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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Feb
27
2016

Orthopedics Without A Knife

At the 23rd Annual World Congress on Anti-Aging Medicine on Dec. 12, 2015 in Las Vegas Dr. Fields gave a talk entitled “Regenerative orthopedics – non-surgical repair with stem cells/PRP/prolotherapy. In essence the talk was about alternative treatments to surgeries in orthopedic medicine.

Dr. Peter Fields, MD, DC is a board certified medical physician and chiropractor. He is the director of the Pacific Prolotherapy & Medical Wellness Center in Santa Monica, CA.

Introduction

Joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments and joint capsules control the movements in joints. Due to injuries and wear and tears these body parts can have a lack of function, and this will lead to pain and disorders. The result can be weak, torn or damaged ligaments and tendons, arthritic changes, excessive joint motion, increased pressure, and a decrease in range of motion.

This is the common treatment cycle in medicine: joint pain prompts you to see the doctor. You are told it is arthritis, and you get non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID’s). You come back with more pain, and you’ll get a stronger NSAID prescription. Eventually a cortisone injection is given, which helps for a few months, but then the pain reoccurs. The doctor arranges for an MRI scan. A referral to an orthopedic surgeon is likely to be the next step, and an arthroscopy (pinhole surgery) is arranged. If this does not resolve the pain, surgery like a knee replacement or hip replacement is suggested.

Common sayings when traditional medicine has nothing to offer: You may have heard some of these common sayings before. “Nothing more we can do about it!” -“I suggest you learn to live with it”- “You should never play that sport again!”- “Take these pain medications” and “The only alternative is surgery!”

The problem is, that none of these pieces of advice are really helpful. This type of approach does not treat the cause; it is directed against symptoms.

How to treat the cause?

  1. Prolotherapy is a natural, non-surgical method to assist the body to heal torn soft tissues. It works in cases like torn ligaments, damaged tendons, cartilage, menisci or a torn labrum in the shoulder. Hyperosmolar dextrose solution is injected into the injured area. This stimulates the body’s healing forces and the body repairs what is damaged. More information is found here. Prolotherapy fixes the cause, not just the effect; it heals, and it is permanent. Prolotherapy strengthens tissues, relieves pain and increases the range of motion in joints. There is 80 to 85% full pain relief and more than 80% improvement in range of motion. Prolotherapy promotes the healing of torn or damaged ligaments and tendons. Suitable conditions to be treated with prolotherapy are sports injuries, muscle tears, arthritis, tendinitis, bursitis, sciatica, TMJ problems, and fibromyalgia. Common areas treated with prolotherapy are the hip, knee, shoulder, ankle, neck, lower back and elbow. Dr. Fields showed MRI scans before and after prolotherapy treatments of ligament injuries within the knee and of shoulder ligament tears before and after treatment. Normally these injuries would have been expected to have needed surgery. But all that was done was one or two injections (prolotherapy treatments) with reactivation of the affected joint. There were astounding results shown with MRI’s before and after herniated disc injuries and how they healed in a relatively short time following prolotherapy.
  2. PRP prolotherapy: platelet rich plasma (PRP) is a tool from regenerative medicine that is used in connection with stem cell therapies to amplify the healing response.  Blood is taken from the patient’s own blood. The blood is subsequently spun down in a centrifuge. The platelet rich fraction (PRP) contains all of the growth factors, which have the healing power of the blood, and this can be combined with prolotherapy to make healing even more successful. This is particularly useful for labral tears in shoulders, meniscus tears in knees and other localized injuries.
  3. Stem cell prolotherapy: Stem cell therapy has been the gold standard for repairing more serious problems. Dr. Fields is using stem cell therapy combined with prolotherapy to treat more serious injuries like end stage arthritis when bone rubs on bone, where conventional orthopedic medicine would offer a joint replacement in the hip or knee. Any joint that has cartilage damage can also be repaired much simpler with stem cell prolotherapy. A severe meniscus tear in a knee or a severe labrum tear in a shoulder would also be situations where stem cell prolotherapy is superior to surgery or to just using prolotherapy alone.

Here is how the procedure is done: Before the patient’s procedure the physician first harvests bone marrow stem cells by way of a pelvic bone aspirate; secondly, mesenchymal stem cells from fatty tissue are obtained by aspiration of abdominal fat. A cell separator provides the stem cell fractions. Both types of stem cells, the bone marrow stem cells and the mesenchymal stem cells from fat, are mixed as each one has its own strengths and combined they are more effective in repairing whatever tissue needs to be repaired. Thirdly, the patient’s blood is harvested as described above to obtain PRP, which contains the growth factors needed to activate the stem cells to do their job of healing. The last step is that the physician now combines hyperosmolar dextrose (the prolotherapy part) with the stem cell preparation and mixed in PRP and injects this mixture into the injured area. This procedure has superior healing power. Judging from the before and after MRI scans regarding all of the major body regions mentioned above, and seeing several video recorded testimonials it is surprising how quickly and completely fairly severe injuries can heal using stem cell prolotherapy. One particularly nasty condition is osteonecrosis of the hip, which can occur as a side effect of chronic cortisone treatment for arthritis, asthma or chronic obstructive lung disease. One or two stem cell prolotherapy treatments will heal this condition because the stem cells build up brand new bone and get rid of the old necrotic bone from the osteonecrosis. Conventional medicine has no answer for this condition. Regenerative orthopedics is successful by using stem cell prolotherapy.

What are the advantages of regenerative orthopedics?

Regenerative orthopedics reduces pain very quickly and it improves function rapidly. Healing occurs naturally, and it strengthens the tissues involved. Particularly complicated lower back pains or lower neck pains (due to degenerative disc disease, facet joint osteoarthritis, spondylolisthesis and significant foraminal stenosis) respond really well to stem cell prolotherapy, getting rid of chronic pain. Again before and after MRI scans were shown and testimonials given. This is quite in contrast to what conventional orthopedics has to offer: discectomy with fusion surgery, where the patient often has scar pain later. With a laminectomy to treat a foraminal stenosis the patient may have limited improvement of the chronic back pain for a couple of months, only to experience new back pain from a subsequent spinal stenosis as a late complication from the prior surgery. The end result with conventional orthopedics is disability, pain and suffering; the end result with regenerative orthopedics is a patient that is well, active, pain free and thankful.

Orthopedics Without A Knife

Orthopedics Without A Knife

Conclusion

There is a form of orthopedics without a knife: it is called regenerative orthopedics. The tools are prolotherapy for minor musculoskeletal problems. This is still scoffed at by some very conservatively minded physicians, but wrongly so. More severe injuries require more healing power and PRP prolotherapy is used for them. In the severe cases all of the healing power (minus the knife) is needed: this is where stem cell prolotherapy is utilized. With this the healing is initiated where it is needed using two types of stem cells that turn into the cell types that are required to do the repair. Research has shown in the past that the mesenchymal stem cells alone will not heal cartilage of joints very well, but if combined with bone marrow derived stem cells this is healed quite well and efficiently. Healing osteonecrosis and complicated lower neck and lower back problems borders to miraculous healing. Regenerative orthopedics is definitely something to remember should you get into trouble down the road. There are alternatives to the knife!

