‘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.”

Learning About Back Pain Helps Reduce It

By Steve Weakley

A new study published in JAMA Neurology shows that learning about the neuroscience of pain may help relieve some of it. 

Researchers have long understood that pain sensitivity varies from patient to patient, and there is a complex relationship between the mind and the body that influences how we experience pain. To explore that connection, researchers in Belgium divided 120 patients with chronic back and neck pain into two groups. A control group was treated with commonly recommended physical therapy and exercises.

The second group went through a program of “neuroscience education therapy,” in which they were given a very detailed explanation of what happens to the nervous system during chronic pain. Patients learned how neurons and synapses work, and how pain signals travel through nerve fibers, to the spinal cord and then the brain.

They were also taught the importance of self-care, ergonomics, stretching and fitness.

The patients were then given a series of challenging movements and exercises that gradually became more difficult and painful. They were encouraged to push through their pain, continue exercising and concentrate on functionality, not pain relief.

Treatment in both groups lasted three months, and the patients were re-evaluated after six months and a year. 

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Researchers say patients in the neuroscience therapy group showed markedly more progress than the control group.  They had significant improvement in their disability, a higher pain threshold, improved physical and mental functioning, and 50 percent less self-reported pain than the control group. That improvement continued even after one year.

“These positive effects can be attributed to the content of the experimental treatment as participants learn to put pain into the right perspective, to move regularly, and to be physically active. Consequently, participants probably feel empowered, whereas, previously, they viewed pain as a life-controlling factor,” researchers found.  

“The main message is: Don’t be afraid of the pain,” lead author Anneleen Malfliet told The New York Times. “We know that worrying and giving attention to pain ultimately increases it. Staying active and moving is better than rest when it comes to chronic back and neck pain.”

Low back pain is the most common cause of disability worldwide and it is the most often cited reason for missed work in the United States.  More than half of all working Americans experience back pain each year.

5 DIY Tips to Reduce Lower Back Pain

By Mark El-Hayek, Guest Columnist

Lower back pain is the world's leading cause of disability. Almost all of us will at some point in our lives have to deal with it.

Lower back pain is any form of pain or discomfort in the lower part of the spine, which is known as the lumbar spine. It can be brought about by things like muscle tension, stress, improper diet, lack of exercise, poor posture, excess body weight and pregnancy.

We put together five simple do-it-yourself tips to help reduce lower back pain.

1) Correct Posture

Poor posture is one of the leading causes of lower back pain. Good posture involves sitting, walking, standing and sleeping in ways that do not weaken or over activate your supporting muscles. There are several things you can do to improve posture.

When sitting, avoid sitting on the edge of a chair as this puts a lot of strain on your back. Sit with your back straight and shoulders back.

The same is true for walking. Avoid bending or slouching over while walking. This strains your back and causes lower back pain.

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When lying down, get into a position that is comfortable and one that does not compromise the curve in your back.

2) Ice and Heat

For many people, putting ice or something cold on an injured area provides relief from pain. Heat also works well in reducing lower back pain, but the two techniques work very differently.

When you put something cold on your lower back, the cold makes the blood vessels constrict, which reduces the pain caused by inflammation. Heat, on the other hand, relaxes blood vessels and increases blood flow, which helps heal the affected area.

It is advisable that when using ice and heat together, you start by doing the cold compress first and then the hot compress. You can use ice packs or frozen peas for the cold compress. For the hot compress, you can use a hot water bottle or a towel soaked in warm water.

Alternate between the cold and hot compresses for a few minutes and you will notice that your lower back pain has reduced.

3) Exercise

Regular exercise is a good way to prevent lower back pain. Make a point of exercising as often as you can. If you have a job that has you sitting for long hours, integrate exercises and movement into your everyday routine.

Walk to the bathroom or the water cooler a couple of times a day to keep your joints moving and lower back pain at bay. Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator to help stay fit.

