Don’t Take Away Our Medicine

By Lynn Joyce, Guest Columnist

I am a 62-year-old woman who -- aside from my intensely painful back --- enjoyed a full life of work, swimming, going to the gym, outings to various places with my husband and friends, and running my household.

A few years ago, my back pain became so severe I had to move from my primary care doctor to pain management after all the solutions we tried, including physical therapy, various pain treatments, x-rays and MRIs could not diagnose or in the end treat me. I went to a doctor in Sarasota who gave me pain medicine. which helped a little. I also had several procedures under anesthetic, which again did not totally relieve the pain.

I was desperate, as I spent much of the day and night with ice packs on my back to ease the pain. My ordinary life went down the drain, my husband got fed up with me not being able to accompany him and looking after my home went downhill.

I cried as I went to bed early with a sleeping pill to take away the pain -- though this did not always work as the pain woke me up. I tried various types of pain medicine and the one that worked best was oxycodone.

Nearly a year ago my doctors finally found a combination of drugs that made me pain free and able to resume my normal life. I was ecstatic to be able to do all the things I enjoyed again and to be able to run my home and look after my family.

I then had a shock a month ago when my doctor told me that my medicine would have to be reduced. I had two tearful visits to his office, where he told me that starting July 1st I would receive only one oxycodone a day.  

LYNN JOYCE

LYNN JOYCE

My doctor knows that this is not even a therapeutic dose and yet is being forced to break his sacred oath to "First do no harm." After getting my life back, I was so upset that I would have to go back to my previous existence, where every day is full of pain and there is very little joy.

I am not a drug addict. I am a person that needs medication for a condition that curtails my enjoyment of life, just as much as another person who needs a drug to alleviate their condition or keep them alive. My doctor should be allowed and supported in the care of his patients, not vilified by government and media alike.

There are legitimate people who are truly suffering and need the medication that is being taken from them. I am one of these people -- the other side of this so-called crisis – and we are being ignored and used as scapegoats by the government.

I do not understand how such arbitrary, draconian laws can be passed in a modern society. This government’s heavy-handed solution to the "opioid crisis" is targeting the wrong people. We are not the ones selling drugs like fentanyl and heroin, we are just people with an illness. We are not lawbreakers, although some of us may be driven to escape the pain with illegal drugs or, in some tragic cases, suicide.

There are studies that totally refute the reasoning behind these opioid laws and guidelines, doctors who have tried to stop this from happening to their patients, and those who know the science and social reasons that show we are not the cause. We are not out there selling our drugs or "doctor shopping."

I see and read daily about politicians and stores that are jumping onto the false bandwagon to further their own careers and profits. Pharmacies that are too afraid or are taking a false moral stance about the prescriptions they will or won't fill.

There has been mishandling of prescriptions in the past, but systems have been put in place to remedy that. Yet the media screams about this person or that who has overdosed and stores like Walmart that will limit a person’s medication to seven days. I hope there are the few that get opioids for short term use if they need it, but they are not long-term pain sufferers who need their therapeutic doses daily to ameliorate their pain.

I have read that companies are being forced by the DEA to reduce their drug production so much that there are worries about hospitals not having enough to treat patients or with surgeries being delayed.

Those of us that need long term drug treatment are your family member, a friend, or a familiar stranger like the postal worker who you see every day. We are not the archetypal addict that people think of when the words “drug user” comes up. Think of a time in your life when you or someone you care about was in pain and were helped by medication to make it go away.

We have that pain every day and it doesn't go away without our medicine. The government or anyone else in a position of power who keeps on pushing this inhumane agenda should walk in our shoes for a day.

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Lynn Joyce lives in Florida.

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.

Spinal Injection Bill Would Raise Healthcare Costs

By Pat Anson, Editor

Republicans and Democrats often claim that reducing the cost of healthcare is one of their major goals. But a bipartisan bill that is sailing through Congress with little debate will do just the opposite, raising the cost of some epidural, facet joint and other spinal injections used to treat pain by as much as 25 percent for Medicare beneficiaries.

Critics say the legislation is little more than a money grab by doctors who perform the procedures, under the guise of preventing opioid addiction.

