Many Invasive Surgeries No Better Than Placebo

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

In an age when doctors are urged not to prescribe opioids, many patients are being told to have surgery or other invasive procedures to treat their chronic pain.

But a systematic review of 25 clinical trials found little evidence that invasive surgeries are more effective than placebo or sham procedures in reducing low back and knee pain. The study was published in the journal Pain Medicine.

bigstock-Surgeons-See-more-in-my-portf-12370376.jpg

"Our findings raise several questions for clinicians, researchers, and policy-makers. First, can we justify widespread use of these procedures without rigorous testing?" said lead author Wayne Jonas, MD, a Professor of Family Medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine.

“Given their high cost and safety concerns, more rigorous studies are required before invasive procedures are routinely used for patients with chronic pain.”

The invasive procedures that were analyzed include arthroscopic, endoscopic and laparoscopic surgeries, as well as radiofrequency ablations, laser treatments and other interventions.

In each study, researchers also performed sham or placebo procedures on a control group where they faked the invasive procedure. Patients did not know which intervention (real or sham) they received. Researchers then compared the patients’ pain intensity, disability, health-related quality of life, use of medication, adverse events, and other factors.

They found that reduction in disability did not differ between the two groups three months after the procedures or at six months. Seven of the studies on low back pain and three on knee osteoarthritis showed no difference in pain intensity at six months compared with the sham procedures.

“There is little evidence for the specific efficacy beyond sham for invasive procedures in chronic pain. A moderate amount of evidence does not support the use of invasive procedures as compared with sham procedures for patients with chronic back or knee pain,” said Jonas.

Invasive treatments are being increasingly used as an alternative to opioids. Americans spent an estimated $45 billion on surgery for chronic low back pain and $41 billion on arthroplasty for knee pain in 2014.

Several previous studies have also questioned the value of arthroplasty. Over 850,000 arthroscopic surgeries are performed every year to relieve knee pain in the UK and the United States. But a 2015 study published in the BMJ questioned the evidence behind the surgery and said it provides only “small inconsequential benefit.”

Oska Pulse Reduces Knee, Shoulder and Back Pain

By Pat Anson, Editor

A wearable device that stimulates the release of natural pain-relieving endorphins provides significant relief to patients with chronic knee, shoulder or back pain, according to the results of small clinical trial.

The Oska Pulse uses Pulsed Electromagnetic Field technology (PEMF) to dilate blood vessels, which increases blood flow, reduces inflammation, and releases the body’s endorphins to reduce joint and muscle pain.

The double blind, placebo-controlled study involved 30 patients who were recruited from two San Diego area pain clinics. Participants were given either an Oska Pulse or a placebo device and asked to wear them several times a day for two weeks, while completing a daily log to track their pain, stress and usage.

The study findings, first published in Practical Pain Management, found that the majority of participants who used the Oska Pulse had a significant decrease in pain levels. Some also reported a decrease in stress.

oska wellness image

oska wellness image

“There was significantly more reduction in pain in the OSKA Pulse group after 14 days of use than placebo. These results suggested that the OSKA Pulse may be an effective tool in pain attenuation,” wrote lead author Joseph Shurman, MD, an anesthesiologist at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, CA.

“Data analyses showed interesting trends in subjective pain scores, including a slight increase in pain in the placebo group after day 7, while the OSKA Pulse group, on average, reported a decline in pain intensity.”

Previous studies have found that PEMF therapy can be used to treat a variety of chronic pain conditions, not just simple muscle aches and joint pain. A recent survey of Oska Pulse users found that half had some type of pain for more than five years.

"I've had RSD/CRPS in my left leg for 21 years and tried many meds and treatments over the years, including 10 years of ketamine infusions," said Tracey M., an Oska customer quoted in a news release. "I started using Oska Pulse nine months ago and my pain was reduced more than ever before. I recently danced at my daughter's wedding. Before Oska, I wasn't even sure if I'd be able to attend."

PNN columnist Arlene Grau, who lives with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, was at first skeptical about the Oska Pulse. But after trying it for several days, she found the device gave her some temporary pain relief.

“I originally thought the Oska Pulse was not going to work for me, since I'm used to the TENS unit shocking my body and actually feeling something happening. You don’t really ‘feel’ anything when the Oska Pulse is on, but I felt a difference after every use,” Arlene said. “I wouldn't necessarily compare it to the relief I get from opioids, but it was enough to make me feel like I didn't need to take prescription drugs every 4 hours. Which is a triumph.”  

Before using the Oska Pulse, it is recommended that cancer patients, or those who are pregnant, nursing, or have a pacemaker or defibrillator, should consult with their physician.

The Oska Pulse is available on Amazon for $399.

Can Running Help Prevent Osteoarthritis?

By Pat Anson, Editor

People suffering from aching muscles and joint pain are often told that exercise is the best remedy. It sounds counter-intuitive, but now there’s evidence that running can actually reduce joint inflammation – at least in the knees.

"It flies in the face of intuition," says Matt Seeley, an associate professor of exercise science at Brigham Young University. "This idea that long-distance running is bad for your knees might be a myth."

Seeley and his colleagues conducted a small study of six healthy men and women who ran on treadmills for 30 minutes. Blood samples and synovial fluid from their knee joints were collected both before and after they ran.

The researchers found that two inflammatory markers in the synovial fluid -- cytokines named GM-CSF and IL-15 -- decreased in concentration in the runners after a treadmill session.  Cytokines are small proteins released by cells that play an important role in pain and inflammation.

"What we now know is that for young, healthy individuals, exercise creates an anti-inflammatory environment that may be beneficial in terms of long-term joint health," said Robert Hyldahl, a BYU assistant professor of exercise science.

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   image courtesy of Nate Edwards/BYU

image courtesy of Nate Edwards/BYU

The findings, published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, indicate that running may be chondroprotective, which means exercise may help delay the onset of joint diseases such as osteoarthritis (OA), a disorder that leads to thinning of cartilage and progressive joint damage. Nearly 40 percent of Americans over the age of 45 have some degree of knee OA.

“This is the first study to evaluate a wide panel of inflammatory mediators in the knee joints of healthy subjects following running. Our results suggest that running decreases intra-articular inflammation and brings to light a novel potential mechanism for the chondroprotective nature of exercise in non-pathologic knees,” the BYU researchers said.

The researchers now plan to study subjects with previous knee injuries, by conducting similar tests on people who have suffered ACL injuries.

"This study does not indicate that distance runners are any more likely to get osteoarthritis than any other person," Seeley said. "Instead, this study suggests exercise can be a type of medicine."