‘Space Pants’ Help Patients Walk Again

By Steve Weakley

Specially designed “space pants” worn by astronauts to regulate their body temperature are helping patients with Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) walk and exercise again with less pain.

More than eight million Americans suffer from PAD -- a narrowing of peripheral arteries in the legs that can cause severe pain and cramping after a short walk or even just climbing a flight of stairs.

“I have patients that have trouble going to their mailbox,” said Bruno Roseguini, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Health and Kinesiology at Purdue University. “These patients, in order to avoid that pain, become very inactive. So, this is a vicious cycle that leads to more impairment and more functional decline over time.”

PURDUE UNIVERSITY

PURDUE UNIVERSITY

To get PAD patients moving again, Roseguini and his research team turned to NASA and the elastic space pants worn by astronauts.  Woven into the pants is an elaborate tubing system that circulates warm water and helps keep the astronauts’ body temperatures normal in a weightless environment. 

Researchers modified the pants for a clinical study of PAD patients and found they were able to lower blood pressure and increase circulation in their legs. Patients who wore the pants for 90 minutes every day for eight weeks reported less pain and more mobility.

"It's like putting your legs in a hot tub without getting wet," says PAD patient Stephen Scott, who is now able to stand longer and walk longer distances. "It feels good."

“Based on our initial findings, it is conceivable that repeated exposures to heat therapy might enhance the ability of the arteries in the legs to vasodilate” Roseguini said. “What that means is there would be more blood flow and greater oxygen delivery to calf muscles during exercise, and we anticipate this will prolong the time they can walk before they feel pain.”

Roseguini explains how the pants work in the video below:

Roseguini calls physical exercise the “gold standard” for treating PAD, even if many patients choose other routes of relief.  Some have stents surgically inserted into their leg arteries, but they can narrow without exercise and may have to be replaced every few years. Medication and dietary changes can also help manage PAD, for which there is no cure.

“Exercise is painful for these patients and leg pain is one of the main reasons for why most of these patients do not adhere to structured exercise programs,” said Roseguini. “Heat therapy, on the other hand, is not painful. If anything, heat therapy might actually reduce leg pain, so the patients see that as a treatment they would potentially adhere to.”

Studies show heat therapy can also improve the health of blood vessels and help muscles recover after an injury.

“Heat therapy is a powerful tool for rehabilitation,” says Roseguini, who hopes to develop a portable battery-powered pump that PAD patients can wear without being tethered to an electric outlet. “I want the patients to be able to receive the therapy while walking and performing their daily living activities, such as going to the grocery store.”

Pets Help Take Our Minds Off Pain

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Pets make good companions, keep their owners physically active and help us enjoy life. But did you know that pets can also help take our minds off pain?

That’s one of the findings from a new National Poll on Healthy Aging conducted by AARP and the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy. Researchers surveyed over 2,000 American adults aged 50 to 80, who answered a wide range of questions online about the health benefits of pet ownership.

Companionship, social connection and physical activity were positive side effects of pet ownership for many poll respondents.

People said their pets helped them enjoy life (88%), make them feel loved (86%), help reduce stress (79%), keep them physically active (64%) and help them cope with physical and emotional symptoms (60%), including taking their mind off pain (34%).

For those who said their health was fair or poor, pet ownership offers the most benefits. More than 70 percent of those older adults said their pet helps them cope with physical or emotional symptoms, and nearly half (46%) said their pets help distract them from pain.

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"Relationships with pets tend to be less complicated than those with humans, and pets are often a source of great enjoyment," says Mary Janevic, PhD, an assistant research scientist at the U-M School of Public Health. "They also provide older adults with a sense of being needed and loved."

More than half of those who owned pets said they did so specifically to have a companion and nearly two-thirds said having a pet helps connect them to other people.

"We have long known that pets are a common and naturally occurring source of support," says Cathleen Connell, PhD, a professor at the U-M School of Public Health. “Although the benefits of pets are significant, social connections and activities with friends and family are also key to quality of life across the lifespan. Helping older adults find low cost ways to support pet ownership while not sacrificing other important relationships and priorities is an investment in overall mental and physical health."

While pets come with benefits, they can also bring concerns. Nearly one in five older adults (18%) said having a pet puts a strain on their budget. Some owners even put their animals' needs ahead of their own health.

"For people living on a fixed income, expenses related to health care for pets, and especially pets that have chronic health issues, can be a struggle. Older adults can also develop health problems or disabilities that make pet care difficult," said Janevic.

"More activity, through dog walking or other aspects of pet care, is almost always a good thing for older adults. But the risk of falls is real for many, and six percent of those in our poll said they had fallen or injured themselves due to a pet," said poll director Preeti Malani, MD. “At the same time, given the importance of pets to many people, the loss of a pet can deal a very real psychological blow that providers, family and friends should be attuned to."

More than half of older adults (55%) reported having a pet. Among pet owners, the majority (68%) had dogs, 48% had cats, and 16% had a small pet such as a bird, fish, or hamster.

Over half of pet owners (53%) reported that their pets sleep in their bed. Dog lovers are often told that’s a bad idea, but a recent study found an "overwhelmingly positive" response from owners who say they slept better with their dogs.

Mice and Mozart: Can Music Make Pain Meds More Effective?

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is widely considered the most gifted and prolific composer in the history of classical music. Mozart composed over 600 symphonies, concertos and operas, and many remain popular two centuries after his death.

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART

Were he alive today, Mozart would probably be flattered to learn that his music is being studied as a pain reliever.  And amused that some of his most devoted listeners are mice.

Music therapy won’t cure chronic pain, but there’s a growing body of evidence that it helps distract and alleviate pain and anxiety. Mozart’s “Sonata for Two Pianos” has been found to be particularly helpful in treating patients with epilepsy.

Researchers at the University of Utah took that theory a step further, to see if music can decrease pain and improve the effectiveness of ibuprofen and cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive compound found in marijuana.

"We know these drugs work without music but they can produce toxicity and adverse effects," said senior author Grzegorz Bulaj, PhD, an associate professor in medicinal chemistry at University of Utah Health. “The holy grail is to combine the right drug with this new paradigm of music exposure, so we do not need as much drug for analgesic effects."

‘Music is Like DNA’

Bulaj and his colleagues selected some of Mozart’s compositions and arranged them on a playlist for laboratory mice. That’s right, mice. Humans were not part of the study.

The playlist was made up of two faster-paced allegro sections separated by a slower adagio section — with “Sonata for Two Pianos” played multiple times. The goal was to “balance arousal” and “minimize any potential stress on the mice.”

"Music is like DNA. We had musicians analyze sequences of several Mozart pieces to optimize the playlist," Bulaj said. "This was exciting but challenging to integrate these musical analyses into neuropharmacology."

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The mice were divided into two groups (five to eight mice in each group), with a control group exposed to ambient noise, while mice in the music group listened to the Mozart playlist three times a day for 21 days.

Both groups were given ibuprofen, CBD and two epilepsy drugs. The mice received one sub-optimal dose of each drug and then put through a series of inflammatory pain tests in the laboratory.

When combined with music, ibuprofen reduced inflammation in the mice by 93 percent compared to ibuprofen alone. Mice exposed to Mozart and CBD had a 70 percent reduction in inflammation compared to CBD with no music. Researchers say they were unable to evaluate the effectiveness of music with epilepsy drugs.

"There is emerging evidence that music interventions can alleviate pain when administered either alone or in combination with other therapies," said first author Cameron Metcalf, PhD, a research assistant professor in Pharmacology and Toxicology at University of Utah Health. "I was particularly excited to see reduced swelling in the inflammatory pain model."

According to Metcalf, medications currently available to treat inflammation do not show such a robust response. "It is exciting to think of what this might mean for the anti-inflammatory effects of music interventions and where the research may take us next," he said.

Mice hear at different frequencies than humans, and the effect of music volume or duration remains unclear. So is the type of music. Is Mozart a better pain reliever than Beyonce? We don’t know. Also unclear is whether any of these results can be duplicated in people. But Bulaj believes future studies should explore the pairing of music with pain relievers.

"If we could package music and other non-pharmacological therapies into mobile apps and deliver them with drugs and it works, it will be better than drugs alone," Bulaj said. "It is exciting to find new ways to improve pain treatments."

Mozart didn’t need an app or mice to figure that out. “Music, even in situations of the greatest horror, should never be painful to the ear but should flatter and charm it,” he wrote to a friend.

The study findings are published online in the journal Frontiers in Neurology.

FDA Takes a Bite Out of Nyloxin

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

It’s fair to say that cobra venom isn’t high on the list of go-to analgesics for most chronic pain sufferers. But that hasn’t stopped Nutra Pharma from cashing in on the appeal of an exotic, non-opioid pain reliever.

The Florida company’s main product – Nyloxin – is a homeopathic-based medicine that contains a tiny amount of cobra venom, which supposedly contains compounds that block pain signals from reaching the brain. Like other homeopathic products, Nutra Pharma’s CEO says only a small amount of the active ingredient is needed to make Nyloxin sprays and gels effective.