The “Post-Surgical Injections as an Opioid Alternative Act” (HR 5804) is one of nearly 60 bills to combat the opioid crisis approved last week by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. It moves to the full House for a vote.

The bill would partially reverse a decision made by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in 2016 to cut the Medicare reimbursement rate for epidurals and other injections.  The interventional procedures – which do not involve opioids -- can cost several hundred dollars per injection.

The American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians (ASIPP) lobbied unsuccessfully to get the reimbursement cuts overturned – until it found two Illinois Republican congressmen willing to sponsor HR 5804, Rep. John Shimkus and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi.

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“We first went to the CMS, then HHS, with no success in reversing draconian cuts for interventional techniques. CMS and the administration told us that it requires an Act of Congress,” ASIPP says on its website. “As a first step toward this, Shimkus and Krishnamoorthi have introduced H.R. 5804, which reverses some of the cuts for Ambulatory Surgery Center procedures. This is only the beginning. We have many other cuts to be reversed.”

According to OpenSecrets.org, Shimkus and Krishnamoorthi have both received $10,000 in campaign donations from ASIPP. The organization has spent over $500,000 on lobbying and donations so far in the 2017-2018 election cycle.

‘I Find It Hard to Trust CMS’

Shimkus introduced the ASIPP bill on May 15th and two days later helped shepherd it through its first and only hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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During the hearing, Shimkus claimed that by cutting the cost of spinal injections, CMS created a disincentive for doctors to perform the procedures and encouraged them to prescribe opioids instead.

“A lot of us were surprised to see CMS reduce the reimbursement rate for non-opioid pain treatments like epidurals for post-surgery pain,” Shimkus said. “I find it hard to trust CMS when those of us in this arena think their cut has led to more opioid use.

“A lot of us believe the inability to use epidurals to treat pain and prescribe opioids is not healthy for our country.”

To be clear, the CMS reimbursement cuts do not prevent any doctor from performing injections – it only made the shots less profitable. And Shimkus offered no evidence that the lower reimbursement rates encourage more opioid use – although he convinced many of his colleagues that they did.  

“I do think it's important in this crisis to be specific with CMS to make sure that we are not discouraging the use of non-opioid alternatives based on reimbursement-related issues,” said Rep. Larry Bucshon, MD (R-IN), who is a cardiologist. “In my experience over the years, CMS makes reimbursement decisions based on the financial incentives to do so, not necessarily, in my opinion, based on what is the appropriate therapy.”

“I don't agree that epidurals are not an alternative (to opioids) already. They are. They are. I just had a conversation with a surgeon about that. So that's not so,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo (R-CA).  “Imagine being able to manage pain without taking an opioid. We could do 20 other things together and it wouldn't equal that."

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) wasn’t buying any of it.

“I don’t think we have gotten any objective criteria to suggest that what CMS did is going to lead to more people taking opiates,” Pallone said. “I don't think there is any evidence to suggest that this legislation will lead to decreased opioid prescribing or a decreased prevalence of addiction.

“I think we are setting a bad precedent with the bill. I don't think that we, as Congress, are in a good position to pick and choose winners amongst therapies and procedures. I just don't think we know enough to understand the consequences of doing that to understand the relative value and the efficacy of different therapies and procedures on the market.”

Despite those concerns -- and after just 30 minutes of debate that included no public testimony -- committee members overwhelmingly supported the bill by a vote of 36 to 14. Nine Democrats joined with all Republicans on the committee in voting yes.

“What we are doing is temporarily reversing cuts to non-opioid treatment that we all agree save money and lives, then collecting to help ensure we are reimbursing providers at the most appropriate levels possible,” Shimkus said.

“That’s ASIPP talking,” says Terri Lewis, PhD, a researcher and longtime advocate for the pain community. “What does Shimkus know? Shimkus doesn’t know anything. There is no data to support that.”

Health Risks of Spinal Injections

There was no discussion by the committee about the effectiveness of epidurals and other spinal injections -- or of the health risks associated with their use.

Epidural injections have long been used to relieve pain during childbirth, but they are also increasingly being used to treat back pain, despite reports there is little evidence the shots are effective.