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Jan
23
2016

Life Extended By Several Decades

Have you ever thought about the possibility to prolong your “Freshness Date”? At the 23rd Annual World Congress on Anti-Aging Medicine on Dec. 13, 2015 in Las Vegas the endocrinologist, Dr. Thierry Hertoghe from Belgium gave a talk about “How to extend the human lifespan by 40 years”. Dr. Hertoghe explained that it is possible to extend life by paying attention to the factors that prolong life and combining them as an anti-aging type lifestyle. He made a distinction between

  1. normal aging: up to age 82
  2. healthy aging: up to age 100
  3. anti-aging medicine: up to age 122
  4. reversing aging medicine: much more than 122, perhaps to age 150 or more.

Normal aging (up to age 82)

When you live without any interventions your life expectancy on average is about 82 years. From the age of 50 to 60 onwards you may encounter problems with increased cholesterol, high blood pressure leading to heart attacks and strokes. Coronary artery by-pass surgery may extend an individual’s life by 10 to 15 years. But hardening of the arteries in the general circulation will eventually cut down the blood supply to vital organs leading to premature death that could have been avoided.

Around the mid 60’s to mid 70’s 12.4% of African Americans or 2.9% Caucasians get Alzheimer’s disease. These figures worsen rapidly with further aging: in their mid 70’s to mid 80’s 32.5 % of African Americans and 9.8% of Caucasians suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. At the age of 85+ years 54% of African Americans and 27% of Caucasians have Alzheimer’s disease. Particularly with normal aging Alzheimer’s has already increased, and this trend is likely going to continue.

Memory loss also leads to a shortened survival curve; people with memory loss live two years less on average than compared to a group with no memory loss.

Add to this loss of life because of depression, which is common in older age. Compared to a non-depressed group of older people the depressed group lived 30% shorter over a period of two years.

Musculoskeletal pain is reported in younger age (18-44) to be 38%; the next demographic group aged 45-64 reported 61% of musculoskeletal pains; seniors between 65 and 74 had 68% of musculoskeletal pain, and in the demographic group of 75 and up 71% of persons suffered of musculoskeletal pain. As we will learn later there may be hormone deficiencies behind these neck and back pains that, if left alone. lead to falls, fractured hips and premature loss of life. Those who survive accidents will often become wheel chair bound and get admitted to nursing homes.

One specific subgroup of patients with musculoskeletal pain are rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. After 10 years of having rheumatoid arthritis patients will have a survival of only about 50%; if more than 30 joints are involved (more severe form of the disease) only about 40% will survive. In other words, rheumatoid arthritis is an important factor for lowering people’s life expectancy.

At an age of 65 to 74 men have 23% of disabilities, while woman have 27.5% disabilities. This increases between the ages of 75 or older to 40% for men and 44.5% for women. At the age of 65 disabled men have a 3.5% higher death rate than the average population; disabled women’s death rate is 2.5% higher than the normal population. In other words, disability kills.

Urinary urgency and incontinence leads to a 3.13-fold higher mortality rate than a control group of men who do not have these symptoms.

65% of men and 85% of women above the age of 50 have abdominal obesity. This is not just a harmless condition. It is associated with increased triglyceride levels and increased mortality due to cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

By the age of 65-74 heart disease has a frequency of 32% in men and 23% in women. At the age of 75 years and older this jumps to 44% in men and 32% in women. Once heart disease is established, it causes a lot of premature deaths: on average persons with heart disease live 10 years shorter than those who do not have heart disease!

Healthy aging (up to age 100)

If we look at normal aging, we realize that all these diseases and disabilities we discussed are eventually killing us. In order to live longer we have to take steps that are known to interfere with some of these factors. For instance, quitting smoking will prevent heart disease, several cancers and chronic obstructive lung disease (emphysema). Positive thinking, social support and transcendental meditation will increase survival by preventing mental illness and depression, which in turn will prevent suicides. A healthy diet such as the Mediterranean diet or the Pegan diet will avoid cardiovascular disease and cut down cancer rates. One dietary change called the “polymeal” would contain fish, fruit, vegetables, garlic, almonds, a moderate amount of wine and dark chocolate. Compared to the Standard American diet this type of diet would add 9 years for men and 8.1 years for women regarding their life expectancy. For instance, prostate cancer showed a 7-fold increase in a group of men who ate a lot of pickled vegetables, fermented soy products, salted fish and preserved meats, when compared to a control group who did not include these foods. In a group of women who had their meat well done and ate three servings of beef per week, breast cancer risk was 4.62-fold higher that the risk of women who had their meat done rare or medium rare.

Overall cancer and cardiovascular mortality dropped by 35% in a study where 5 or more servings of fruit and vegetables were eaten per day.

A regular exercise program will strengthen the heart and lungs, keep your weight stable, reduce heart attacks and strokes and reduce the probability to develop cancer. A group of men between 61 and 81 were observed over 12 years and divided into those who did not exercise versus those who walked more than 2 miles per day. The exercising men had 19% less mortality compared to the sessile men. Vitamin C from fruit and vegetables or from taking supplements reduces global mortality from all causes by 46% compared to controls that did not. Similarly taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements (fish oil) daily reduced all cause mortality by 20%.

Dr. Hertoghe calls this “healthy aging” and this would allow you to be able to reach an age of about 100 years.

Anti-aging medicine (up to age 122)

Dr. Hertoghe told the audience that further attention to anti-aging factors could reduce mortality even further. In particular, he found over the years that paying attention to correcting hormonal weaknesses would have profound effects on how old a person becomes. Thyroid hormone replacement has been one of the steps that have helped people to experience more energy and less musculoskeletal problems (less muscle pain, less falls, less fractures and complications). This translates into more energy and longer lives.

One slide showed that a low free T3 level (low thyroid) was associated with a 3.6-fold higher death rate. A low free T3 level predicts of cumulative death rate in cardiac patients most accurately.

T3 is also important for the maintenance of the immune system, which shows in patients with tuberculosis: the one-year mortality rate in thyroid deficient patients with low T3 levels was 75%, while patients with a normal thyroid had a mortality from tuberculosis of only 7%.

Secondly, replacing missing sex hormones can add more life because cardiovascular disease is postponed (less heart attacks, less strokes), there is less cancer and better cancer survival, if a person comes down with cancer. Many statistics were quoted.

One interesting slide showed the longitudinal survival follow-up of congenital dwarfs in comparison with their normal brothers or sisters. Untreated male dwarfs turned only 56 years on average, while their unaffected normal brothers turned 75 years on average (19 years longer). With female dwarfs the difference is even more striking: untreated females dwarfs turned 46 years on average, while their normal sisters turned 80 years on average (a difference of 34 years).

Another publication showed that the heart attack risk was 3.8-fold higher in a group of patients with hypopituitarism (under function of the pituitary gland), but the treatment group (treated with GH) had a normal rate of heart attacks.

11606 men aged 40 to 79 years were followed for between 6 and 10 years. The group who had the top 25% range of testosterone had a 19% lower mortality rated from heart attacks or cancer.

Older women, particularly aged 100 in Okinawa had 2.3-fold higher testosterone levels than women in the US at age 70. On the other hand 70-year old Okinawan women had 2.7-fold higher estrogen levels than US women.

Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) prior to developing breast cancer showed a 27% longer survival among 984 breast cancer patients in Sweden compared to those without prior hormone treatment.

In another group of breast cancer patients (2755 patients) aged 35 to 74 who were treated with bioidentical hormone replacement after their breast cancer diagnosis, 50% had a lower recurrence rate (compared to no-BHRT treatment) and there was a reduction of 66% of mortality from breast cancer compared to controls without BHRT treatment. Another study showed that breast cancer patients would have a mortality rate of 33.3% without hormone treatment, 12.5% mortality rate after non-estrogen hormone use and 6% after estrogen/progesterone use.