“Our regular strength product is 70 micrograms per milliliter of cobra venom,” CEO Rik Deitsch told PNN. “Our product is based on over a hundred years of research utilizing cobra venom at these dilution levels.”

But a complaint filed last fall by the Securities and Exchange Commission raises doubts about Nutra Pharma claims that it had 1,300 cobra snakes on a Florida farm that it “milks” monthly for venom.

“Nutra Pharma never had a cobra farm, never had cobras, and indeed had never produced cobra venom,” the SEC said.

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The only ones getting milked may be Nutra Pharma’s investors. The SEC complaint alleges Deitsch used manipulative insider stock trades and “a series of materially false or misleading press releases” to defraud investors out of nearly $1 million.

This week the U.S. Food and Drug Administration got into the act by sending a warning letter to Deitsch for illegally marketing unapproved products with false claims about their ability to treat chronic health conditions.  

“Today, we posted a warning letter to a company preying on patients who may be seeking alternative treatments for chronic pain, cancers, arthritis and autoimmune and neurological disorders. Health fraud scams like these are inexcusable,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, said in a statement.

They may be inexcusable, but they’ve been going on for years with little government oversight. Nutra Pharma’s multi-level marketing touts Nyloxin as “clinically proven to treat moderate to severe chronic pain.” and its website has dozens of glowing reviews from customers.  In a video on its YouTube channel, one customer even claims Nyloxin helped him become the first rheumatoid arthritis sufferer to climb Mt. Everest.   

The FDA commissioner says its time for deceptive marketing claims to end.

“One of our most important obligations is to protect consumers from those who would prey on them with bogus claims and fraudulent products. We’ve dedicated new resources to our enforcement work and I consider these activities the cornerstone of our consumer protection mission,” said Gottlieb. “We’re especially focused on those who would exploit Americans harmed by the opioid crisis with the false promise of products that can treat pain or addiction, but that offer no such benefit.”

It’s good that Gottlieb wants to protect consumers, but he fails to recognize that many Americans are turning to products like Nyloxin because they’re losing access to opioid therapy.  Denied the pain medication that most have safely used for years, patients are experimenting with alternative treatments, including some that are dubious or even fraudulent, such as compounded pain creams and cannabis skin patches.

PNN’s recent survey of over 5,800 patients found that 20 percent had tried medical marijuana or kratom for pain relief. Even more (26%) had used alcohol and a small number (4%) had turned to illegal drugs such as heroin. One in ten said they were getting prescription opioids from family and friends or buying them on the black market — which is being flooded with “Mexican Oxy” and other counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl.

Is it any wonder that people are buying Nyloxin? Or that Nutra Pharma is touting it as a “non-narcotic” and “safe” homeopathic solution to the opioid crisis? In a sense, policymakers have done all the marketing for them.

“I can tell you we have hundreds, if not thousands of people that have reduced or gotten off their opiates with Nyloxin,” said Deitsch, who intends to comply with the FDA request and continue selling Nyloxin. “We are answering the FDA warning letter. We are making the changes to the website and the claims they have asked us to make. But it is a great product and we stand by it.”

Are Sit-Stand Desks Overrated?

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

You’ve probably seen commercials touting the health benefits of sit-stand desks. Experts say being able to stand occasionally – instead of sitting at an office desk all day -- helps prevent back pain, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and other chronic health conditions.

There may be some truth to that, but some of the health claims range from silly to the absurd.

“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking. We are sitting ourselves to death,” James Levine, MD, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic, told the Los Angeles Times. “The chair is out to kill us.”

Is sitting really that dangerous? It is if you believe Australian researchers, who came to the eye-opening conclusion that sitting for one hour reduces life expectancy by 22 minutes. Their study was about people who watch a lot of television, but it is often cited by sit-stand desk manufacturers.

One desk manufacturer funded a study — which is mysteriously being promoted by the CDC — that looked into the psychological benefits of sit-stand desks. The study found that standing more often at work will not only relieve back pain, but make you feel healthier, happier and improve your self-esteem.

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Minimal Health Benefits

Just how reliable is this industry-promoted research?

“There has been a great deal of scientific research about sit-stand desks in the past few years, but we have only scratched the surface of this topic,” says April Chambers, PhD, an assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. “I wanted to gather what we know so far and figure out the next steps for how can we use these desks to better benefit people in the workplace.”

Chambers and her colleagues reviewed 53 studies on sit-stand desks and published their findings in the journal Applied Ergonomics. Their research focused on the impact of the desks on behavior, physiology, psychology, work performance, discomfort and posture.

“The study found only minimal impacts on any of those areas, the strongest being changes in behavior and discomfort,” said co-author Nancy Baker, ScD, an associate professor of occupational therapy at Tufts University.

“There are health benefits to using sit-stand desks, such as a small decrease in blood pressure or low back pain relief, but people simply are not yet burning enough calories to lose weight with these devices,” added Chambers.

One of the biggest flaws in current studies is that most were done with young and healthy subjects who were asked to use the desk for a week or month at most. Researchers say it would be beneficial to perform longer studies with middle-aged or overweight workers to get a more accurate measure of the desks’ impact on cardiovascular health and weight loss.

Further study is also needed on desk height, monitor height, the amount of time standing, and the use of anti-fatigue floor mats to soften the blow of so much standing. 

“There are basic ergonomic concepts that seem to be overlooked,” said Chambers. “Many workers receive sit-stand desks and start using them without direction. I think proper usage will differ from person to person, and as we gather more research, we will be better able to suggest dosage for a variety of workers.”

Sit-stand desks range in price from inexpensive models for $179 to nearly $1,000 for motorized adjustable desks that come with settings for different users.

If you’re thinking of buying a sit-stand desk, a good place to start your research is online. In the YouTube video below, David Zhang rates some of desks he’s tried over the past year. David likes having a standing desk, but has doubts about their health benefits and says the desks do not replace the need for a good old-fashioned office chair.

Study: Alcohol Relieves Fibromyalgia Pain

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Another study is adding to a growing body of evidence that alcohol is an effective – yet risky – way to treat chronic pain.

Researchers at the University of Michigan surveyed over 2,500 patients being treated at a university pain clinic about their drinking habits, pain severity and physical function. Participants were also assessed for signs of depression and anxiety. About a third of the patients were diagnosed with fibromyalgia (FM), a poorly understood disorder characterized by widespread body pain, fatigue, insomnia, headaches and mood swings.

Researchers, who recently published their study in the journal Pain Medicine, found that patients who were moderate drinkers had less pain and other symptoms than those who did not drink alcohol.

“Female and male chronic pain patients who drink no more than 7 and 14 alcoholic drinks per week, respectively, reported significantly lower FM symptoms, pain severity, pain-related interference in activities, depression, anxiety and catastrophizing, and higher physical function,” said lead author Ryan Scott, MPH, of UM’s Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center.

“These findings suggest that chronic pain patients with a lesser degree of pain centralization may benefit most from low-risk, moderate alcohol consumption.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, moderate alcohol consumption for healthy adults means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.

Of the study participants, over half reported use of opioid medication, which carries serious risks when combined with alcohol. Perhaps for that reason, participants in the UM study drank less alcohol than the general population.

“People with chronic pain may drink less due to the stigma and because they are being told not to drink while on pain medication,” says Scott.

Moderate drinkers with chronic pain were more likely to be white, have an advanced degree and were less likely to use opioids. They reported less pain, lower anxiety and depression, and higher physical function.

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Researchers found that fibromyalgia patients who drank moderately reported decreased pain severity and depression, but alcohol had no effect on how widespread their pain was or other symptoms such as cramps, headache, fatigue, poor sleep and cognitive dysfunction.

Scott believes alcohol may stimulate the production of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system that reduces nerve activity. Alcohol and drugs such as gabapentin (Neurontin) that act on GABA typically have relaxing effects.

“Alcohol increases gamma-aminobutyric acid in the brain, which is why we could be seeing some of the psychiatric effects. Even though alcohol helped some fibromyalgia patients, it didn’t have the same level of effect,” said Scott. “You probably need much more GABA to block pain signals and that may be why we’re not seeing as high an effect in these patients.”

Over a dozen previous studies have also found that alcohol is an effective pain reliever. In a 2017 review published in the Journal of Pain, British researchers found “robust evidence” that alcohol acts as an analgesic.

“It could be a stepping stone to increased quality of life, leading to more social interactions,” says Scott. “Fibromyalgia patients in particular have a lot of psychological trauma, anxiety and catastrophizing, and allowing for the occasional drink might increase social habits and overall health.”

How Sodas and Smoking Worsen Disability

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Most doctors will tell you that smoking and drinking sweetened beverages like soda every day will lead to poor health. They can also worsen your risk of disability if you have rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis, according to new studies.

Researchers in Germany wanted to know how diet can affect the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic disease that attacks the body’s central nervous system, causing numbness, difficulty walking, paralysis, loss of vision, fatigue and pain.  