4) Rest

Lower back pain is often caused by stress. The moment you start feeling back pain, take a couple of hours off to rest. You can start by taking a hot shower to help you relax. The shower will help your blood vessels relax and make oxygen flow freely to your lower back. After the hot shower, rest for a couple of hours and you will probably feel better.

5) Do not stay in bed too long

While resting is important, make sure you do not stay in bed too long. Lying down for an extended period of time, especially when your posture is poor or you do not have a good mattress, could increase your lower back pain. Instead of lying down, go for a slow walk to allow your joints and muscles to move and reduce inflammation.

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Mark El-Hayek graduated from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia with a Masters of Chiropractic and a Bachelor of Medical Science.  He is the head chiropractor and owner of Spine and Posture Care in Sydney.

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.

The Four E’s That Can Help Lower Pain Levels

By Barby Ingle, Columnist

Continuing with my series on alternative pain therapies, I find it interesting that those who have not tried the treatments I cover are often the most vocal about whether they help or not. 

I want to remind readers that I am not suggesting that these are cures for any chronic pain condition, but more a way to possibly lower pain and stress levels, and increase daily activities. 

Also, please consider that pain can be bio-psycho-social in nature and may not always have a physical cause. I work with over 150 conditions in my advocacy work, and have learned that not all patients -- even with the same diseases -- respond to the same treatments. Most of the people I know that are in remission or have learned to lower or manage their pain levels are using multiple techniques and treatment options. 

The four E’s I will introduce you to are energy therapy, electromagnetic therapy, equine therapy, and exercise. 

Energy Therapy

Energy therapies, such as therapeutic touch and magnetic healing, are commonly referred to as bio-field therapies in the alternative medicine area. Supporters of these therapies believe “energy fields” flow through and around our bodies, and that when energy is flowing freely we have good emotional, physical and spiritual health. When the energy field is blocked, we become ill.

In therapeutic touch, also known as Rieke, attendants use their hands to find “blockages” and touch the patient at the blockage sites to remove the harmful energy, replacing it with their own healthy energy. In magnetic healing, the therapist places magnets at the blockage sites.

I tried an energy therapy session once and was actually in more pain when the therapist stopped than when she started.  I remained fully clothed and lay down on a massage table as the therapist moved her hands just above my body.  Because I have Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and parts of my body are very sensitive, I choose the version with no touch. 

It didn’t work for me and I was told it was because the therapist didn’t follow my energy field properly. I was stressed the whole time, worried that she was going to touch me and how painful it would be. 

Energy therapy is mainly used to ease symptoms such as anxiety, fatigue, pain, nausea or vomiting. Some believe it even improves quality of life. Many people say that they feel more relaxed, calm and peaceful after an energy therapy session. I was afraid the whole time, so I didn’t get this effect. 

Some studies suggest that energy therapies work because the person experiences the focused and caring presence of a therapist, rather than a change in energy flow. More research is needed to understand the effectiveness of energy therapy, but if you are looking for a way to help lower stress and relax, this maybe a choice for you.  

Electromagnetic Therapy

Proponents of electromagnetic therapy (ET) claim that by applying low frequency electromagnetic radiation to your body that it can help lower pain levels, promote cell growth, improve blood circulation and bone repair, increase wound healing, and enhance sleep.

I tried this therapy for three months with an ET mat that I would lay on for an hour each day. The heat from the mat was relaxing and helped my circulation, but I can’t say that it worked any better than a heating blanket.

The practitioner who had me try the mat said that it could help with a wide range of symptoms and conditions, such as headaches, migraines, chronic pain, nerve disorders, spinal injuries, diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease. I think due to the increase in blood flow from the heated mat that I did get some temporary and slight pain relief.

The National Institutes of Health says there is a lack of scientific evidence about electromagnetic therapy and the American Cancer Society warns that "relying on electromagnetic treatment alone and avoiding conventional medical care may have serious health consequences." 