The FDA has also warned that the use of steroids in spinal injections – a procedure that’s never been approved by the agency -- “may result in rare but serious adverse events, including loss of vision, stroke, paralysis, and death.”

“Here we have a procedure that they’re trying to slip under the swimming pool fence that is not FDA approved, that relies on materials that are not regulated and/or contraindicated, and they’re trying to pull a fast one. And they could very easily do it in this climate of opioid hysteria,” said Lewis.

As PNN has reported, some pain management experts believe spinal injections are overused – in part because they’re more profitable for doctors than using opioids or other procedures.  

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“Probably everything that gets compensated well is over-utilized because it’s the compensation system. It’s a reimbursement system that pays more for treatment procedures than outcomes,” said Lynn Webster, MD, a past president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine.

A 2012 report by the General Accounting Office – a report requested by Rep. Pallone – found that unsanitary injection practices in ambulatory care clinics expose thousands of patients every year to blood borne pathogens such as hepatitis and HIV.  A perfectly sanitary needle can also go astray and puncture sensitive membranes in the spinal cord, leaving patients with serious and sometimes permanent injuries.      

“When it comes to spinal injections after surgery the risk to the patient, related to adverse events, increases substantially because spine surgery comes with risks of dural tears and accidental cuts,” says Terri Anderson, a Montana woman whose spine was damaged after receiving steroid injections for a ruptured disc in her back.  She now suffers from adhesive arachnoiditis, a chronic inflammation in the spinal membrane that causes severe pain.

“It is unconscionable that harmful injections would be pushed on unsuspecting pain patients,” Anderson said in an email to PNN. “It looks like the large hospital corporations and interventional pain professional societies have been busy lobbying our congressional representatives.  Apparently our healthcare system has become a profitable venture that indirectly contributes to many election campaigns in the U.S.”

No date has been set for a full House vote on HR 5804. To become law, it must pass both the House and Senate and then be signed by President Trump.  There is little opposition to the bill because many critics only recently learned that it was even being considered by Congress. 

“If this is allowed to stand, we have a problem,” says Lewis. “Another thing is Congress directing the practice of medicine. We’ve had just about enough of that.”

Physical Therapy for Back Pain Lowers Healthcare Costs

By Pat Anson, Editor

If you have lower back pain and get it treated with physical therapy first, you are significantly less likely to later need opioid medication or high cost medical services, according to a new study in Health Services Research.

Researchers at the University of Washington and George Washington University analyzed health insurance claims for over 50 million people from 2009 to 2013, tracking patients who had a new diagnosis of lower back pain.

Compared with patients who saw a physical therapist later or not at all, those who saw a physical therapist first had an 89% lower probability of having an opioid prescription, a 28% lower probability of having an MRI or advanced imaging, and a 15% lower probability of having an emergency department visit. Their healthcare costs were also significantly lower for out-patient care, pharmacy and out-of-pocket expenses.

“We found important relationships among physical therapy intervention, utilization, and cost of services and the effect on opioid prescriptions," said co-author Ken Harwood, PT, a professor of physical therapy at George Washington University.

One unexpected finding is that patients who had physical therapy first had a 19% greater chance of being hospitalized.

“Having an in-patient hospitalization is not necessarily a bad outcome for a patient. PTs (physical therapists) provide care that aims to resolve LBP (lower back pain) by addressing musculoskeletal causes first, but if the problem does not get resolved, PTs may refer patients appropriately for more specialized care,” the study found.

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One out of every four Americans will experience at least one day of lower back pain every three months. Researchers say about half will be treated with opioid medication, while physical therapy (12%), exercise (19%) and psychological therapy (8%) will be recommended far less often.    

"Given our findings in light of the national opioid crisis, state policymakers, insurers, and providers may want to review current policies and reduce barriers to early and frequent access to physical therapists as well as to educate patients about the potential benefits of seeing a physical therapist first," said lead author Bianca Frogner, PhD, a professor and health economist at the University of Washington Center for Health Workforce Studies.

Lower back pain is the world’s leading cause of disability, affecting about 540 million people at any given time. But there is little consensus on the best way to treat it.