They surveyed 135 MS patients to see how close their diet was to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet – which limits foods that are high in saturated fat and sugar – and recommends whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, poultry and fish, nuts and legumes.

Researchers did not find a link between what the participants ate and their level of disability, but there was a strong association with what they drank.

"While we did not find a link with overall diet, interestingly, we did find a link with those who drank sodas, flavored juices and sweetened teas and coffees," said study author Elisa Meier-Gerdingh, MD, of St. Josef Hospital in Bochum, Germany.

MS patients who consumed the largest amounts of sugar-sweetened beverages – averaging about 290 additional calories per day -- were five times more likely to have severe disability than people who rarely drank sweetened beverages.

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"While these results need to be confirmed by larger studies that follow people over a long period of time, and the results do not show that soda and sugar-sweetened beverages cause more severe disability, we do know that sodas have no nutritional value and people with MS may want to consider reducing or eliminating them from their diet," said Meier-Gerdingh, who will present her findings at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting in Philadelphia in May.

Smoking Worsens Risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Previous studies have also found that smoking increases your chances of having MS and several other chronic pain conditions.

A new study by researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston demonstrated for the first time that women who stop smoking can reduce their risk of developing the most severe form of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). But it takes time to have a beneficial effect.

"Ours is the first study to show that a behavior change can reduce risk for seropositive RA. Risk isn't just about genes and bad luck--there's a modifiable environmental component to the onset of this disease and a chance for some people to reduce their risk or even prevent RA," said corresponding author Jeffrey Sparks, MD, of the Division of Rheumatology, Immunology and Allergy at the Brigham.

Sparks and colleagues analyzed data from the Nurses' Health Study, which tracked the long-term health of registered nurses from across the U.S.  Brigham researchers identified over 1,500 nurses who developed RA, but they were most interested in those with "seropositive" RA as opposed to "seronegative" RA. Patients with seropositive RA generally have more severe joint deformities and disability.

For seropositive RA, the risk of disability began to go down about five years after women quit smoking and continued to decrease the longer they stayed non-smokers. Participants who quit for good reduced their risk of seropositive RA by 37 percent after 30 years. The team did not find any association between seronegative RA and smoking.

"One of the lessons here is that it takes sustained smoking cessation to reap the full benefit," said Sparks, who published his findings in the journal Arthritis Care & Research.

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"Whereas for other diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, quitting smoking can provide a more immediate effect, here we're seeing benefits decades later for those who quit smoking permanently."

RA is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s own defenses attack joint tissues, causing pain, inflammation and bone erosion. While the biological mechanisms that link smoking and the development of RA are unclear, Sparks believes that smoking may contribute to the formation of RA-related antibodies that increase inflammation.

In future studies, Brigham researchers want to extend their investigations to include men and to see if smoking cessation can prevent the formation of RA-related antibodies and stop progression of the disease.

3 Advances in Hormonal Pain Care

By Forest Tennant, MD, Guest Columnist

There are three new discoveries or innovations in hormonal pain care that I dearly love. I believe they are real trend-setters, but keep in mind that the “next big thing” may not endure.  Nevertheless, I’m so excited about these three newcomers to the hormone and pain care movement, that I wish to share them.

Hormone Derivative Treatment

Some really smart scientists know how to make derivatives or analogues out of the “real McCoy.” Why do this? Because the derivative can boost the potency of the basic hormone several fold. 

There are two hormonal derivatives that, in my hands, have been extremely beneficial to sub-groups of chronic pain patients.  The first is medroxyprogesterone, which is a derivative of progesterone.  In my experience, medroxyprogesterone is far more potent in treating intractable pain patients than is plain progesterone. 

I have administered medroxyprogesterone to intractable pain patients and most found that it reduced their pain and their need for opioids.  The causes of intractable pain in these patients were multiple and included Lyme disease, post-traumatic headache, post-stroke and arachnoiditis. We have often made a topical medroxyprogesterone (skin massage) cream for use over arthritic joints and over the lumbar spine of adhesive arachnoiditis patients.

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The second hormone is nandrolone, which is a derivative of testosterone.  When a derivative is made from testosterone, it is often called an “anabolic steroid” because it grows tissue.

Anabolic steroids have a generally pejorative or negative view since they have been used to grow the muscles and nerves in athletes that wish to gain athletic advantage.  Don’t be too offended by the term.  After all, the pain patient needs to grow some nerves and muscle to relieve pain. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved nandrolone for use in “wasting” or “catabolic” conditions that cause tissue degeneration.  Many severe pain patients qualify.  A big problem today in pain practice is the Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) patient whose nerves, muscles and connective tissue genetically and progressively degenerate. Nandrolone is proving to be a Godsend to some of these suffering individuals. 

One really good thing about the derivatives medroxyprogesterone and nandrolone is that patients can safely try these hormonal agents for only a month to see if they get a positive response.    

Medrol Test

Medrol is the commercial and best-known name for the cortisone derivative methylprednisolone. It’s an old drug, but ranks as a top-notch newbie because it is the cortisone derivative that best crosses the blood brain barrier and suppresses neuroinflammation. 

To date, we don’t yet have a reliable blood test to determine if there is neuroinflammation in the brain or spinal cord, but it is essential to know if active neuroinflammation is in the central nervous system (CNS). 

Step one on the mending road is to suppress and hopefully eliminate neuroinflammation.  A Medrol test is, in my experience, your best bet to know if you have active neuroinflammation.  There are 2 ways to take the Medrol test.  One is to take an injection of Medrol for 2 consecutive days.  The other is to obtain what is a 6-day dose pack.  You take a declining dose of Medrol over a 6-day period.  All MD’s, nurse practitioners and physician assistants are familiar with the Medrol dose pack. So ask for it.   

Here’s the payoff.  If you feel better with less pain and better physical function, appetite and sleep, you have just determined that you have active neuroinflammation that is not only causing pain today but will worsen your condition in future days. 

If you have active neuroinflammation, you will need to start medicinal agents that are known to suppress neuroinflammation.  If your Medrol test is negative -- meaning it didn’t reduce your pain or improve other symptoms -- it means you don’t have much neuroinflammation and that your pain is due to nerve damage and scarring.  In this case you will have to rely on symptomatic pain relievers and perhaps try some long-term neuro-regenerative anabolic hormones to hopefully regrow or revitalize some nerve tissue.  

Hormonal Extracts

Years ago, including the days of the medicine man and shaman, extracts of whole glands, particularly the adrenals, gonads, pancreas and thyroid, were given to the sick.  In the early part of the last century, this practice was known as “glandular medicine” and whole gland extracts were administered by practicing physicians. Many a person today still finds that an extract of thyroid (made by the Armour Company) is superior to a single component of the thyroid gland or a synthetic thyroid. 

Some commercial companies have brought back whole adrenal and gonadal extracts.  These extracts are non-prescription and are starting to be used by chronic pain patients.  To date, they appear to be essentially void of complications or side-effects. Some chronic pain patients are reporting positive results for pain reduction and improvement in energy, appetite and sleep.  They are a safe, inexpensive way for patients and physicians who don’t like steroids or cortisone.

Hormonal treatments for chronic pain patients are fundamentally essential if a chronic pain patient wants some curative effects. 

Although hormones are a great advance, with more progress to come, they will never be a total replacement for symptomatic care with opioids, neuropathic agents and medical devices. Many long-term intractable pain patients have damaged and scarred nervous systems that neither hormones nor other known treatment can cure. 

Hormone treatments should be initiated as early as possible if a person develops chronic pain.  I recommend hormone blood testing at least twice a year.
— Dr. Forest Tennant

Hormone treatments should be initiated as early as possible if a person develops chronic pain.  I recommend hormone blood testing at least twice a year with a six-hormone panel.  You should replenish any hormone that is low in the blood stream. 

The hormone oxytocin has, as one of its natural functions, pain relief.  It is an excellent short-term pain reliever that can be taken with other symptomatic pain relievers to avoid an opioid.  There are other hormones made in the CNS that protect nerve cells by suppressing neuroinflammation and then regenerating them. To download a full copy of my latest report on hormones and pain care, click here.

Hormones and their derivatives are beginning to be used by chronic pain patients.  All chronic pain patients can and should ask their medical practitioners for a short-term therapeutic trial to find one that fits them.  While one size doesn’t fit all, all can find one size that does fit.  It’s the way forward.  

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Forest Tennant, MD, MPH, DrPH, recently retired from clinical practice but continues his groundbreaking research on the treatment of intractable pain and arachnoiditis.

The Tennant Foundation has updated its free handbook for patients and families living with adhesive arachnoiditis and intractable pain. The handbook features the latest groundbreaking research on hormones and pain care. To see and download a copy, click here.