Equine Therapy

As the name implies, equine therapy makes use of horses (and sometimes elephants, cats, dogs and even dolphins) to help promote emotional growth. It helps to try it with an animal that can mirror human behavior. A horse is considered most effective because it can respond immediately and give feedback to the patient’s actions and behaviors.

Last year the movie "Unbridled" was released and it covered this type of therapy for physical and emotional pain. The movie is unforgettable and an uplifting story of redemption, healing, and overcoming some of life’s greatest obstacles. 

Equine therapy is usually offered for patients with attention deficit problems, anxiety, autism, dementia, delays in mental development, Downs’s syndrome, depression, trauma and brain injuries, behavior and abuse issues, and other mental health issues. 

The reason why eqine therapy has been recognized as an important area in the medical field is that some horse riders with disabilities have proven their remarkable equestrian skills in various national and international competitions. The basis of the therapy is that because horses behave similarly to humans in their social and responsive behavior, it is easier for patients to establish connection with a horse. 

I think this is an interesting concept when it comes to emotional pain. Although I haven’t done equine therapy myself, I have been intrigued over the years with the idea. That said, caring for a dog was hard for me and I can’t imagine taking care of a horse. 

Exercise

I think the word “exercise” has many different connotations for every person who hears it. Before starting any exercise program, precautions are needed to make sure you can do physical activities without further damage to your body. I have experienced unpleasant and painful exercise, which only served to make my pain worse. 

I have found that there are some exercises that are better for me than others. For instance, I can walk now for a few minutes each hour. That is more than I have done in years and I had to work my way up to it. Other pain friends can do a moderate program on stationary bicycles for 30 minutes at a time a few times a week. 

I have one friend who is doing full weight bearing activities. It causes her flares, yet she chooses to keep pushing her body until she reaches a crash. 

Please be sure to consult with a doctor before starting to exercise. Some studies suggest that moderate amounts of exercise can change your perception of pain and help you better perform activities of daily living.

It’s important to keep an open mind on what can help lower pain levels. There is no single technique or one size that fits all. From my own experience of living 20 years with chronic pain, I have explored many different options and done a fair amount of research before deciding if they were right for me to try. 

Using a multiple modality approach is often key to lowering pain levels. Nothing I have tried has been a cure, but many did help in some way.

Whether it’s one of the 4 E’s or a combination of treatments, I hope you find what helps give you a better life and that you will have continued access to it while we continue our quest for a cure.

Barby Ingle lives with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), migralepsy and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain FoundationShe is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics. More information about Barby can be found at 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.

Wear, Tear & Care: The SpineGym

By Jennifer Kilgore, Columnist

You’ve got to hand it to SpineGym’s marketing team -- when one of your device’s signature moves is visually hilarious, you could try to hide it... or you could own it.

They decided to own it.

The video was what intrigued me many months ago. I mean, it’s incredible.

I have Google Alerts set to notify me about new medical technology, and those are the types of emails sent to me by crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and IndieGogo. The SpineGym device, which is designed to develop your back and abdominal muscles, was 928% funded nearly a year ago.

My core has as much strength as a trash bag filled with mashed potatoes. I’ve been desperate for something to help me focus on those important muscles, but I was concerned that it would be too intense for my spine at T-11 and T-12, as a facet joint in that area never healed correctly.

Upon watching the exercise video, however, it didn’t seem too physically strenuous. I reached out to SpineGym USA to ask for a test unit, and they were gracious enough to offer me one. I’ve been using the device for a couple months now. Each session is intended to be less than five minutes, a few times a week.

Surprisingly, that’s all I can physically manage.

What is the SpineGym?

The SpineGym has two parallel poles set into a floorplate that go back and forth. There is a black band between the poles that you lean back or forward on. There are also loops on the base plate where you can hook plastic bands as an alternative workout for your arms.