A recent series of reviews appearing in The Lancet medical journal found that lower back pain is usually treated with inappropriate tests, risky surgeries and painkillers.

“The majority of cases of low back pain respond to simple physical and psychological therapies that keep people active and enable them to stay at work,” said lead author Professor Rachelle Buchbinder of Monash University in Australia. “Often, however, it is more aggressive treatments of dubious benefit that are promoted and reimbursed.”

TV Host Tries Stem Cell Therapy for Chronic Back Pain

Reality TV star Tarek El Moussa – host of HGTV’S “Flip or Flop” – recently posted photos on Instagram detailing his experience with stem cell therapy. 

El Moussa has a history of back injuries causing severe pain. He lost 50 pounds while recovering from one back injury and was taking “large amounts of pain meds to try and help the pain.” 

“Truthfully those meds really affected my mental and physical state and changed who I was,” El Moussa posted.

When he recently injured his back again and could “barely walk,” El Moussa decided stem cell therapy was a better option. In one photo of the stem cell procedure, El Moussa shows a 12-inch needle being inserted into his lower back to remove fat cells, a procedure similar to liposuction.

TAREK EL MOUSSA

TAREK EL MOUSSA

“I believe they put over 1,000,000 stem cells back in my body after the lipo. It's wild seeing the technology and future of medicine,” he wrote.

A post-operative photo shows El Moussa’s discolored and bruised lower back three days later. He said he was still “a little sore” but that his back was “actually feeling better!” He’s hoping for a “major improvement” from the procedure in a few weeks.

El Moussa’s therapy involved a controversial stem cell product known as stromal vascular fraction (SVF).  It’s the same product at the center of two lawsuits recently filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the FDA against stem cell clinics in Florida and California.

What is Stromal Vascular Fraction?

SVF uses autologous stem cells derived from a patient’s own body, including adipose (fat) cells obtained through liposuction.  When injected back into the body, these stem cells stimulate the immune system, have anti-inflammatory properties, and promote the development of new blood vessels. All help to heal injured tissues.

For clinicians, the attraction of SVF is that the procedure is “point of care” or delivered at the time of care.  In theory, this would exempt the therapy from FDA rules for stem cell products under the “same surgical procedure” exception.  The FDA, however, doesn’t agree with that interpretation and has yet to approve SVF use. It considers the procedure unproven and experimental. But that hasn’t stopped dozens of stem cell clinics from offering SVF therapy.

SVF generally has a good safety profile.  Potential risks of SVF therapy include lack of standardization of SVF products and terminology, unwanted tissue differentiation, poor cell handling and insufficient data on dose versus effect. 

Evidence regarding the clinical efficacy of SVF in treating painful conditions is limited.  Jaewoo Pak, MD successfully treated patients with knee osteoarthritis.  Their pain scores, functional ability and cartilage regeneration were all improved through SVF therapy.  Pak also achieved success in treating meniscus tears and osteoarthritis of the hip.  

In 2015, three researchers for the Cell Surgical Network (who are defendants in the FDA lawsuits) reported on their treatment of 1,524 patients with SVF who lived with painful conditions such as osteoarthritis.  About 25% of the patients showed evidence of new cartilage formation in their joints and 80% had a significant reduction in pain.  The beneficial effects of SVF were sustained for well over six months and some for several years.  The researchers also reported success in treating neurodegenerative diseases, with 80% of the patients with interstitial cystitis showing pain reduction.

Despite the controversy and lawsuits, El Moussa and thousands of other patients are willing to give SVF therapy a try. We’ll keep you updated on his progress.

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A. Rahman Ford, PhD, is a lawyer and research professional. He is a graduate of Rutgers University and the Howard University School of Law, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the Howard Law Journal. He earned his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania.

Rahman lives with chronic inflammation in his digestive tract and is unable to eat solid food. He has received stem cell treatment in China. 

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent 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: Rating Omron's Avail TENS Unit

By Jennifer Kilgore, Columnist

I don’t use TENS units very often. Since I wear the Quell on a daily basis, it usually seems superfluous -- unless I’m having a very bad day.