This shows the healing results of the various natural hormones.

A group of 280 men and women around the age of 50 were treated with anti-aging hormone replacement for 2 or more years. In the beginning there were 34% of women and 15% of men with coronary artery disease. There were also 36.4% of women and 34.1% of men with high blood pressure. After replacing all of the missing hormones with bioidentical hormones for more than 2 years, coronary artery disease had dropped to 1.6% of the women and 1.08% of the men; high blood pressure had dropped to 2% of the women and 3% of the men. No drugs, just hormones! Of course, initially there were drugs used to stabilize their condition, but they could gradually be dropped safely, because the underlying hormone deficiency, which was the cause of cardiovascular disease, had been treated (treating the cause rather than the symptoms).

Dr. Hertoghe presented data of 6.38-year follow-up of 286 consecutive patients using anti-aging medicine (replacement of missing hormones with bioidentical hormones). These patients had an overall cancer rate of 2.1%, which compared very favorably to the 3.2% cancer rate among US women, 3.1% French women and 3.1% Belgium women on no hormones. This is the type of information that is needed following the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) that scared women into the false belief that hormones would be “poisonous”. In the WHI synthetic hormones were used causing cancer and heart attacks; the reason for this was that synthetic hormones are not the identical shape as the natural hormones. But hormones and hormone receptors have to fit like a key into a lock; otherwise they are not effective or even block the natural life prolonging action of the natural hormone. This is why in the WHI study the outcomes were poor. Using bioidentical hormones heart attacks and strokes are prevented and they are also cancer-protective.

Reversing aging medicine (much more than 122, perhaps to age 150 or more)

General medicine has the goal to make patients as healthy as possible. With reversing aging medicine the goal is to make patients as young as possible so that they are at their healthiest and feel younger again.

With anti-aging medicine using a healthy diet, exercise and bioidentical hormone replacement therapy the patients can add 15 years of good life. Add to these organ transplants, if necessary, telomerase activators and stem cell therapy and you can add another 25 years of life expectancy to a total of 40 years.

Growth hormone deficiency is the one factor that has been underestimated. We have seen in the discussion of dwarfs in comparison to their healthy brothers and sisters that normal growth hormone production can add between 19 and 34 years (average 26.5 years) of life. Dr. Hertoghe has done blood tests (IGF-1) and lately also 24-hour urine metabolite tests of growth hormone on aging patients and found that many are deficient with regard to GH production. These were patients who already had their thyroid hormones replaced, if abnormal and had their sex hormones replaced when they were found to be low. But they lost hair, developed old looking faces with wrinkles, loss of subcutaneous fatty tissue giving the face a hollow appearance. They also had muscle and joint pains and thin skin, particularly over the back of their hands. He replaced their missing GH using daily GH self-injection with a tiny needle (similar to diabetes injections) and within 1.5 to 3 years the wrinkles disappeared, the faces started to look younger and patients did feel younger. Their muscle and joint pains had disappeared and their hair grew back. The dosage range is between 0.1mg and 0.3mg, a tiny amount of GH daily. This is not inexpensive, but some health care plans pay for this, as a lack of GH is a true hormone deficiency.

Often it is a single limiting organ that determines when we die, typically the heart, lungs, brain, liver, kidneys, small bowel, pancreas or bone marrow. Organ transplants can add years of life, but it can be cumbersome to find a suitable donor. Another limitation is, as one study showed, that only 40% to 60% of organ transplants are surviving 8 years after doing the transplant surgery.

Stem cell therapies are other ways to prolong life. More research is needed to perfect this, but essentially 220 different cell types could be derived from stem cells in the future to replace malfunctioning organs.

Life Extended By Several Decades

Life Extended By Several Decades

Conclusion

The dream of staying younger for longer can be a reality today, if you are willing to discipline yourself to watch what you are eating (Mediterranean type diet), exercise regularly and have a positive psychological attitude. If the outdoor air is poor where you live, you may want to consider moving to a place with good air quality. Sleep well for 7 ½ hours every night and retire not later than 10 to 11PM. You need to be asleep between midnight and 3AM as the growth hormone peak occurs at that time. Take supplements that contain longevity micronutrients (magnesium, vitamins A, C, D, E, B6, B12, Co-Q-10, selenium, zinc, iron in premenopausal women etc.). Replace all missing hormones with bioidentical ones, like thyroid hormones (T3 and T4), sex hormones, DHEA and GH. Stem cell therapy and telomerase activators for cell rejuvenation will also have more of a place in the future.

Even, if you do only part of this reversing aging program you will slow down aging.

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Jan
16
2016

Low Thyroid (Hypothyroidism)

Dr. Pamela Smith gave a detailed talk regarding hypothyroidism at the 23rd Annual World Congress on Anti-Aging Medicine on Dec. 13, 2015 in Las Vegas. As a lack of thyroid hormones is one of the causes of premature aging, it is important to pay attention to your thyroid hormones. Here I am summarizing the highlights of this talk.

Thyroid disease, particularly low thyroid hormone levels, called hypothyroidism is very common in the population. Part of the problem is that in 72% of the world population dietary iodine is insufficient to provide adequate amounts of iodine to the body that is required for thyroid hormone production in the thyroid gland. The US Institute of Medicine has recommended 150 micrograms of iodine intake every day. Japan with its emphasis on seaweed intake is one of the few countries where thyroid deficiency is extremely low (Ref.1).

But apart from dietary factors there are many other factors that can lead to insufficient amounts of circulating thyroid hormones (see below).

The production of thyroid hormones

The thyroid gland produces the thyroid hormones by adding iodine atoms into the amino acid L-tyrosine to make thyroxin (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). T3 is the main active hormone, which is about 5-times more powerful than T4. There is a feedback cycle between thyroid hormones, the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. Both the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland have thyroid hormone receptors that sense the level of T3 and T4 and can modify the production of these hormones. The majority of T3, which is the main active thyroid hormone, is produced by conversion of T4 into T3 by a selenium-dependent enzyme.

Most of the thyroid hormones are bound in the blood by thyroid binding globulin. Only the free T3 and free T4 are metabolically active and will affect the metabolism of our body cells. The delicate balance can be easily disrupted. Oral contraceptives and sex hormone replacement therapy can increase the amount of circulating thyroid binding globulin, thus creating a thyroid hormone deficiency state, as the free T3 and free T4 are diminished.