The machine bases a workout’s pace on the user’s strength and capabilities, because the force working against the machine is what sets the tone. The moves themselves range from simple isometrics to a variation of crunches that work the abdominal and back stabilizer muscles.

With the positioning of the machine’s arms, it changes the moves entirely. I felt my muscles in a way I never had on a yoga mat, and they engaged from my low back all the way up to the base of my neck. When you watch the video it doesn’t look hard, but it’s surprisingly difficult when you actually try it.

SPINEGYM PHOTO

SPINEGYM PHOTO

I wondered if this was because I have absolutely no core strength, so I asked my husband to try it. Here are a few key demographic differences between the two of us: He’s 6’, an ultra-marathon runner and exercises for approximately three hours a day. (Yes, I am aware of the irony.) He did agree with my assessment, however, and said that the SpineGym engaged his midsection in a way that crunches definitely do not.

SpineGym’s Data

When 20 sedentary workers aged 35-60 were given SpineGyms to use for two weeks, they were instructed to exercise for only five minutes a day. The following results were based on EMG measurements after two weeks:

  • an average 80% improvement in activation of back muscles
  • an average 141% improvement in activation of abdominal muscles
  • significant postural improvements
  • significant improvements in abdominal muscle strength
  • approximately 90% of users found the training method to be efficient or very efficient.

A second test was performed on users aged 70-90 and included three SpineGym sessions a week for two months. Each session lasted four to five minutes.

  • Standing balance improvement of 74%
  • Muscle strength and coordination: improvement of 58%
  • Walking speed improvement of 41%

Most of this improvement was reached by participants already after the first month of exercise.

How It Worked for Me

My lower back has been hurting much more recently in that “coming-back-from-the-dead” way. If I overdo it with the SpineGym -- meaning if I use it more often than once every few days -- I go into spasm and have a flare. This is when a session lasts about five minutes. It targets that specific area that needs the most work, so I am very excited about this unit.

People larger than 6’ might find it a bit flimsy for their size, as the poles are quite tall, set into a base plate that fits your shoes side by side, and is made of carbon fiber. It’s a bit of a balancing act. However, as long as your feet are firmly planted and your core is engaged, the platform should not move. Plus, there’s an anti-slip pad underneath.

The other great things? It’s relatively small and light for medical equipment (11.2 pounds or 5.1 kg). It sets up and breaks down easily and stores flat in a T-shirt-shaped bag, though I don’t ever put it away. It doesn’t take up much space, so why bother?

When I’ve been working all day and desperately need to stretch my lower and mid back, the SpineGym hits the muscles that need releasing the most. The unit targets the discomfort better than an upward-facing dog pose on the yoga mat. I just have to remind myself not to use the SpineGym too often, or I’ll be my own worst enemy in terms of progress.

You can purchase the SpineGym for $198 through Indiegogo.

Jennifer Kain Kilgore is an attorney editor for both Enjuris.com and the Association of International Law Firm Networks. She has chronic back and neck pain after two car accidents.

You can read more about Jennifer on her blog, Wear, Tear, & Care.  

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.

Active Seniors Have Lower Risk of Chronic Pain

By Pat Anson, Editor

Older adults who are physically active are better able to block pain signals and may have a lower risk of developing chronic pain, according to a small study published in the journal Pain.

Researchers at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis performed a series of experiments on 51 healthy adults, aged 60 to 77, who wore monitoring devices for one week to measure their physical activity. Participants were given heat and pressure tests to measure their “pain modulation” – how the central nervous system interprets and perceives pain.

Both tests found that pain modulation was significantly related to physical activity. Older adults with more frequent moderate-to-vigorous physical activity had lower pain scores, while those who were sedentary were less able to block pain signals. Even light physical activity appeared to lower pain perception.

"This study provides the first objective evidence suggesting that physical activity behavior is related to the functioning of the endogenous pain modulatory systems in older adults," wrote lead author Kelly Naugle, PhD, of the Center for Physical Activity in Wellness and Prevention, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis.