This report is provided as a public service by the Arachnoiditis Research and Education Project of the Tennant Foundation and is republished with permission. Correspondence should be sent to veractinc@msn.com

The Impact of Chronic Pain on Family

By David Hanscom, MD, PNN Columnist

I have long asked the spouses and partners of my chronic pain patients to participate in the “Direct Your Own Care” project — my step-by-step method that allows patients to take control of their treatment plan.

One reason is that partners of chronic pain patients also experience suffering. They have their own broken dreams, disappointments and often just feel bad -- because their partner is feeling bad. This is not primarily psychological. The human brain has “mirror neurons” that are stimulated by others’ behavior. If one partner is having a bad day, there is a good chance that the other’s day is not going to be great, either.

So, when the patient’s partner is snippy, critical or hostile, the patient tends to feel worse, too. The region of the brain that elicits a bad mood is stimulated. Conversely, if one partner is in a great mood, the other tends to be happier.

That is why— indirectly for my patients’ sake and directly for that of their partners — I believe it is vital that both partners learn tools such as expressive writing and adding more play into their lives to restore a joyful life.

Unfortunately, it is often remarkably difficult to convince other members of the household to engage in these tools. If you care for your family member, why would you not try to do as much as possible to help him or her heal?

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I ran across a study in the journal Pain that partially explains why. Researchers had 105 patients with chronic back pain and their spouses keep an electronic diary for two weeks on their interaction with each other. Spouses were asked to observe and record the patient’s pain behavior (such as complaining or grimacing), while patients were asked about any criticism or hostility they received from their spouse.   

The following observations were made:

  • Patient’s pain increased for over three hours when they felt hostility or were criticized

  • Patient’s pain behavior consistently created a negative reaction from their partner

  • These interactions were consistent. The conclusion was that long-term negative interactions not only cause more pain, they erode relationships and quality of life

This finding is similar to what has been found in depression research. Depressed patients act in ways that cause rejection from others, which in turn exacerbates the depression.

There is no question that chronic pain is a family issue. The couples’ study doesn’t even take into account the damage an angry person in chronic pain can inflict on his close relationships. The family unit can become a living hell and seem like a hopeless situation.

Fortunately, like the patient’s condition, the family dynamic can get better with the right tools. It did with me.

Anger and Relationships

In addition to stimulating the nervous systems of those close to you through the mirror neuron effect, there are additional problems created by chronic pain in the household. Most of them stem from the understandable problem that when someone is trapped by pain, he or she is chronically angry and upset. Members of the family become targets in many ways. 

First, there is often a lot of complaining about the pain, medical care and the frequent mistreatment that patients in pain experience. We have found that many, if not most patients in pain, discuss their problems daily. Family members become worn-down by this, but the patient usually doesn’t understand the depth of their despair. Although the family is concerned and upset that their loved one is suffering, they are frustrated by their inability to help. In medicine, the term we use for this is “compassion fatigue.”

Secondly, peace, love and joy are crushed and replaced with an angry energy. Family members are often targets of sharp orders and criticism. The patient may demand that their physical needs be met by the family. At the same time, the person in pain may emotionally withdraw and become isolated even while being in the middle of a lot of bustling activity. Family life just isn’t as much fun.

Third, the essence of successful relationships is being aware of the needs of those around you. This is true in any arena, but especially critical in the family. Lack of awareness is the essence of abuse and anger is the ultimate manifestation of it. You can’t see the needs of others because you are blinded by your own angry energy.

So, instead of the home being a place of safety, it can become dangerous. When a family member is triggered by an angry patient and becomes hostile or critical, then the patient becomes more upset and it all becomes like a giant ping-pong game. This the opposite of what you would want, where a happy person creates the opposite contagious reaction. And where is the end point?

Since anxiety and anger are unconscious survival reactions that are much stronger than the conscious brain, they aren’t subject to rational control. How many of us have ever solved a disagreement in the middle of an argument? It never happens.

Healing Energy

We have discovered that family dynamics are such a powerful force in keeping people in pain, that medical interventions may have a limited effect. Conversely, we have also found out that the family can be a remarkably healing energy for everyone involved – and it happens quickly.

The path to this healing energy is the topic for another article. But the starting point goes like this:

The first thing I ask is that every adult family member living at home immerse themselves in the healing process. That means actively engaging in the exercises that calm down the nervous system. You can see them outlined on my website.

Second, I tell patients never to discuss their pain – ever -- except with their medical team. Talking about pain reinforces the pain circuits and is frustrating to those who care about you, but can’t help. I also tell patients that they can’t complain about anything.

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Third, I want the family to reminisce about the most enjoyable times in their relationships. What were the fun times? Discuss them in detail and stick with the conversation. Try to feel it.

The final and most challenging step is not bringing the pain home with you. I tell patients, “When you walk through the door, you’ll make a commitment to never bring pain back into the house.”

The intention is not to ignore pain or pretend it doesn’t exist, but to create a safe haven in your living space. I want patients to take the positive energy generated by the conversation about the best times in their relationship into the home and keep it there.

If you have to argue or fight – take it outside. Every person in the household has the right to relax and feel safe in the confines of their home.

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Dr. David Hanscom is a spinal surgeon who has helped hundreds of back pain sufferers by teaching them how to calm their central nervous systems without the use of drugs or surgery.

In his book Back in ControlHanscom shares the latest developments in neuroscience research and his own personal history with pain.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

A New Psychological Treatment for Chronic Pain

By Ann Marie Gaudon, PNN Columnist

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has dominated the field of psychological treatment for chronic pain for the last three decades. Studies have shown that it is effective, yet some researchers say CBT also has its limits and could be improved upon.

As CBT treatment approaches continue to evolve, what is noteworthy is a departure from the logic of everyday thinking. “Suffering” is not seen as pathology, but rather as inherent in the human condition. We don’t want it and we don’t like it, but suffering is inescapable.

Following this principle, the utility of “normal thinking, analyzing, and problem-solving” is called into question. Our brains have evolved into powerful problem-solvers that serve very well with things are external to us. For example:

Problem: your car malfunctions and no longer starts. If you have the knowledge and skills, you find the problem and repair the car. Problem solved. If you do not have the skills, you find someone who does and repairs it for you. Problem solved.

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But chronic pain is an internal problem that cannot be easily solved. No matter the effort from our powerful problem-solving brains, doctors and patients often cannot work it out. For a sufferer to spend a lifetime attempting to analyze and logically think their way to being pain-free can be a lifetime spent in futility.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Newer psychological approaches such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) are guided by the premise that we cannot change the pain we’re left with, so let’s change our response to that pain. ACT was outlined in a 2014 article in the journal American Psychologist.

ACT differs notably from traditional CBT in method. Rather than challenging and changing thoughts, ACT seeks to reduce their influence over our behaviour. This core treatment process is called “psychological flexibility,” which is the ability to contact the present moment fully and consciously, based on what the situation affords.

In other words, we act on our long-term values rather than short term impulses, thoughts and feelings. I have a personal example of this:

“Knowing that I love to dine out and see live theatre, my partner reserved an evening of these as a surprise birthday present for me. After the reservations were made, I endured a serious back injury, which makes sitting for long periods particularly painful. He offered to cancel immediately, but I stopped him.

My thoughts told me, ‘Don’t go! You’ll be in more pain. Stay home and protect yourself!’

I applied a few of the many skills I have learned through ACT and was able to hold these thoughts lightly, and essentially not buy into them. I committed to continue with the dinner and theatre plans, and accept the pain in the service of my value of nurturing a social life. Result: my pain was not in charge -- I was.”

Why would one choose these strategies? It’s because thoughts and emotions tend to be unreliable indicators of long-term value. They ebb and flow constantly and we have little control over them. If we act based solely on them, we can lose out on experiences that bring true meaning and vitality to our lives.

In my case, I could have held onto my thoughts tightly and isolated myself at home with my pain, but instead I chose not to buy into those thoughts, to be willing to have the pain (acceptance), and commit to an experience which brought richness to my life. I knew my evening out would not reduce or eliminate my pain. I chose to do something of value to me -- the pain came along for the ride.

The catch is that unhelpful thoughts and emotions can dominate without a person even being aware of them. This results in “psychological inflexibility,” which leads to rigid, ineffective behaviour. If I let my thoughts run the show, the result would have been that I isolated myself at home with my pain and likely more suffering. Other positive behaviours and experiences would have been essentially blocked from me. No thank you.

Evidence to support ACT for chronic pain continues to grow, and its efficacy is about the same as CBT at this point. This is no small feat, considering CBT has been the gold standard for decades.

There are at least six randomized controlled trials which support the use of ACT for chronic pain. Most show ACT increases the acceptance of pain, along with improvements in anxiety, depression, and reductions in disability. This psychological flexibility significantly improves life satisfaction, disability, emotional distress and fear of movement.

It will be interesting to see future studies as ACT continues to advance and helps us find new and different ways “to act successfully in the world.”