Other factors influencing circulating thyroid hormones

  1. Low adrenal gland hormone activity can occur simultaneously with hypothyroidism. On the other hand, when thyroid hormones are low by themselves, the adrenal glands often compensate by producing more cortisol to offset some of the symptoms of hypothyroidism.
  2. An enzyme located in the liver, kidneys, pituitary gland, hypothalamus and brown fat is necessary for conversion of T4 to T3, the more active thyroid hormone. Anything that interferes with this conversion leads to hypothyroidism. Over the years medical research has identified many factors that interfere with this process. For instance, there are trace elements necessary for this enzymatic reaction, like selenium and zinc; if they are low in the diet, low T3 will be the result. But other nutrients, if missing, will also interfere with T4 to T3 conversion: iodine, iron as well as vitamins A, B2, B6 and B12.
  3. Several medications can also interfere with the conversion of T4 to T3: we already mentioned birth control pills; others are estrogen, lithium (patients with bipolar disorder are often on this), phenytoin, theophylline, beta blockers (such as propranolol), chemotherapy and clomipramine.
  4. But dietary factors can also lower T3 due to a lack of conversion from T4:too many cruciferous vegetables, a low carbohydrate diet, low fat diet, low protein diet, excessive alcohol use, walnuts and soy. In a study where the effects of soy were examined 37 adults on a high soy diet over three months 50% developed hypothyroidism. When the soy diet was stopped it took one month to normalize the thyroid function (Ref. 2).
  5. There is no end of factors that cause low T3 because of the inability to convert from T4: chronic inflammation due to cytokines, diabetes, aging, poisoning with heavy metals like mercury, lead and cadmium (cigarette smoking), fluoride, pesticides, exposure to radiation and stress. Other toxic substances that enter the body can interfere with the same T4 to T3 conversion process: dioxins, phthalates (chemicals added to plastics) and PCB. But excess calcium and copper (copper salts could come from spraying of organic fruit) can also lead to low T3.
  6. Other hormones can disbalance the equilibrium and cause low T3 because of a lack of conversion from T4: too much stress, which causes cortisol from the adrenal glands to rise. Surgeries associated with the same stress response (high cortisol levels) also have been shown to cause low T3.
  7. There is another conversion process that has been shown to lead to lowered T3: it is called “reverse T3 (rT3)”. rT3 is an inactive form of T3, which blocks thyroid receptors and renders T3 less active. rT3 is particularly important in stressful situations and in athletes who engage in extreme exercise. In these individuals T3 and T4 blood tests are normal, TSH is suppressed and rT3 is elevated. That’s how the doctor can diagnose this condition. Other conditions that lead to high reverse T3 are: aging, diabetes, exposure to free radicals (chemotherapy or radiation in cancer treatment), fasting, prolonged illness, toxic metal exposure, inflammatory cytokines, depression and anxiety, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.
  8. After all this negative news it is almost a wonder that the thyroid is still doing its work! Since we know the risk factors, it is important to be aware that certain supplements and dietary habits can help to increase the conversion from T4 to T3. Here is a list of those that help: iodine, iron, zinc, selenium, potassium, Ashwaganda, and a high protein diet. Other positive factors are vitamins A, B2 and E; growth hormone, testosterone, insulin, glucagon, melatonin and estrogen (high dose).

Symptoms of hypothyroidism

There was an overwhelming amount of information about signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism that was reviewed. I can only highlight some of the more common symptoms here. It is important to know that some of these signs and symptoms occur several years before the lab values become abnormal; this is particularly true of the “eye brow sign” and the thinning of eyebrows is a pointer to hypothyroidism!

Depression, weight gain, constipation and migraine type headaches can be early non-specific signs of hypothyroidism. Women often present with irregular periods. Other symptoms are: decreased memory and inability to concentrate, anxiety/panic attacks, muscle and joint pains, a puffy face, swollen eyelids, decreased sexual interest, and sleep disturbance. Sparse, coarse, dry hair; missing hair confined to the outside 1/3 of both eye brows (eye brow sign) and carpal tunnel syndrome are also associated with a lack of thyroid function. Often there is also a loss of eyelashes or eyelashes that are not as thick. When blood tests show high cholesterol, iron deficiency anemia or vitamin B12 deficiency this should prompt the physician to order thyroid tests.

Blood tests for hypothyroidism

TSH, free T3, free T4, reverse T3 and thyroid antibodies need to all be ordered to have a complete documentation of what is going on. Among the thyroid antibodies these three types need to be ordered: antithyroglobulin antibody, antimicrosomal antibody and antithyroperoxidase (anti-TPO) antibody. There are a number of more studies that an endocrinologist would order in difficult to diagnose cases. Thyroid antibodies are an important cause of hypothyroidism in the US and can be due to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an inflammatory condition of the thyroid gland. Some people have autoimmune antibodies against adrenal gland tissue. There are also patients who have gluten sensitivity, and they may produce these autoantibodies to both the adrenal glands as well as the thyroid gland.

Treatment of hypothyroidism

Treatment for hypothyroidism consists of detoxification, proper nutrition and thyroid hormone replacement.

Detoxification can include intravenous chelation therapy, if heavy metals are involved. In some cases detoxification is all that is needed.

Proper nutrition with a Mediterranean diet and some iodine supplements or seaweed is important. But often the thyroid is damaged by the time hypothyroidism is diagnosed and thyroid hormones have to be replaced.

Replacement of thyroid hormones is best done by desiccated thyroid or compounded thyroid (both T3 and T4). The normalization of the TSH level is taken as the end point and should be below 2.0 (not the lab normal value of below 5); free T3 should be optimally between 3.5 and 4.3 and reverse T3 should be 50 to 150 pg/ml to be optimal.

If reverse T3 is high, the patient will have hypothyroid symptoms, even if T3 and T4 blood tests are normal. Because reverse T3 is derived from T4, the physician will have to lower T4 or take the patient off T4. Replacement with T3 will lead to lower TSH production by the pituitary gland and production of T4 and inappropriate conversion to reverse T3 will decrease.

Depending on what other conditions the patient presents with, it likely will help to eliminate stress, treat selenium and iodine deficiency, treat infections and treat growth hormone deficiency, if present.

There were many more pearls of wisdom in this very comprehensive talk on hypothyroidism, but there is not enough room in this blog to mention all of this. For more info read Dr. Pamela Smith’s book (Ref.3).

Low Thyroid (Hypothyroidism)

Low Thyroid (Hypothyroidism)

Conclusion

The thyroid is one of the main players involved in the maintenance of our health and well being. Hypothyroidism can develop for multiple reasons: inadequate iodine intake, toxins including heavy metals, autoantibodies from gluten or other sensitivity and certain medication usage. It is a fallacy to think that supplements, vitamins and lifestyle choices can “cure” thyroid deficiency. Once the levels are low, thyroid replacement is the only way to reestablish a hormonal balance! The treating physician must consider many factors when replacing thyroid hormones optimally. Desiccated thyroid hormone replacement (containing T3 and T4) is the best type of replacement of missing thyroid hormones. The needs can differ a great deal, as no patient is the same! For best results the treating physician needs to individualize treatment.

References

Ref. 1: Brownstein, D., “Iodine: Why You Need It, Why You Can’t Live Without It”. Medical Alternatives Press, 2004.

Ref. 2: Kelly, G., “Peripheral metabolism of thyroid hormones: A review,” Alt Med Rev 2000; 5(4):306-33.

Ref. 3: Smith, P. “What You Must Know About Thyroid Disorders”. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers, 2016.

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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).

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Apr
04
2015

Stop Suffering From Arthritis

Arthritis is an illness of the joints, mostly in older people (osteoarthritis or degenerative arthritis). However, a subgroup of younger patients can also develop a severe form of arthritis, called rheumatoid arthritis where autoimmune antibodies play more of a role.

In the 1950’s Dan Dale Alexander wrote a book called “Arthritis and common sense”. The medical establishment did not accept that simple remedy and Dan Dale Alexander was classified as a “quack”. However, Dr. Mirkin describes a study from Berlin that later confirmed that Dan Dale Alexander’s observation was correct: an emulsion made by shaking orange juice with cod liver oil and taken three times per day on an empty stomach would indeed improve osteoarthritis.

In 1964, still being a medical student I suggested to my future mother-in-law to give Dan Dale Alexander’s book about arthritis a try. Despite the well-established osteoarthritic condition in her left knee the arthritis vanished within 6 months and stayed controlled. I could not explain to her why this remedy worked, as higher doses of omega-3 fatty acids and higher doses of vitamin C were not yet known to be of value for arthritis.