"Our data suggest that low levels of sedentary behavior and greater light physical activity may be critical in maintaining effective endogenous pain inhibitory function in older adults."

Previous studies have shown that pain modulation is poor in patients with chronic pain conditions such as arthritis, back pain and fibromyalgia.

Aging is associated with chronic low-grade inflammation and oxidative stress, which could make the peripheral and central nervous systems more sensitive to pain. Older adults are also more likely to be sedentary and less physically active, which would make them more vulnerable to chronic pain.

Recent studies have documented the benefits of exercise for older adults. Chair yoga reduced pain and improved the quality of life in older adults with osteoarthritis. Another study found that just 45 minutes of moderate exercise a week improved function and reduced pain levels.  

Even a Little Exercise Is Better Than None

By Pat Anson, Editor

We often hear from pain sufferers who say they’d like to exercise more, but can’t because their pain levels have left them bedridden or stuck on a couch. Others believe a workout at the gym will only make their pain worse.

But two new studies have found that you don’t need to be a gym rat to get the health benefits from exercise.

You may not even need to stand up!

Federal guidelines suggest a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise a week are needed to promote good cardiovascular health. But researchers at Northwestern University wanted to see if a lesser goal could improve overall health.

They measured the physical activity of 1,600 adults with osteoarthritis in their hips, knees or feet; and found that just 45 minutes of moderate physical activity a week improved their function and reduced pain

"We were interested in seeing what kind of physical activity might be beneficial to promote good function down the road,” said Dorothy Dunlop, a professor of rheumatology and preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“We found moderate-intensity activity rather than light activity, such as pushing a grocery cart, to be more valuable to promote future function."

Using sophisticated accelerometers to monitor movement, the researchers found that participants who engaged in moderate activity, such as brisk walking, for at least 45 minutes a week were 80 percent more likely to improve or sustain high future function.

The findings, published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research., were true for both men and women. The beneficial effects of the exercise were also long term. About a third of participants improved or had high function after two years.

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"The federal guidelines are very important because the more you do, the better you'll feel and the greater the health benefits you'll receive," Dunlop said. "But even achieving this less rigorous goal will promote the ability to function and may be a feasible starting point for older adults dealing with discomfort in their joints.”

"Even a little activity is better than none," she added

Chair Yoga Relieves Pain of Osteoarthritis

A second study at Florida Atlantic University found that “chair yoga” is an effective way to reduce pain and improve quality of life in older adults with osteoarthritis.

As the name implies, the Sit-N-Fit Chair Yoga program was developed to help those who cannot stand during exercise or participate in traditional yoga. Chair yoga is practiced sitting in a chair or standing while holding the chair for support.

IMAGE COURTESY OF FLORIDA ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY

IMAGE COURTESY OF FLORIDA ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY

In a study of 131 older adults who have osteoarthritis, participants attended 45-minute chair yoga sessions twice a week for 8 weeks.

Researchers measured their pain, pain interference (how it affects one's life), balance, gait speed, fatigue and functional ability; before, during and after the sessions.

Compared to a control group enrolled in a health education program, the chair yoga group showed a greater reduction in pain, pain interference and fatigue during the sessions, as well as an improved gait. The reduction in pain interference lasted for about three months after the chair yoga program was completed.

"The effect of pain on everyday living is most directly captured by pain interference, and our findings demonstrate that chair yoga reduced pain interference in everyday activities," said Ruth McCaffrey, emeritus professor in FAU's College of Nursing and co-author of the study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

"The potential impact of this study on public health is high, as this program provides an approach for keeping community-dwelling elders active even when they cannot participate in traditional exercise that challenges their balance," said co-author and principal investigator Patricia Liehr, PhD, a professor in FAU's College of Nursing.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and the leading cause of long-term disability in older adults. It affects about a third of Americans over the age of 65.