to treat his trigger point in his left shoulder. A physician who is the president of ISLA –the international society for laser applications- specializing in laser treatment treated him by inserting a cannula into his left trapezius muscle close to the trigger point. He injected a small amount of procaine (local anesthetic), then 5 ml of normal saline. This was followed by three low-laser beam treatments for 10 minutes each, first blue, then green and finally yellow color, all given interstitially after which the cannula was removed.

He was surprised to feel relief almost instantly. There was still a bit of pain from the interstitial needle for about two days, but he noticed that the trigger point in the trapezius muscle had completely vanished. Finally after 6 months of intermittent pain there was relief of about 50% of the original pain. This time the pain in that particular trigger point stayed away, which was encouraging.

But there were two other trigger points that were bothering him. After one month he got a second interstitial low dose laser treatment by the naturopath who had previously given him the prolotherapy into another trigger point, and finally 2 weeks after this, the third laser treatment was given for yet another trigger point. This continued on for another few months. The pain disappeared, then it crept in slowly again, but at a lower level. It became a quest to eradicate the trigger points! Each time the latest trigger point that was still palpable was treated with the same low-dose laser treatment method. It took a total of 9 interstitial treatments to finally reach the point where all of the pain was gone.

It felt strange: the chronic left shoulder pain had disappeared!

Chronic Shoulder Pain Treatment

Chronic Shoulder Pain Treatment

Conclusion

When pain lasts for more than 3 months, it is referred to as “chronic pain” and is often termed neuropathic pain that is difficult to treat. You may have guessed by now that I was the patient in this blog, and so I had a vested interest in getting rid of this pain. I had previously described a similar pain in my lower back that was relieved with just one interstitial low-dose laser treatment at that time and my back has remained pain free since. Shortly after that successful treatment I developed the left shoulder pain from a soft tissue injury in the gym as mentioned. I was fortunate that Dr. Weber could treat me again, this time at his clinic in Lauenförde, Germany on occasion of a Germany trip that I had booked for holiday purposes.

I was lucky that this treatment responded similar to the one in my lower back. The difference was that my left shoulder required a total of nine low-dose laser treatments to be resolved and my pain had lasted a total of 14 months!

It occurred to me that a successful outcome of treating pain requires collaboration between patient and therapist. Call it trial and error. In my case it was only the fourth treatment modality, the low-dose laser therapy that worked permanently.

I feel that the chiropractor did his best to ensure there was no nerve root irritation and told me when he had reached his limits.

The IMS trained physiotherapist treated me before and after the prolotherapy and also told me after a total of 12 visits that he likely could not help me any more than he did.

The naturopath who did the prolotherapy said that he had strengthened the ligaments along the spine on the left side, but that the trigger point from the gym injury likely was not responding to prolotherapy.

The final answer came from the treatment by Dr. Weber in Germany and the naturopath in Kelowna using the same Weber system machine with low-dose lasers. I think that this is an under-recognized treatment modality of musculoskeletal injuries, including sports injuries. You can find treatment providers for low-dose laser therapy throughout the US, Canada and Europe where many physicians and naturopathic physicians use it as part of their pain management methods. The equipment has been FDA approved; Health Canada approved and is approved by the Medical Devices Directive in Europe. Please note that this type of laser (low-dose laser) has nothing to do with laser treatment for cosmetic purposes.

It has to be stressed that chronic pain treatment requires attention to detail, feedback from the patient to the healthcare provider and persistence on behalf of the patient to follow through until the chronic pain is resolved. It also shows that giving up is not an option!

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.

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