This all changed with the advent of orthomolecular medicine (Ref.1). On page 76 of this book Dr. Frederick Klenner describes that ascorbic acid (vitamin C) at mega doses of at least 10,000 mg daily, but better even between 15,000 and 25,000 mg daily does have healing effects for arthritis. He stated further that repair of collagenous tissue (the joint surfaces) would require adequate ascorbic acid. On page 240 of Ref.1 Dr. Abram Hoffer, the founder of modern orthomolecular medicine reviewed the history of the use of vitamins in higher doses, particularly the use of vitamin B3 (niacin). He also mentioned that Dr. William Kaufman had used mega doses of vitamin B3 for arthritis as far back as 1950.

Overview of arthritis

Dr. Hoffer explains in Ref.2 that arthritis belongs into a group of diseases that are related to faulty nutrition, which in turn lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies and a pandeficiency disease. Other diseases that belong to that group are cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer, diabetes, schizophrenia, mood disorders, alcoholism and autism. Contributing factors can be poor diets with overemphasis on refined and processed foods and consumption of sugar, allergies, diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and viral infections. Arthritis belongs into this group of illnesses as well. Niacin, vitamin B6 and zinc have been found useful to treat arthritis, but other vitamins and minerals are also needed. Here is a list of what Dr. Hoffer would suggest to use (Ref. 2):

1. Vitamin B3 from 100 mg to several thousand mg three times daily following meals. With niacin there can be skin flushing, which often goes away after the body gets used to the higher doses; but niacinamide could be used instead by those who are bothered by the flushing.

2. B complex: this contains each of the major B vitamins including vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). Take 100 mg once per day with a meal. Vitamin B6 may be needed up to 500 mg per day or more.

3. Vitamin C should be taken between 500 mg and several thousand mg three times per day after meals.

4. Vitamin D3: 4000 IU per day in the summer months. In the winter months particularly populations who live far north require 6000 IU per day.

5. Vitamin B1 (thiamine): alcoholics and very high sugar consumers need thiamine at 100 to 500 mg three times per day.

6. Folic acid at mega doses (prescription needed) works as an antidepressant, which requires 25 to 50 mg. To lower homocysteine levels lower doses of folic acid are sufficient.

7. Vitamin E: usually 400 IU to 800 daily. Muscle wasting diseases, Huntington’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) require much higher doses up to 4000 IU per day.

8. Essential fatty acids (omega-3): It is strongly recommended to use a molecularly distilled product, which is free of mercury and PBC’s at 1000 mg three times daily following meals.

9. Selenium: The required dosage is 200 to 600 micrograms once daily (with any meal). In areas where selenium is deficient, this is particularly important.

10. Zinc: 50 mg of zinc citrate or 220 mg of zinc sulfate once per day with a meal.

11. Calcium and magnesium: Dr. Hoffer suggests 1000 mg of calcium with 500 mg of magnesium, although many experts now say that 1000 mg of calcium with 1000 mg of magnesium may be better.

Dr. Hoffer pointed out that this program is compatible with any medication and is non-toxic.

Thoughts on treating arthritis

 1. Conventional methods

The conventional approach to treatment of arthritis consists of anti-inflammatory medications like ANSAIDs. Unfortunately they have side effects like causing kidney damage after several years of use. Also, NSAIDs can lead to gastric bleeding from gastric erosions, which may require blood transfusions. Physiotherapy with reactivation and swimming have been found to be useful. Electro acupuncture can help for pain control.

2. Diet changes, multivitamins and minerals

As arthritis is found mostly in civilized nations, dietary factors have long been suspected to be of importance. Dr. Hoffer pointed out that arthritis is a pandeficiency disease meaning that overconsumption of sugar and processed foods has lead to multiple vitamin and mineral deficits that interfere with the cartilage metabolism leading to premature breakdown of cartilage and causing inflammation. It is not good enough to just take the supplements listed above; this needs to be combined with a fundamental change in diet. Cut out sugar and starchy foods. Return to homemade foods. Keep it simple with lots of vegetables, salads and organic meats. Now that you are starting to turn around your metabolism by a sensible diet the supplements listed above have a chance to work.

You will notice that Dan Dale Alexander’s idea of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin C (from the freshly pressed orange juice) is contained in the list of supplements above. Dr. Klenner’s mega doses of vitamin C are also listed and Dr. Kaufman’s mega doses of vitamin B3 is contained in this list as well.

This list may not have been formally researched with controlled clinical trials, because the food industry and the makers of NSAIDs (Big Pharma) have no interest in this. But thousands of patients have been empirically treated with this regimen and a network of orthomolecular physicians has established that this regimen works to control the inflammation of arthritis and at the same time has no toxic side-effects.

 3.Laser, platelet rich plasma (PRP) and stem cells

Blue and green lasers have anti-inflammatory properties and are suitable for interstitial and intra articular laser treatments of arthritis. Dr. Weber has extensive experience with this treatment modality in Germany. I have discussed this in another blog.

However, prolotherapy, PRP and stem cell treatments are also an option for more severe cases of arthritis, particularly in arthritis of the knees, which can avoid total knee replacement surgery.

Stop Suffering From Arthritis

Stop Suffering From Arthritis

Conclusion

I met Dr. Hoffer in the early 1980’s during a meeting in Vancouver, BC when he wanted to establish a local orthomolecular division for British Columbia. Although I found the ideas fascinating, I felt that the College of Physicians and Surgeons (the regulatory body for physicians in BC) would scrutinize the practice of any orthomolecular member. At that time I would risk losing my license to practice medicine, which I just had received in 1978. So I decided not to join. Interestingly enough later in the 1980’s a member of the orthomolecular society of BC lost his license because of the use of mega doses of intravenous vitamin C. At this time the College considered these infusions useless or hazardous. Nowadays, any naturopathic and orthomolecular physician uses these intravenous vitamin C treatments as standard therapies. It shows how times have changed.

What has not changed is the food industry that undermines our health every day with hidden sugar contained in processed foods. In social functions it is customary to have a drink or two, if not more, which uses up our thiamine faster than we can replace it. Pandeficiency disease is alive and well as it was many years ago. It is in front of our eyes, but can we see it? Depending on what your eating habits are, do you need to make changes in your diet and perhaps take some or all of the ingredients of the multivitamin and mineral list above? Start by adopting a Mediterranean type diet, then add some of the supplements listed above. It is time to take a thorough look at natural treatment modalities against arthritis in the interest of preserving your health!

References:

Ref. 1: Andrew W. Saul, Ph.D.: “The Orthomolecular Treatment of Chronic Disease. 65 Experts on Therapeutic and Preventative Nutrition”, Basic Health Publications, Laguna Beach, CA, 2014.

Ref. 2: Chapter in Ref. 1 by Dr. Hoffer: “Pandeficiency Disease”, pages 24-30 (2014).

Oct
26
2013

Being SAD in Fall (Seasonal Affective Disorders)

Any general practitioner knows that fall and winter are the time when patients come in with a variety of complaints like a lack of energy, problems sleeping, inability to cope with stress, but often there may be non-specific pains like muscle spasm in the back, the shoulders, or indigestion. These symptoms can all be part of seasonal affective disorders (SAD) like depression, the winter blues, often coupled with anxiety.