Then my TENS unit makes an appearance, wires snaking under my shirt and sticky pads placed wherever I can get them. The power pack is latched to my pants, and the result is that I feel like a moron. Even if there is nobody at home to witness my treatment, I become self-conscious. My cat has an opinion, I’m sure.

That’s why I was excited to try the Omron Avail TENS device. It’s wireless, has two large pads, and can be controlled from my phone. There’s no bulky battery pack to wear on my belt, no wires tangling me, and the pads themselves are larger than the unit I currently have. The coverage of more bodily real estate is always a winner for me.

The Avail TENS is a wearable electrotherapy device that is designed to alleviate chronic muscle and joint pain. It has various pre-programmed settings designed for the shoulder, arm, back or leg; as well as modes that include both TENS and microcurrent, the latter of which applies electrical stimulation that one can hardly feel. The TENS modes are much stronger in sensation.

IMAGE COURTESY OF OMRON

IMAGE COURTESY OF OMRON

I actually didn’t know that microcurrents were used in pain relief -- I thought they only applied to anti-aging treatments at spas. However, this therapy mimics the body’s natural currents, which are believed to restore normal frequencies within cells.

I don’t know how well the microcurrent mode works yet, because I still experienced pain when I tried it.  I imagine it takes some getting used to and that benefits accrue over time. However, the TENS mode works wonderfully, and having such large pads means that I can get more coverage.

Treatment sessions run between 30 and 60 minutes, depending on the mode chosen. You can also set sessions to run indefinitely. To charge the sensors, they must be placed on a special charging box that comes with the device. I’ve managed to use it multiple times now after the initial charge.

IMAGE COURTESY OF OMRON

IMAGE COURTESY OF OMRON

It is very easy to set up and use, as most of it is intuitive for a chronic pain patient. The device must be paired with your smartphone, and the app is fairly straightforward. The only thing that kept happening to me was that the pads would unlink with the app because I kept pressing the power button on the pads by mistake -- for instance, when I leaned back on a couch.

The pads stay on well. The "help” section of the app states I can use them up to 30 times, and replacement pads range from $12.75 to $19.99. I might resort to using athletic tape to keep them on longer, as I do with normal TENS pads. I know that isn’t advised, but I want these pads to last as long as possible.

So far, my only complaint is the slight bulkiness of the pad itself. Having a wireless device means that a sensor must be placed on the pad, which ties it to the app. These blink in orange or green lights, which are even visible from underneath two shirts. Granted, clothing manufacturers have been making clothing thinner and thinner so you are required to buy more clothes, so maybe that’s not Omron’s fault. There’s even a name for this clothing phenomenon: “planned obsolescence.”

Additionally, since my problem areas are on my back, sitting in a chair can be awkward. The pads stick out and rub against the seat, which turned them off once or twice. I don’t think the unit is meant to be worn all day, though, unless one plans to use microcurrents alone. The company only recommends that three TENS treatment sessions be completed on a daily basis.

My overall impression is a good one. I like the device, and I think it works well. It controls my pain when I use the TENS settings. I just wish the sensors on the pads were thinner -- that would help my back-pained compatriots (and me) when leaning back into a chair. That seems like a small complaint for such a device, though.

The Omron Avail is currently on sale for $159.99 (normally retails at $199.99). 

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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.

Jennifer receives products or services mentioned in her reviews for free from the manufacturer. She only mentions those that she uses personally and believes will be good for readers. 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.

Study Finds Many Treatments for Back Pain Ineffective

By Pat Anson, Editor

Lower back pain is the world’s leading cause of disability, affecting about 540 million people at any given time. With so many people suffering, you'd think there would be a consensus on the best way to treat or at least manage low back pain.

And you'd be wrong.

In a series of reviews appearing in The Lancet medical journal, an international team of researchers found that low back pain is usually treated with bad advice, inappropriate tests, risky surgeries and painkillers -- often against treatment guidelines.

“The majority of cases of low back pain respond to simple physical and psychological therapies that keep people active and enable them to stay at work,” says lead author Professor Rachelle Buchbinder of Monash University in Australia. “Often, however, it is more aggressive treatments of dubious benefit that are promoted and reimbursed.”