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Ann Marie Gaudon is a registered social worker and psychotherapist in the Waterloo region of Ontario, Canada with a specialty in chronic pain management.  She has been a chronic pain patient for over 30 years and works part-time as her health allows. For more information about Ann Marie's counseling services, visit her website.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Study Finds Vagus Nerve Stimulation Delays Pain Signals

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Neuromodulation devices that stimulate a key nerve in the neck – the vagus nerve --- have shown potential in treating a variety of chronic pain conditions, including migraines and autoimmune diseases. A new study helps us understand how the devices work.

Researchers studying post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) found that vagus nerve stimulation appears to dampen and delay how the brain responds to pain signals.

"It's thought that people with certain differences in how their bodies -- their autonomic and sympathetic nervous systems -- process pain may be more susceptible to PTSD," said Imanuel Lerman, MD, a pain management specialist and associate professor at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. “And so we wanted to know if we might be able to re-write this 'misfiring' as a means to manage pain, especially for people with PTSD."

UC SAN DIEGO HEALTH

UC SAN DIEGO HEALTH

Lerman and his colleagues at Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to get a look at the brains of 30 healthy volunteers after a painful heat stimulus was applied to their legs.

Half were treated with vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) for two minutes -- via electrodes placed on the neck – before the heat stimulus. The other half received a mock stimulation.

Researchers found that VNS delayed the response to heat stimulus in several areas of the brain known to be important for sensory and emotional pain processing. These pain-related brain regions were activated ten seconds later than participants who received sham stimulation. Volunteers who received VNS also sweated less in response to the heat.

“Not everyone is the same -- some people may need more vagus nerve stimulation than others to achieve the same outcomes and the necessary frequencies might change over time -- so we'll need to personalize this approach," said Lerman, who reported his findings in the journal PLOS ONE.  "But we are hopeful and looking forward to the next steps in moving this approach toward the clinic."

The next step for researchers is to conduct a clinical study of VNS on military veterans in the San Diego area. They want to determine if at-home vagus nerve stimulation can reduce emotional pain and neural inflammation associated with PTSD. People with PTSD often have intrusive memories, negative thoughts, anxiety and chronic pain. It is usually treated with psychotherapy, anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved VNS for the treatment of pain caused by cluster headache and migraine. A handheld device – called gammaCore –  is currently available by prescription for $600 to treat those conditions. 

The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research recently reported that VNS significantly reduced pain and fatigue associated with lupus, an autoimmune disease that damages joints, skin and internal organs. In a small pilot study, lupus patients who were treated with VNS for five minutes daily had a significant decrease in pain and fatigue after just five days.

An implanted vagus nerve stimulator is also being tested for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

Compounded Pain Creams Ineffective for Chronic Pain

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Compounded topical pain creams work no better than placebo creams and should not be used to treat chronic pain, according to a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Researchers at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center enrolled nearly 400 people with chronic neuropathic, joint or muscle pain in the study. Some received pain creams specially compounded to treat their type of pain, while others received a placebo cream.

The compounded pain creams included a blend of FDA-approved drugs such as ketamine, lidocaine and gabapentin, or a combination of muscle relaxants and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). The creams were applied to the affected areas three times a day.

One month after treatment began, researchers found no significant differences in the pain scores of patients who used the real pain creams and those who used the placebo ones.

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“We found that specially formulated compounded pain creams provided little benefit in our study participants,” said lead author Steven Cohen, MD, Director of Pain Research at Walter Reed.

“Overall, the response rate was lower than that afforded by stand-alone creams shown to be effective for specific conditions, such as NSAIDs and lidocaine. Considering the increased costs of using a non–FDA-approved and regulated compounded cream rather than a single agent, we caution against routine use of compounded creams for chronic pain.”

While some of the medications in pain creams may be effective when taken orally or intravenously, Cohen and his colleagues say they are not absorbed through the skin in sufficient doses to be effective. Another drawback is their cost, which can reach thousands of dollars.

A recent report from the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services found that over 500 pharmacies that billed Medicare for compounded topical creams had suspiciously high costs. One pharmacy in Florida billed Medicare for $1.8 million in pain creams in 2016.

Medicare spending for compounded creams, gels and ointments has skyrocketed, rising from $13 million in 2010 to $323 million in 2016. Price hikes and a growing number of prescriptions for pain creams drove the increase, the Inspector General’s report found.

Medicare paid an average of $751 per tube of compounded lidocaine and $1,506 for a tube of the NSAID diclofenac. Non-compounded tubes of those same drugs averaged $445 and $128, respectively.

Last year the FDA said it would inspect compounding facilities to assess whether drugs that are essentially copies of FDA-approved medications could be sold commercially at less cost.

Hormones & Pain Care: What Every Patient Should Know

By Forest Tennant, MD, Guest Columnist

As we start the year 2019, every chronic pain patient needs to know the status of hormones and pain care. Unfortunately, the recent hysteria over opioids has obscured the positive advances in the understanding and application of hormonal care to the relief and recovery of pain patients.

In fact, research and clinical experience is starting to revolutionize the way I personally think about pain care. Hormones are showing us the natural, biologic way the body deals with pain and injury. They are clearly the way forward.

Why the Excitement Over Hormones?

Hormones have recently been discovered to be made in the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system – CNS). Some hormones are made that have the specific job and function to protect (“neuroprotection”) CNS tissue from injury and to regrow the injured tissue (“neuroregeneration”). These hormones are collectively called “neurohormones.”

Intractable, chronic pain is actually a type of poisonous, electromagnetic energy that causes injury by producing inflammation (“neuroinflammation”) in the CNS and implanting the pain (e.g. “centralization”) so as to make it constantly (“24/7”) present.

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The process is similar to dropping acid on your skin which burns and causes inflammation to be followed by tissue destruction and scar formation. Fortunately, some neurohormones are made in the CNS to stop the pain, inflammation, tissue destruction and scarring process and rebuild the nerve cell network in the CNS.

Until recently, we physicians didn’t have a clue on how to enhance the natural, biologic hormonal system to help pain patients.

Excitement over neurohormones has really been enhanced by research in rats that had their spinal cords cut so that they walked around their cages dragging their hind legs. They were given some neurohormones which healed their spinal cords to the point that they could normally walk.

Other animal research studies using different test models with CNS tissue have also shown the power of specific hormones to heal and regrow brain and spinal cord nerve cells. This author can’t speak for others, but, in my opinion, these research studies are so compelling that hormone use in pain care has got to be fully investigated.

Are We Making Headway?

Absolutely, yes! First, eight specific hormones made in the CNS have been identified that produce healing effects in animals and show benefit in early clinical trials with chronic pain patients. These early trials indicate that some neurohormones can reduce pain and produce healing and curative neuroregeneration effects.

Six of these hormones are collectively known as “neurosteroids.” Don’t let the term “steroid” raise your eyebrows as it refers only to the chemical structure and not the complications of cortisone-type drugs. Some of the neurosteroids are known to the lay person such as estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone.

Two of the hormones produced in the CNS that control pain but are not classified as a “neurosteroid” are human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) and oxytocin.

CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM HORMONES

  • ALLOPREGNANOLONE
  • ESTRADIOL
  • DEHYDROEPIANDROSTERONE (DHEA)
  • HUMAN CHORIONIC GONADOTROPIN (HCG)
  • OXYTOCIN
  • PREGNENOLONE
  • PROGESTERONE
  • TESTOSTERONE

Due to all the controversies surrounding opioids and pain treatment, one would never know we have, in the past couple of years, made serious headway with hormones and pain care. Medical science has discovered which hormones reduce chronic pain and how the hormones can be prescribed. The overall hormone advance in pain care can, however, be generally summarized in that one or more of the neurohormones can be administered to provide some curative and regenerative benefit in essentially every chronic pain patient.

Replenishment of Deficient Hormones

The production of hormones made in the CNS can be assessed by blood tests which are available in every commercial, community laboratory. The amount of hormone in your blood stream is a pooled amount of hormone made in the CNS and in the glands; adrenals, ovary, and gonads (ovary and testicles).

I recommend a hormone blood test panel of these 6 hormones: cortisol, DHEA, estradiol, pregnenolone, progesterone, and testosterone. If any are low, they should be replenished. Why? Severe chronic pain may overwhelm the production of one or more of these hormones.

If you take opioids and other symptomatic pain medications such as antidepressants and muscle relaxants, you may actually suppress the production of some hormones, particularly testosterone, DHEA, and pregnenolone.

I highly recommend that every chronic pain patient have a hormone blood panel test at least twice a year and replenish any hormone that is low in the blood stream.
— Dr. Forest Tennant

The reason you must replace any deficient hormone is because all 6 of them activate pain centers (“receptors”) in the CNS to reduce pain and produce a healing and curative effect. These hormones act as sort of a co-factor or “booster” of symptomatic pain relievers such as opioids and muscle relaxants. I highly recommend that every chronic pain patient have a hormone blood panel test at least twice a year and replenish any hormone that is low in the blood stream.

The Pregnancy Connection

A couple of years ago I was presenting a scientific poster at a medical meeting on some of my hormone research. An old friend came up and asked, “What took you so long?”