Emotional health does not fit easily into our health care model. The receptionist will warn the doctor that this is going to be a “difficult” patient. If the doctor has only time for a 5 or 10-minute visit, where only one or two problems can be dealt with, then this does not fit when a patient with SAD has a problem concentrating, falling asleep, and presents with a long list of other complaints. Even 20 minutes or 30 minutes may not be enough to deal with this patient adequately. It is easier to send the patient for tests and to prescribe an antidepressant and a sleeping pill and reschedule for a follow-up appointment. But this likely will result in normal blood tests and investigations, added health care costs, but no solution to the patient’s problem when he  or she simply states “doctor, I feel so sick”.

I thought it would be interesting to review how our emotions can get out of balance and review an integrative approach to SAD.

Definition of SAD

Seasonal depression (also called seasonal affective disorder) occurs during fall (autumn) and winter, but this alternates with no depressive episodes during spring and summer. A person defined to suffer from SAD would have suffered from two major depressive episodes during the past 2 years with no depressive episodes in the intervening seasons of spring and summer (Ref.1). Alternative names for SAD are winter depression and wintertime blues. Typically SAD lasts about 5 months.

Brain hormone disbalance

Around 2002 it was detected that in mice there was a second light sensitive pathway from ganglion cells in the retina that were responsible for circadian hormone rhythms. This was later confirmed to be true also in humans, where photosensitive retinal ganglion cells buried deep in the retina and containing the pigment melanopsin absorb blue light in the visible light spectrum. The electrical signals are sent along the retinohypothalamic tract, so that light from the retina regulates the hormone circadian rhythm (daily hormone fluctuations including the sleep/wake cycle) in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is one of the major hormone centers in the center of the brain. As this publication shows there are minor genetic sequence changes for the retinal photopigment, melanopsin in patients with SAD. This affects about 1 to 2% of the American population. Many more have probably partial defects in the function of this pigment.

Being SAD in Fall (Seasonal Affective Disorders)

Being SAD in Fall (Seasonal Affective Disorders)

Many hormones in our brain experience a circadian rhythm.

When the sun goes down, melatonin is produced making us sleepy. In the morning serotonin production goes up and stays up all day, which normally prevents depression. There are other hormones that cycle during the course of the day. Cortisol is highest in the morning and low in the evening and at night. Growth hormone and prolactin are highest during sleep.

There is a lack of serotonin in the brains of patients with SAD and depression.

Symptoms of SAD

A person affected by SAD or any other patient with ordinary depression will present with symptoms of lack of energy, with tearfulness, negative thought patterns, sleep disturbances, lack of appetite and weight loss and possible suicidal thoughts. On the other hand symptoms may be more atypical presenting with irritability and overindulging in food with weight gain. Some patients somaticize as already mentioned in the beginning of this review experiencing a multitude of functional symptoms without any demonstrable underlying disease. It is estimated that up to 30 to 40% of patients attending a general practitioner’s office have some form of depression and in the fall and winter season a large percentage of them are due to SAD.

Treatment approaches to SAD

There are several natural approaches to SAD. However, before deciding to go this route, a psychiatrist should assess the patient to determine the risk for suicide. When a patient is not suicidal, light therapy can be utilized.

1. Light therapy: According to Ref. 2 a light box from Sun Box or Northern Light Technologies should be used for 30 minutes every morning during the fall and winter months. The box should emit at least 10,000 lux. Improvement can occur within 2 to 4 days of starting light therapy, but often takes up to 4 weeks to reach its full benefit (Ref.2).

2. Exercise reduces the amount of depression. The more exercise is done the less depression remains. A regular gym workout, dancing, walking, aerobics and involvement in sports are all useful.

3. Folate and vitamin B12: Up to 1/3 of depressed people have folate deficiency. Supplementation with 400 mcg to 1 mg of folic acid is recommended. Vitamin B12 should also be taken to not mask a B12 deficiency (Ref.3). Folate and vitamin B12 are methyl donors for several brain neuropeptides.

4. Vitamin D3 supplementation: A large Dutch study showed that a high percentage of depressed patients above the age of 65 were deficient for vitamin D3. Supplementation with vitamin D3 is recommended. (Ref.3). Take 3000 to 4000 IU per day, particularly during the winter time.

5. St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) has been found useful for minor to moderate depression. It is superior in terms of having fewer side effects than standard antidepressant therapy (Ref.3).

6. Standard antidepressants (bupropion, fluoxetine, sertraline and paroxetine) are the treatment of choice by psychiatrists and treating physicians when a faster onset of the antidepressant effect is needed (Ref.3).

7. Electro acupuncture has been shown in many studies to be effective in ameliorating the symptoms of depression and seems to work through the release of neurotransmitters in the brain (Ref.4).

8. A balanced nutrition (Mediterranean type diet) including multiple vitamins and supplements (particularly the vitamin B group and omega-3 fatty acids) also stabilize a person’s mood (Ref.3). Pay particular attention to hidden sugar intake, as sugar consumption is responsible for a lot of depression found in the general population.

9. Restore sleep deprivation by adding melatonin 3 to 6 mg at bedtime. This helps also to restore the circadian hormone rhythm.

Conclusion

Seasonal affective disorder is triggered by a lack of light exposure in a sensitive subpopulation. An integrative approach as described can reduce the amount of antidepressants that would have been used in the past in treating this condition. This will reduce the amount of side effects. The use of a light box can reduce the symptoms of this type of depression within a few days. But the addition of electro acupuncture and St. John’s Wort may be all that is required for treatment of many SAD cases. Regular exercise and a balanced nutrition (with no sugar) and including vitamin supplements complete this treatment. If the depression gets worse, seek the advice of a psychiatrist and make sure your doctor has ordered thyroid tests and hormone tests to rule out other causes where depression is merely a secondary symptom.

More information on depression: http://nethealthbook.com/mental-illness-mental-disorders/mood-disorders/depression/

References

  1. Ferri: Ferri’s Clinical Advisor 2014, 1st ed. © 2013 Mosby.
  2. Cleveland Clinic: Current Clinical Medicine, 2nd ed. © 2010 Saunders.
  3. Rakel: Integrative Medicine, 3rd ed. © 2012 Saunders.
  4. George A. Ulett, M.D., Ph.D. and SongPing Han, B.M., Ph.D.: “The Biology of Acupuncture”, copyright 2002, Warren H. Green Inc., Saint Louis, Missouri, 63132 USA

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

Oct
12
2013

Music More Powerful Than Anti-Anxiety Drugs

When was the last time you saw your physicians for anxiety and you were given a prescription that said: “for anxiety listen to your favorite music!” instead of receiving a prescription for an anti-anxiety drug (anxiolytic). This is exactly what a recent study suggests that showed prior to surgery you can control your anxiety either with anti-anxiety drugs or by listening to your favorite music. Listening to your favorite music will do you no harm, while many drugs do have harmful side effects.

How singing can change the brain chemistry

Other studies have investigated how singing can change your brain functioning in terms of brain chemistry. The researchers found that singing will release dopamine in your brain, which is responsible for feeling pleasure; it will stimulate your immune system by elevating immunoglobulin A and decreasing cortisol (the stress hormone). This in turn will preserve your immune cells (lymphocytes). Oxytocin levels of your brain are increased, which promotes social affiliation. It also calms down the autonomic nervous system resulting in a better airway opening, calming of your heart rate and soothing the wave-like muscle contractions in your gut, medically called peristalsis. You would refer to that as “butterflies in your stomach”. Music therapy reduces pain and anxiety by 50% and is important for children and adults alike.