Buchbinder and her colleagues say low back pain is best managed in primary care, with the first line of treatment being education and advice to exercise, stay active and continue to work. Instead, a high number of low back pain patients are treated in emergency rooms, encouraged to rest and stop work, referred for scans or surgery, and prescribed painkillers.

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“In many countries, painkillers that have limited positive effect are routinely prescribed for low back pain, with very little emphasis on interventions that are evidence based such as exercises," adds co-author Professor Nadine Foster of Keele University in the UK.

"As lower-income countries respond to this rapidly rising cause of disability, it is critical that they avoid the waste that these misguided practices entail."

Low back pain mostly affects adults of working age in lower socioeconomic groups. People with physically demanding jobs, physical and mental comorbidities, smokers, and obese individuals are at greatest risk of reporting low back pain. 

Most people with new episodes of low back pain recover quickly, but recurrences are common. It’s also important to rule out more serious causes of back pain, such as cancer, arthritis and spinal fractures. In a small proportion of people, low back pain can become chronic and disabling.

The Lancet authors say patients should avoid harmful and useless treatments, and doctors need to address widespread misconceptions about their effectiveness. For example, there is limited evidence to support the use of opioids for low back pain, and epidural steroid injections and acetaminophen (paracetamol) are not recommended at all.

The authors recommend counseling, exercise and cognitive behavioral therapy as first-line treatments for short-term low back pain, followed by spinal manipulation, massage, acupuncture, meditation and yoga as second line treatments.

“Millions of people across the world are getting the wrong care for low back pain. Protection of the public from unproven or harmful approaches to managing low back pain requires that governments and health-care leaders tackle entrenched and counterproductive reimbursement strategies, vested interests, and financial and professional incentives that maintain the status quo,” said co-author Professor Jan Hartvigsen of University of Southern Denmark.

“Funders should pay only for high-value care, stop funding ineffective or harmful tests and treatments, and importantly intensify research into prevention, better tests and better treatments.”

The findings in The Lancet series are similar to those reported in other medical journals. A 2016 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that regular exercise and education reduce the risk of developing lower back pain by as much as 45 percent.

Another study in JAMA found that opioid medication provides only modest short-term relief for low back pain. Previous studies published in the British Medical Journal and The Lancet also found little evidence that acetaminophen was effective in treating low back pain.

My Arachnoiditis Family

By Elaine Ballard, Guest Columnist

I live in the rural county of Somerset in England, UK. At the age of 22, I had a sporting accident which eventually left me 80 percent disabled and unable to lead a normal life. 

The accident caused several crushed discs in my spine and a great deal of nerve damage. Over the years multi-level disc degeneration set in, as well as osteoarthritis. I am unable to use a wheelchair, as bulging discs prevent me from sitting without severe pain. I am now 73.

ELAINE BALLARD

ELAINE BALLARD

Since 1994, I have been confined to lying on a bed in my living room and only leave home to keep hospital appointments. I travel by stretcher ambulance.

Just over two years ago I had an MRI scan which showed I had Adhesive Arachnoiditis (AA) and my life changed drastically yet again. 

Arachnoiditis is listed as a rare neurological condition, but in fact many thousands of people all over the world have been diagnosed with it. There are also thousands of other people who have the same symptoms, but as yet, no diagnosis.

It is difficult for patients to get diagnosed as doctors are not trained to recognize this disease and often fail to even recognize the symptoms.

Arachnoiditis results from severe inflammation of the arachnoid membrane that surrounds the nerves of the spinal cord. It may cause stinging and burning pain, as well as muscle cramps, spasms, and uncontrollable twitching. The most common symptom is severe to unbearable neurological pain, especially to the nerves connecting to the lower back, legs and feet. This can lead to tingling, numbness, weakness and severe pain in the legs and feet.

Other symptoms include sensations that feel like insects crawling on the skin or water trickling down the legs. It can also affect the bladder, bowel and sexual function. Unfortunately for some, it may also result in paralysis.

As this disease progresses, the symptoms can become more severe or even permanent. Most people with Arachnoiditis are eventually unable to work and suffer significant disability because they are in constant pain. Pain is the most dominant factor and it is both chronic and acute. As the disease progresses, it can be relentless and unbearable and sadly suicide becomes an option.