I initially thought he was insulting me. He wasn’t. He was lamenting, along with me, a sad fact. We should have long ago been studying the pregnancy hormones, HCG and oxytocin, for everyday pain care.

Why? HCG in pregnancy is the hormone that grows the CNS in the embryo and fetus. Oxytocin is the natural pain reliever in pregnancy that allows a big “tumor” to grow in the abdomen without death-dealing pain. Also, oxytocin surges at the time of delivery to make sure that pain doesn’t kill the expectant mother.

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With such obvious knowledge about natural pain relief in pregnancy, we should have tested these hormones for severe, chronic pain problems before now. Do they work? Yes. Long-term HCG use (over 60 days) is proving most effective in reducing pain and restoring function in some patients with adhesive arachnoiditis and other severe pain problems. Oxytocin is an effective short-term pain reliever that can be taken for pain flares. It can even be taken with symptomatic pain relievers like aspirin, acetaminophen, or a stimulant to help a patient avoid opioids.

Goodbye Symptomatic Treatments

Until the hormones came our way, you never heard much about “symptomatic” versus “curative” care. Why? Up until the discovery that hormones are made inside the CNS and produce curative effects, about all we could do was prescribe symptomatic pain relievers such as opioids, muscle relaxants, and anti-seizure (“neuropathic”) agents. There was no need or hope that we can permanently reduce severe chronic pain, much less hold out a hope for cure or near cure.

Chronic pain patients are beginning to use DHEA, pregnenolone, testosterone, estradiol, progesterone, and HCG on a long-term basis. Dosages are beginning to be determined. For example, DHEA requires a dosage of 200 mg or more each day. Pregnenolone requires 100 mg or more. Patients report reduced levels of pain, fatigue, and depression.

Although few controlled studies have yet been done, the open-label clinical trials are impressive and clearly call for chronic pain patients to get started with the neurohormones that are being found to be beneficial. Neurohormones have changed our thinking and old-hat beliefs.

Every severe chronic pain patient needs to know they can probably do a lot of mending with hormonal care. Be, however, clearly advised. Hormones can mend a lot of damaged nerve tissue, but they can’t fix scar tissue once it sets in.

So far at my clinic site, we have around 60 to 70 people on oxytocin. Early results look good so far. Many are also on DHEA and pregnenolone as well. The treatment seems to be working.
— Nurse practitioner

Unfortunately, millions of severe, chronic pain patients have had no option in the past couple of decades except to take symptomatic medication and use such devices as electrical stimulators.

Even long-standing severe chronic pain patients who are on opioids, however, can almost always benefit from one or more hormones. Most important, I am finding that hormone administration is the best way in most chronic pain patients to reduce opioid dosages but still get good pain relief.

Therapeutic Trials

One of my major purposes in writing this report is to encourage all chronic pain patients to embark upon a search for one or more hormonal treatments that will reduce their pain, need for opioids, and yield a better life. Don’t wait for your medical practitioner to offer hormone testing or treatment. To many overworked medical practitioners, such a request may be considered a real nuisance or even a threat.

Be prepared. Check with other patients in your social media group. Know what you need. Make it easy on your medic. Please share with your social media group this report and any materials you have about hormones and pain care. Most MD’s, NP’s, and PA’s will appreciate your preparation and desire to try something new on a short-term, trial basis.

Every chronic pain patient needs to know that all the hormonal agents described here can be safely tried for one month. This is known as a “therapeutic trial.” Specifically ask your medical practitioner for a one-month, therapeutic trial. In this manner you can find out if the hormone is right for you and whether you should continue with it past one month.

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Forest Tennant, MD, MPH, DrPH, recently retired from clinical practice but continues his groundbreaking research on the treatment of intractable pain and arachnoiditis. To download a complete copy of Dr. Tennant’s report on hormones and pain care, click here.

This report is provided as a public service by the Arachnoiditis Research and Education Project of the Tennant Foundation and is republished with permission. Correspondence should be sent to veractinc@msn.com

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Study Finds Naltrexone Has No Serious Side Effects

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

A generic drug increasingly used off-label to treat fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions is safe to use and more clinical studies are needed on its potential uses, according to British researchers.

Naltrexone is primarily used to treat alcoholism and opioid addiction, but many patients have discovered that low doses of naltrexone (LDN) are effective in relieving pain and other symptoms.

Many doctors won’t prescribe naltrexone, often citing liver toxicity as a reason. But when researchers at The University of Manchester reviewed 89 placebo-controlled studies of naltrexone involving over 11,000 patients, they found no evidence of any serious side effects.

"Though naltrexone is licensed for the treatment of alcohol addiction, it remains underutilized,” says lead author Monica Bolton, PhD, who reported her findings in the journal BMC Medicine. "And that has devastating consequences for individuals, health and social services in the UK and around the world.

"It is cost effective and could reduce deaths."

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“Our review also shows that fears over side-effects are unfounded," said co-author Alex Hodkinson, Phd. "Like all drugs for alcohol addiction, the chaotic nature of being an addict means this drug is simply not prescribed as much as it should be,”

Naltrexone does cause minor side effects in some patients, such as nausea and dizziness, and because it is an opioid antagonist the drug should not be taken with opioid medication.

The fact that naltrexone is generic and inexpensive is one reason the drug is not more widely prescribed. There is little incentive for pharmaceutical companies to market naltrexone or to conduct expensive clinical trials to prove its effectiveness in treating pain.

"As it is safe, cheap and long out of patent, naltrexone would seem an excellent candidate for repurposing for a whole range of conditions,” says Bolton. "That is why it is imperative to find ways to fund clinical trials to test if it might one day be possible to license it.

"The problem is, it is extremely difficult to repurpose existing drugs - and naltrexone is just one example of many wasted opportunities to treat people and save the NHS money."

Of the 89 naltrexone trials included in the Manchester University study, only 3 dealt with chronic pain conditions.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that at very low doses of 5 mg or less, naltrexone may be able to treat a range of immune-modulated conditions including Crohn's disease, HIV, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS).

In a PNN guest column, Marelle Reid shared her experience using LDN to treat Interstitial Cystitis, while Janice Hollander said LDN “completely changed my life” when she started taking it for fibromyalgia.

Patients interested in trying LDN often encounter doctors who refuse to prescribe it. The LDN Research Trust includes a list of LDN-friendly doctors and pharmacies on its website.

 

Scrambler Therapy Helped My Daughter Walk Again

By Reggie Greening, Guest Columnist

Beginning in August 2017, my daughter Amanda began having severe pain in her left foot after spraining her ankle. She was 20 years old at the time and described the pain as feeling as though her bones were being crushed by a red-hot anvil.

Over the next few months, Amanda started having more and more symptoms. It began with sharp pain, then discoloration, and severe swelling set in. This was about the time when she stopped being able to walk and had to be put on opioid medication in an attempt to manage the pain.

The bone crushing sensation began around the end of September, followed closely by burning pain. Amanda was still unable to walk and was taking opioids every four to six hours like clockwork. No one could figure out what was wrong or how to manage the pain other than with opioids.

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While attempting to get a diagnosis, Amanda went through many rounds of testing. She had multiple x-rays, two MRIs (one with contrast dye injected intravenously), a three-phase bone scan, a nerve conductivity test, and two phases of bloodwork examined. She also went to a plethora of doctors, including a podiatrist, orthopedist, rheumatologist, dermatologist, physical therapists, homeopathic physician, chiropractor, pain management doctor, and a general medicine doctor.

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The podiatrist and one of her physical therapists suspected Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), and her podiatrist was the one who eventually determined the diagnosis of CRPS on February 16, 2018.

This spurred my research to find a more sustainable treatment option for Amanda. I spent hours searching online before discovering Scrambler Therapy.

I found a physician in New Jersey who posted videos on YouTube about Scrambler Therapy (also known as Calmare Pain Relief Therapy) and its benefits for those suffering with CRPS and other chronic nerve conditions.

We live in Louisiana, so I looked for a doctor who had a Scrambler Therapy machine closer to our home state. I eventually found a doctor in Dallas who has a machine in his office.

Amanda’s first round of treatment was administered by an osteopathic doctor in March 2018. After the fourth consecutive day of treatment, she was able to walk with the aid of crutches for the first time in seven months. The next day, after her fifth treatment, Amanda was able to walk independently. By the end of her initial round of treatment, she was entirely off opioids and NSAID pain relievers.

Our local TV station did a story about Amanda’s recovery.

Right now, the Scrambler treatment is not covered by insurance and payment for it adds up rather quickly. I am trying to get this therapy more widely acknowledged and known about so that it may become an option for others suffering with chronic neuropathic pain.

I have seen the benefits of Scrambler Therapy firsthand in my daughter. At the time of this writing, Amanda has been off opioids for two months and has been able to maintain the benefits of the initial treatment through booster treatments as needed.

Scrambler Therapy has the potential to help not just those suffering from CRPS (for whom pain relief often seems distant and hopeless), but also for those suffering from other neuropathic pain conditions.