Pain and anxiety reduced

A study in Germany showed that pain and anxiety were significantly reduced with music therapy. A Taiwanese study of women in labor found that music therapy significantly reduced pain and anxiety of women during labor. Ref. 1 explains that music therapy is useful as an adjunct to treating cancer pain, and reducing anxiety associated with colposcopy procedures. It also can help when treating patients who had heart attacks in the setting of a cardiac care unit.

Music More Powerful Than Anti-Anxiety Drugs

Music More Powerful Than Anti-Anxiety Drugs

Hypnosis and guided imagery

Music has been successfully combined with clinical hypnosis and guided imagery where words are carefully chosen to help the patient experience pleasant feelings, which counteract the experience of pain, anxiety or fear of dying. A simple relaxation CD or tape with soothing background music will facilitate this type of therapy. This is useful for patients in a palliative care unit where they prepare themselves to accepting the inevitable death from an incurable disease. But chemotherapy patients undergoing these procedures for cancer treatments also have benefitted from a significant reduction in nausea, vomiting (side effects of chemotherapy) and pain.

Autism and music therapy

A Cochrane study showed that autistic children did better in terms of communication skills when music therapy was incorporated into the treatment protocol. One of the core deficits in autistic children is in the area of communication and social skills. This is where music therapy was most effective. Behavioral problems (stereotypic behavior) in autistic children did not respond to music therapy. A comprehensive treatment program for autistic children should therefore incorporate music therapy. Here is a blog that describes what difference music therapy can make in the lives of autistic children written by a member of the American Music Therapy Association.

Substance abuse and music therapy

An area where you may not expect music therapy to have a role is in the area of drug and substance abuse rehabilitation , which is discussed in more detail in this site. The beauty about music therapy is that it is not a drug, yet the natural endorphins that are released by the brain help the affected person getting through withdrawal easier. Music therapy helps building up self-esteem, participating in group activities, promoting self awareness and expressing feelings.

Mood disorders in adolescents

One important area where music therapy has been employed is with anxiety and depression in adolescents. Adolescents spend an average of 4 hours per day listening to music. So they are already programmed to listen to music. With the help of a music therapist they can be directed to listening to the type of music that will help them get motivated, relax more, make them feel accepted and be part of their peer groups. In this study the authors suggested to combine music therapy with dance and art therapy. In this way the whole person gets involved in the treatment and this can be integrated with conventional antidepressant treatments at reduced doses (with less side-effects) or with cognitive therapy.

General objectives of music therapy

Music therapy is best incorporated into a treatment protocol as an adjunct. It can help reduce the use of drugs for psychiatric patients, for people with anxiety and for patients with pain conditions. The Cleveland clinic has a useful summary about music therapy, which describes the uses of it for reducing anxiety, for helping with coping skills, mood improvement and distraction from pain. There are registered music therapists you can ask for help. The website of the American Music Therapy Association may have other useful links for you.

Conclusion

Music therapy is a treatment modality with no side effects, but providing effective treatment for quite an impressive range of clinical conditions as discussed. Music therapists are widely available in the US and many other countries. This treatment can be integrated with conventional or complementary treatments. It helps people to heal the body as a whole unit (mind and body).

More information on anxiety disorders: http://nethealthbook.com/mental-illness-mental-disorders/anxiety-disorders-panic-disorders-phobias-ocd-ptsd-anxiety-others/

References

1. Rakel: Integrative Medicine, 3rd ed.© 2012 Saunders. Chapter on Integrative Therapy; subchapter of Mind-Body Therapy.

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

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Sep
28
2013

Sleepless Nights

Sleeping problems (insomnia) are very common. About 10% of the population suffers from chronic insomnia; 30% of the population suffers from occasional sleep problems. In a large outpatient population of a clinic consisting of 3500 patients who had at least one major clinical condition, 50% complained of insomnia, 16% had severe symptoms, 34% had mild symptoms (Ref.1). Insomnia is more common among women, and older people as well as in people with medical or psychiatric illnesses. Long-term studies have shown that the same insomnia problems persist throughout many years. It is not possible to offer a simple remedy for insomnia, because insomnia is a complex problem. Here I will discuss some of the causes of insomnia and also discuss some of the treatment options.

Symptoms of insomnia

The person who suffers from insomnia will usually state that they have problems falling asleep. Worries of the day suddenly circulate through their thoughts and they toss and turn nervously looking at the clock from time to time and getting more and more anxious that they cannot sleep. Others fall asleep OK, but in the middle of the night they wake up perhaps to visit the restroom, but then they cannot go back to sleep. Others wake up 2 hours before their normal alarm clock time and they feel their stomach rumbling making it impossible to fall back to sleep. Older people with chronic diseases and general poor health suffer more from insomnia. In this setting insomnia may be more related to the underlying disease rather than old age. Psychiatric disorders also are associated with more insomnia. Treat the underlying psychiatric illness, and the insomnia disappears.

Although insomnia is a sleep disturbance during the nighttime, people who are affected with this complain of daytime fatigue, of overstimulation, yet they catch themselves making frequent mistakes, and their inability to pay attention gets them involved in accidents and falls. Longitudinal studies have shown (Ref. 1) that people with chronic insomnia are more likely to develop psychiatric disease, such as major depression,  anxiety disorder and alcohol and substance abuse. Unfortunately these disorders can by themselves again cause insomnia, which reinforces chronic insomnia. Insomnia leads to poorer social and physical functioning, affects emotions, leads to a lack of vitality and physical endurance, contributes to worsening of pain and can affect general and mental health.

Research about insomnia

Much has been learnt from sleep studies using polysomnography monitoring during a full night’s sleep. These studies have been used mainly as a research tool. In such studies eye movements, brain wave activity, muscle activity, chest movements, airflow, heart beats, oxygen saturation and snoring (with a microphone) are all simultaneously recorded. This way restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, snoring, seizure disorders, deep depression etc. that can all lead to insomnia can be diagnosed and separated from insomnia. The stages of sleep (wakefulness, stage 1 to 3 sleep and the REM sleep stage) can also be readily measured using polysomnography (Ref.2). According to this reference the majority of insomnia cases do not need this complex procedure done.

Sleepless Nights

Sleepless Nights

Causes of insomnia

Traditionally insomnia cases are classified into primary insomnia and secondary insomnia. Secondary insomnia is caused by all of the factors discussed below. When they are dealt with, we are left with cases of primary insomnia.

The following medical conditions can cause insomnia: heart disease, pulmonary diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); gastrointestinal disease like liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, colitis, Crohn’s disease; chronic kidney disease; musculoskeletal disease like arthritis, fractures, osteoporosis; neurodegenerative disease like MS, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease; endocrine disease like diabetes, hyper- or hypothyroidism, adrenal gland fatigue and insufficiency; and chronic pain conditions. Also, psychiatric conditions like major depression, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders can cause insomnia.

This list in not complete, but it gives you an idea of how complex the topic of insomnia is.
The physician who is seeing a patient with insomnia needs to rule out any of these other causes of insomnia to be certain that the only condition that is left to treat in the patient is insomnia itself. The other diagnoses have to be dealt with separately or else treatment of insomnia will fail.

Ref. 1 points to a useful model of how to think about causation of insomnia: there are three points to consider, namely predisposing, precipitating, and perpetuating factors. Let’s briefly discuss some of these.

Predisposing factors

We are all different in our personal make-up. If you are well grounded, chances are you are not susceptible to insomnia. Anxious persons or persons who have been through a lot of negative experiences in life will have personality traits that make them more prone to insomnia. Lifestyle choices such as late nights out, drinking with the buddies in a bar (extreme circadian phase tendencies) will have an impact on whether or not you develop insomnia.