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The Greening family lives in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us. Send them to editor@painnewsnetwork.org.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Bad Posture During Computer Use Leads to Back Pain

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

It's no secret that staring into a computer screen for too long can lead to a stiff neck or back pain. Many of us instinctively lean forward to get a closer look at laptop or tablet, without being fully aware of how bad our posture is or what it’s doing to our spines.

Researchers at San Francisco State University say this “head-forward position” compresses the neck and can lead to fatigue, headaches, poor concentration and muscle tension. And it takes less than a minute for the symptoms to start.

"When your posture is tall and erect, the muscles of your back can easily support the weight of your head and neck -- as much as 12 pounds," says Erik Peper, PhD, a Professor of Holistic Health at San Francisco State University.

"But when your head juts forward at a 45-degree angle, your neck acts like a fulcrum, like a long lever lifting a heavy object. Now the muscle weight of your head and neck is the equivalent of about 45 pounds. It is not surprising people get stiff necks and shoulder and back pain."

Peper and his colleagues tested the effects of head and neck position in a recent study published in the journal Biofeedback.

SAN FRANCISCO STATE UNIVERSITY

SAN FRANCISCO STATE UNIVERSITY

First, they asked 87 students to sit upright with their heads properly aligned on their necks and asked them to turn their heads. Then the students were asked to "scrunch" their necks and jut their heads forward. Ninety-two percent reported being able to turn their heads much farther when they were not scrunching.

In a second test, 125 students scrunched their necks for 30 seconds. Afterwards, 98 percent reported some level of pain in their head, neck or eyes.

“Most participants were totally surprised that 30 seconds of neck scrunching would rapidly increase symptoms and induce discomfort. It provided motivation to identify situations that evoked neck scrunching and avoid those situations or change the ergonomics,” Peper said.  

What can you do to prevent yourself from scrunching? Two easy solutions would be to increase the font size on your computer screen or get a pair of computer reading glasses. You can also make sure your computer screen is at eye level, which will reduce the temptation to lean forward.

If you suffer from headaches or neck and backaches from computer work, check your posture and make sure you are sitting upright, with your head aligned on top of your neck.

"You can do something about this poor posture very quickly," says Peper, who recommends people test themselves by scrunching forward and try rotating their head. Until they do that, many have no idea how bad posture contributes to back and neck pain.

"You can exaggerate the position and experience the symptoms. Then when you find yourself doing it, you can become aware and stop," he said.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Nevada Las Vegas found that 60 percent of students have persistent pain in their neck and shoulders -- often caused by slouching or bending to watch their iPads or tablets. Women were twice as likely as men to experience neck and shoulder pain during tablet use.

Nerve Stimulator Approved for Cluster Headache

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

A neuromodulation device that stimulates a key nerve in the neck has been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for the prevention of cluster headache.

The handheld device – called gammaCore – is the first and only product cleared by the FDA for the prevention of cluster headache. It has already been cleared for the relief of pain caused by cluster headaches and migraines.

Cluster headaches are a series of short but extremely painful headaches that can occur every day for weeks and months at a time. They strike suddenly and subside quickly, but are so severe they’ve been called “suicide headaches.” Men are more likely to get cluster headaches than women. The cause is unknown and there is no cure. Recommended treatments for cluster headaches are limited to oxygen and triptan. 

“The FDA clearance of gammaCore for adjunctive use for the preventive treatment of cluster headache has the potential to help the approximately 350,000 Americans impacted by this debilitating condition often referred to as a ‘suicide headache,’” said Frank Amato, CEO of electroCore, the maker of gammaCore.

“We are pleased that cluster headache patients now have a FDA-cleared option, and one that is both safe and effective, especially given the difficulty in treating cluster headache and the limitations of current treatments.”

gammaCore is available by prescription only but can be self-administered by patients. It sends a mild electric charge to the vagus nerve in the neck, which stimulates the nerve while reducing pain. It’s recommended that the gammaCore be used twice daily to prevent cluster headache and reduce its severity.

ELECTROCORE IMAGE

ELECTROCORE IMAGE

The $600 device also has regulatory approval for the treatment of cluster headache, migraine and medication overuse headache in the European Union, South Africa, India, New Zealand, Australia, Colombia, Brazil, Malaysia, and Canada. 

Potential Treatment for Lupus

The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body, running from the base of the brain through the neck, heart, lungs and abdomen. In addition to cluster headache, scientists think vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) could be useful in treating a variety of chronic pain conditions.

FEINSTEIN INSTITUTE FOR MEDICAL RESEARCH

FEINSTEIN INSTITUTE FOR MEDICAL RESEARCH

In a small pilot study at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, researchers found that VNS significantly reduced pain and fatigue associated with lupus, an autoimmune disease that damages joints, skin and internal organs. Musculoskeletal pain is one of the most common lupus symptoms, affecting up to 95 percent of patients.

Feinstein researchers used an experimental device to stimulate the vagus nerve through the ear. Lupus patients who were treated with the device for five minutes daily had a significant decrease in pain and fatigue after just five days.

“Previous studies at the Feinstein Institute have found that under certain conditions, stimulating the vagus nerve can reduce inflammation,” Timir Datta-Chaudhuri, PhD, wrote in an email to PNN.

“With inflammation being a factor in many conditions, the vagus nerve could be used as a therapeutic target for conditions beyond lupus, and potentially for pain, when inflammation is a contributing factor. In fact, this discovery has been used in the past to develop bioelectronic devices which have been tested in clinical trials in Europe and shown to be effective in reducing the joint pain and inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis.”

Datta said there are plans to continue testing the device in clinical trials. If the results are positive, the Feinstein Institute would seek to partner with other labs and companies to create a device for wider use.

Can Hypnosis Help Relieve Chronic Pain?

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Two new studies suggest that hypnotherapy can relieve pain for some patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) and other chronic pain conditions.

The first study, published in The Lancet medical journal, involved nearly 500 IBS patients who were recruited from 11 hospitals in the Netherlands. IBS is a common condition characterized by repeated attacks of stomach pain, cramps, diarrhea and constipation.

Study participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: individual hypnotherapy, group hypnotherapy, or support sessions that included dietary advice and education about IBS.  The hypnotherapy sessions were designed to reduce pain and discomfort from IBS.

After three months, 41% of the people in individual hypnotherapy and 33% of those in group hypnotherapy reported adequate relief, compared to less than 17% of those in education and support sessions.   

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The results from group hypnotherapy were even better after 9 months. Nearly half the patients in that group reported relief from IBS symptoms.

“The trial finding that hypnotherapy works better than educational support adds evidence to previous studies showing that hypnotherapy may have a helpful effect,” the UK’s National Health Service said in a review of the Dutch study. “The finding that group hypnotherapy works about as well as individual hypnotherapy is interesting, as this means many people could be treated by the same therapist at the same time, which could reduce waiting times and the cost of treatment.

“It also demonstrates that unfortunately, even with the best care, IBS can still be a difficult condition to treat. Half or more people receiving hypnotherapy still gained no symptom relief.”

Hypnosis and CRPS

Another hypnosis study, recently reported by Japanese researchers at the World Congress of Pain, involved 121 patients with refractory chronic pain – also known as intractable pain – who agreed to hypnotherapy either biweekly or in monthly 60 minute sessions. The patients all had chronic conditions that were difficult to treat, such as CRPS, phantom limb pain, neuropathic pain and cancer pain.

Researchers found that 71% of the patients reported pain relief during the hypnosis sessions. And for many of them, the analgesic effect continued after the session ended.

“These patients have all undergone multidisciplinary pain treatment, including medication, physiotherapy and CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy),” Miyuki Mizutani, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Aichi Medical University, told Pain Medicine News. “And ultimately, they did not respond completely to those treatments. So we believe the untreatable part of the pain can be treated by hypnosis.”

Hypnotherapy even works for patients with CRPS, although they often require more hypnosis sessions before having an analgesic effect.

“I’ve now been performing hypnosis for 18 years, and have found it very effective in those patients, though it can be difficult to administer in chronic pain,” Mizutani said. “It takes time, and complete remission is not very common. However, our experience is that repeated analgesic experiences can lead to long-term improvements in chronic pain.”

Puppy Medicine

By Jennifer Hochgesang, Guest Columnist  

I was miserable. My trigeminal neuralgia pain from multiple sclerosis was still uncontrolled, leaving me mostly housebound. I had also just been diagnosed with vestibular migraines, which cause vertigo. Sometimes the vertigo was so extreme I was unable to walk, the world moving like a drunken carnival ride that never stopped even when my eyes were closed.  

And while the trigeminal neuralgia (TN) was on the right side of my mouth, I had just gotten ulcers out of nowhere on the left side. Anytime I drank something I felt a blind searing pain that took minutes to subside.

I was just barely pushing through, not sure how much more I could take. But I had an appointment to see a puppy at a nearby animal shelter.

I have had dogs all my life. Each one has been a part of the family and amazing creatures: loving, smart, playful and giving. My last dog, Aequoris, passed away two years ago and her sister Zola a little before that. I needed time before getting another dog. But as I went through this year in the worst pain of my life, I started to slowly think about getting a dog again.

But I had many questions to ask myself: Was I well enough to care for a dog? Could I afford a vet? Would the dog get enough exercise? Did I have help for the times I was too sick to care for it? Were there walking services in my area or boarding services if I had to go to the hospital? Would pet insurance cover those situations? Would my family members want a dog and be willing to help?

Even as I answered all those questions on the way to the shelter, I almost cancelled. I just felt so physically awful and it was hard to think of enjoying a puppy.   

When we got there, they put us in a small room so we could meet the puppy and get to know her a little. She was an 11-week old rescue from a litter of five. They said she was a Spaniel mix, but really they had no idea what breed she was.

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When they brought her in, my first thought was that she was pretty funny looking. Then she actually ran up to me and kissed me right on the left side of my mouth, the one that doesn’t have my TN. It was like she knew! I couldn’t believe it!

I held her and smelled that sweet puppy smell. She wasn’t funny looking after all. She was beautiful. She had dots of brown over her eyes, silky black fur down her back, and fawn-like legs with spots everywhere.

We played and I fell in love within seconds. I watched her play, moving like a little infant excited with the world. I laughed as she tried to catch a ball and fell, and was so moved when she came to me for comfort.

Suddenly I realized I wasn’t in as much pain! Holding her, rubbing her soft fur and watching her jump around just did something for me – like it was medicinal. She was helping me. I knew at that moment she would bring that gift to me and in return I would do whatever I could to make sure she was cared for: vet visits, exercise, training and love. I named her Sasha: helper of womankind.

Sasha is now almost six months old. She is crazy smart and learned sit, down, and up in the air the first day. I have also started working with a trainer so she doesn’t touch the right side of my face and set off a TN attack.

I can have Sasha off leash in the backyard and throw the ball for her to catch with my 7-year-old daughter, who thankfully runs like crazy with her.

But she still rings the bell to go outside seven times an hour and tries to eat my socks no matter how many times I say no. She grabs tissues and runs so fast, dodging furniture and ducking under and over until you want to pull your hair out.

But then you leave the room for one second and come back to find her butt wiggling, tail thumping on the floor, and plaintively whinnying, “I’m so happy to see you. I missed you so much.”

Sasha has the sweetest face and when she lays next to you with her head curled in your lap letting you pet her, looking up at you -- it’s just pure love.

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Is it a coincidence that in the past five weeks I’ve finally found the food triggers for my trigeminal neuralgia? I’ve stopped eating dairy, citrus, chocolate, caffeine and sugar. My pain has gone down so much. It’s like night and day since I got Sasha. I still need to work with a nutritionist to make sure I’m eating the right foods, but for now this is working for me.

Sasha is still a baby so I haven’t expected her to do much more than be a cute furball. But one day while I was working on my iPad, she came and positioned herself right in my lap. I had to move her over a little so I could work. She still stuck like glue to the left side of my body with her head on my leg or arm throughout the day. I thought she was just tired.

Then slowly my TN pain began to increase, until I had a really awful volley of attacks every few minutes. Sasha moved closer and closer to my face as the pain got worse. During one brutal attack she kissed me on the left side and I was so thankful. She actually understood I was in pain and where it was. She knew when it was getting worse. And all she wanted was to heal and comfort me.  

As I write this, Sasha is sitting right here next to me chewing on a rawhide pretzel. She brought seven toys up on the couch in case she gets bored with the pretzel and wants me to throw something. I take a break from writing to pet her and sometimes she will turn over and give me her belly to rub. Soon she’s going to get up and ring that bell to go outside in the light snow.

She is just the most beautiful thing.

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Jennifer Hochgesang lives in Illinois. Jennifer has multiple sclerosis, trigeminal neuralgia and vestibular migraines.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

12 Gifts of Knowledge About Chronic Pain

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Are you looking for a special gift for a loved one over the holidays? How about a gift to yourself? If you live with chronic pain -- or want to have a friend or family member have a better understanding of what you're going through -- here are 12 books that would make great gifts.

These and other books can be found in PNN’s Suggested Reading section. I recently added new books on kratom, stem cell therapy and medical cannabis, along with books on the history of pain and the opioid crisis.

There’s even a book that might make you laugh out loud. Who knew chronic pain could be funny?

Click on the book's cover to see price and ordering information. Pain News Network receives a small amount of the proceeds -- at no additional cost to you -- for orders placed through Amazon.

Backbone: Living With Chronic Pain Without Turning Into One by Karen Duffy

If you believe laughter is the best medicine, then “Backbone” is for you. In this funny and inspirational book, Karen Duffy recounts her struggles with chronic pain from sarcoidosis and how she learned to cope with it through perseverance and spunk. Duffy also offers tips to healthy people on how to be supportive to loved ones who live with chronic pain.

The Kratom Cure: Potent Plant for Pain, Anxiety, Addiction by Joanne Hillyer

In this beginner’s guide to kratom, Joanne Hillyer examines both the benefits and drawbacks of kratom and how it’s been used for centuries in southeast Asia as a natural stimulant and pain reliever. Hillyer also explores the various strains of kratom, where to get them, and the growing controversy over its use. Is kratom a dangerous narcotic that should be banned or a helpful and healing herb?

Real Food Heals by Seamus Mullen

“Iron Chef” star Seamus Mullen thought his career as a chef was over when he developed chronic joint pain and was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Mullen restored his health by changing his diet — and now avoids foods that are processed or inflammatory. In this cookbook, the celebrity chef shares his recipes for healthy eating with natural ingredients.

The Story of Pain: From Prayers to Painkillers by Joanna Burke

This book examines the history of pain since the 18th century, when many people believed that pain was a message from God and submission to pain was seen as redemptive. Today, pain is seen more as an evil that needs to be fought with painkillers and other therapies. Joanna Burke says knowing the history of pain can help us understand our own suffering and that of those around us.

Living Pain Free: Healing Chronic Pain with Myofascial Release by Amanda Oswald

Myofascial release expert Amanda Oswald explains how fascia — the main connective tissue in the body — is the key to restoring pain-free health and motion. She explains how stretches, exercises and other self-care techniques can relieve migraines, headaches, jaw pain, frozen shoulder, neck and back pain, pelvic pain and conditions such as fibromyalgia.

Heal Me: In Search of a Cure by Julia Buckley

Travel writer Julia Buckley went a a global quest to find an alternative treatment for Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Buckley underwent a voodoo exorcism in Haiti, was doused with chicken blood in South Africa, and met a California masseur who believes he is guided by angels. Buckley says the best advice came from a Brazilian faith healer who taught her how meditation can help relieve pain.

American Overdose by Chris McGreal

Chris McGreal traces the history of the opioid crisis in the United States — starting with Purdue Pharma and OxyContin — and how it spread from Appalachia to the rest of the country. Purdue is not the only bad actor in the opioid crisis, as McGreal is also critical of the healthcare industry, law enforcement, politicians and regulators who adopted opioid policies based on greed, ignorance and political agendas.

The Medicalization of Marijuana by Michelle Newhart and William Dolphin

This book explores changing public attitudes about marijuana and its transformation from a stigmatized illegal drug to a promising new medical treatment. Individual stories capture how patients are using cannabis to treat chronic pain and other medical conditions, and how doctors are slowly accepting it as a form of medicine.

Stem Cells: The Healing Revolution by Dr. Raj Banerjee

This book answers some of the most basic questions about stem cell therapy and regenerative medicine. Dr. Raj Banerjee, who founded a clinic in St. Louis nearly two decades ago, shares the testimonials of his patients while exploring the history, challenges and benefits of stem cell therapy and how it can be used to treat a wide range of chronic pain conditions, including arthritis and degenerative disc disease.

Dopesick by Beth Macy

Journalist Beth Macy looks at the opioid crisis from multiple perspectives, including physicians and pharmacists, law enforcement and attorneys, community leaders and drug dealers. Macy examines opioid addiction with compassion and concern, but perpetuates many media-driven myths about pain patients and prescription opioids.

Unlearn Your Pain by Dr. Howard Schubiner

This is the third edition of Dr. Howard Schubiner’s book on the “Mind Body Syndrome” — the theory that many chronic pain conditions are the result of unresolved stress and emotional issues. Schubiner explains how to rid yourself of pain without drugs, surgery or psychotherapy by “unlearning” your pain.

The Furnace of Fire by Elaine Ballard

Elaine Ballard suffered a severe back injury when she was 22 years old. Fifty years later, she is confined mostly to bed and recently learned she has arachnoiditis. Ballard wrote this book to help educate other pain sufferers about arachnoiditis and to share how her Christian faith helped her through many difficult times and pain flares.

If there is a book or publication that's helped you manage chronic pain and might help others, let us know.