Precipitating factors

A situational crisis like a job change or the death of a loved one can initiate insomnia.  However, there could be a medical illness such as a heart attack, a stroke or the new diagnosis of a psychiatric illness that has become a precipitating factor. Sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome belong into this group as well as would the stimulating effect of coffee and caffeine containing drinks. Jet lag and nighttime shift work can also be precipitating factors.

Perpetuating factors

Daytime napping to make up for lost sleep the night before can undermine sleep initiation the following night, which can lead to a vicious cycle. Similarly, the use of bedtime alcoholic drinks leads to sleep disruption later that night and can become a perpetuating factor, if this habit is maintained. Even the psychological conditioning of being anxious about whether or not you will fall asleep easily or not the next night can become a perpetuating factor.

I will return to this classification and the factor model of causation of insomnia when we address treatment options.

Drugs that can cause insomnia

One major possible cause for insomnia  can be side effects from medications that patients are on (would belong to the ‘perpetuating factors’ among causes). Physicians call this “iatrogenic insomnia”. The antidepressants, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) like Prozac are particularly troublesome with regard to causing insomnia as a side effect. Other antidepressants like trazodone (Desyrel) are used in small doses to help patients with insomnia to fall asleep. Some asthmatics and people with autoimmune diseases may be on prednisone, a corticosteroid drug. This can cause insomnia, particularly in higher doses; so can decongestants you may use for allergies; beta-blockers used for heart disease and hypertension treatment; theophylline, an asthma medication and diuretics. Central nervous stimulants like caffeine or illicit drugs can also cause insomnia. Hormone disbalance in general and hyperthyroidism specifically as well as Cushing’s disease, where cortisol levels are high will cause insomnia.

Treatment of insomnia

So, how should the physician approach a patient with insomnia? First it has to be established whether there is secondary insomnia present due to one of the predisposing, precipitating or perpetuating factors. In other words, is there secondary insomnia due to other underlying illnesses? If so, these are being addressed first. Lifestyle choices (staying up late every night) would have to be changed; alcohol and drug abuse and overindulging in coffee or caffeine containing drinks needs to be dealt with. Cognitive therapy may be beneficial when mild depression or anxiety is a contributing factor to insomnia.

The remaining insomnia (also medically termed “primary insomnia”) is now being treated.

The following general points are useful to get into the sleeping mode (modified from Ref. 3):

  1. Ensure your bedroom is dark, soundproof, and comfortable with the room temperature being not too warm, and you develop a “sleep hygiene”. This means you get to sleep around the same time each night, have some down time 1 hour or so before going to bed and get up after your average fill of sleep (for most people between 7 to 9 hours). Do not sleep in, but use an alarm clock to help you get into your sleep routine.
  2. Avoid caffeine drinks, alcohol, nicotine and recreational drugs. If you must smoke, don’t smoke later than 7PM.
  3. Get into a regular exercise program, either at home or at a gym.
  4. Avoid a heavy meal late at night. A light snack including some warm milk would be OK.
  5. Do not use your bedroom as an office, reading place or media center. This would condition you to be awake.  Reserve your bedroom use only for intimacy and sleeping.
  6. If you wake up at night and you are wide awake, leave the bedroom and sit in the living room doing something until you feel tired and then return to bed.
  7. A self-hypnosis recording is a useful adjunct to a sleep routine. Listen to it when you go to bed to give you something to focus on (low volume) and you will find it easier to stop thinking.

Drugs and supplements for insomnia

1. In the past benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), fluorazepam (Dalmane), temazepam (Restoril), triazolam (Halcion) and others were and still are used as sleeping pills. However, it was noted that there are significant side effects with this group of drugs. Notably, there is amnesia (memory loss), which can be quite distressing to people such as not remembering that someone phoned while under the influence of the drug, you promised certain things, but you cannot remember the following morning what it was. Another problem is the development of addiction to the drugs with worse insomnia when the drugs are discontinued. Many physicians have stopped prescribing benzodiazepines.

2. There are non-benzodiazepines drugs that are used as sleeping pills (hypnotics), such as Zaleplon (Sonata), Zolpidem (Ambien) and Eszopiclone (Lunesta).  They seem to be better tolerated.

3. Ramelteon, a melatonin agonist, is available by prescription in the US. It probably is the best-tolerated mild sleeping pill and works similar to melatonin, but is more expensive. Chances are that your physician likely would prescribe one of the non-benzodiazepines drugs or Ramelteon for you as they do not seem to be addicting.

4. However, there is an alternative: Many patients with insomnia tolerate a low dose of trazodone (Desyrel), which is an antidepressant with sleep restoring properties. A low dose of 25 to 50 mg at bedtime is usually enough for insomnia. This allows the patient to fall asleep within about 30 minutes of taking it, and sleep lasts through most of the night without a hangover in the morning. Many specialists who run sleep laboratories recommend trazodone when primary insomnia is diagnosed. However, this is still a drug with potential side effects as mentioned in the trazodone link, but 50 mg is only ¼ of the full dose, so the side effects will also be less or negligible.

5. I prefer the use of melatonin, which is the natural brain hormone designed to put us to sleep. Between 1 mg and 6 mg are sufficient for most people. We know from other literature that up to 20 mg of melatonin has been used in humans as an immune stimulant in patients with metastatic melanoma with no untoward side effects other than nightmares and some tiredness in the morning. A review from the Vanderbilt University, Holland found melatonin to be very safe as a sleeping aid. There are several melatonin receptors in the body of vertebrates (including humans), which are stimulated by melatonin.

6. Other natural methods are the use of L-Tryptophan at a dose of 500 mg at bedtime, which can be combined with melatonin. It is the amino acid contained in turkey meat, which makes you tired after a Thanksgiving meal. GABA is another supplement, which is the relaxing hormone of your brain, but with this supplement tolerance develops after about 4 to 5 days, so it is only suitable for very short term use. Herbal sleep aids are hops, valerian extract and passionflower extract. They are available in health food stores.

Conclusion

A lack of sleep (insomnia) is almost a given in our fast paced lives.

When it comes to treatment, all of the other causes of secondary insomnia need to be treated or else treatment attempts would fail. What is left is primary insomnia. This is treated as follows:

We need to review our sleeping habits, lifestyles and substance abuse. Remove what is detrimental to your sleep. Start with the least invasive treatment modalities such as self-hypnosis tapes, melatonin, L-Tryptophan or herbal extracts. Should this not quite do the trick, asks your doctor for advice. The non-benzodiazepines drugs or Ramelteon would be the next level up. It may be that an alternative such as low dose trazodone would be of help. Only, if all this fails would I recommend to go to the more potent sleeping pills (keep in mind the potential for addiction to them).

References

1. David N. Neubauer, MD (John Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD): Insomnia. Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice – Volume 32, Issue 2 (June 2005)  © 2005, W. B. Saunders Company

2: Behrouz Jafari, MD and Vahid Mohsenin, MD (Yale Center for Sleep Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA): Polysomnography. Clinics in Chest Medicine – Volume 31, Issue 2 (June 2010), © 2010 W. B. Saunders Company

3. Jean Gray, editor: “Therapeutic choices”, 5th edition, Chapter 8 by Jonathan A.E. Fleming, MB, FRCPC: Insomnia, © 2008, Canadian Pharmacists Association.

Last edited Sept. 28, 2014