Inflammation of the arachnoid membrane can lead to the formation of scar tissue, which may cause the spinal nerves to clump together and eventually adhere to the lining wall of the dura, the middle layer of the spine. The disease can then progress to Adhesive Arachnoiditis.

What Causes Arachnoiditis

There are a few different causes of Arachnoiditis. In the 1970's a dye used in myelograms was injected during spinal procedures directly into the area surrounding the spinal cord and nerves. The dye was too toxic for these delicate parts of the spine and was blamed for causing Arachnoiditis. This dye continues to be used in some parts of the world.

Bacterial infections and viruses in the spine can also lead to Arachnoiditis. So can complications from spinal surgery and invasive spinal procedures such as epidural steroid injections.

There is no cure for Arachnoiditis and there is little effective pain relief. This is a disease or condition for life. Opioids are offered by doctors, but are not specific to reducing neurological pain of this nature.

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It is very sad and cruel that opioids are being clamped down in America and that Arachnoiditis patients are being classed together with people who seek drugs for recreational purposes. We are not drug seekers but desperate victims crying out for something that will stop this relentless and overwhelming neurological pain.

The Facebook support group Arachnoiditis Together We Fight has been an important part of my education in understanding this disease. I am thankful to say it has become more of a family, where members can come in and gradually feel at home while we bring education, support and encouragement. This family atmosphere and great support has saved many lives, as people first arrive feeling suicidal and lost in a medical world that will not help them.

That is why I wrote this poem to show people how important support groups can be and to bring more attention to this rare but life changing disease.

"The Family"

By Elaine Ballard

Lonely, fearfully I knock at the door
Arac greets me, a smile, so kind
I want to die, eyes keep to the floor
"Welcome" she says, but what will I find?

"Welcome" repeated again and again
"Good to have you!" Are you kidding?  
"Family" really can it be true? 
Lost, lonely, rejected... what you too? 

I tell my story, they will never believe
"We understand, you're not alone"
Tears trickle down, I cannot believe
We are bound together by this dreaded disease

Files, inflammation, medication
Head's in a spin, where do I begin?  
Then a hand upon my shoulder
Guides me to those precious folders

Questions answered, hope is rising
Found some friends, pain subsiding
Flares still come but under control
No longer afraid nor out in the cold

We need each other, your pain is mine  
Strength in unity, love is the sign
Moving forward we are free
To Fight Together as one FAMILY

 

Elaine Ballard has written a book about Adhesive Arachnoiditis and how her Christian faith helped her through many difficult flares and times. It is called “The Furnace of Fire” and is available on Amazon. Click on the book's cover to see price and ordering information.

Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories (and poems) 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.

What the JAMA Opioid Study Didn’t Find

By Roger Chriss, Columnist

A recent opioid study published in the Journal Of the American Medical Association (JAMA)  evaluated pain management in patients with hip and knee osteoarthritis and low back pain.

The study by VA researcher Erin Krebs, MD, and colleagues found that “treatment with opioids was not superior to treatment with nonopioid medications for improving pain-related function over 12 months.”  

That finding was widely and erroneously reported in the news media as meaning that opioids are ineffective for all types of chronic pain.

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But the most fascinating result of the study – the one not being reported -- is what wasn’t found. The 108 people in the study who took opioids for a year did not develop signs of opioid misuse, abuse or addiction, and did not develop opioid-induced hyperalgesia – a heightened sensitivity to pain.

And no one died of an overdose.

This is significant because it runs counter to commonly held beliefs in the medical profession about the risks of prescription opioids. Here are a few recent examples:

“Opioids are very addictive and their effectiveness wanes as people habituate to the medication,” Carl Noe, MD, director of a pain clinic at the University of Texas Medical Center wrote in an op/ed in The Texas Tribune.

Don Teater, MD, a family physician in North Carolina, also believes that people on long-term opioid therapy experience dose escalation, which leads to hyperalgesia. “Opioids cause permanent brain changes,” Teater told USA Today.

Krebs herself has made similar comments. "Within a few weeks or months of taking an opioid on a daily basis, your body gets used to that level of opioid, and you need more and more to get the same level of effect,” she told NPR.

But the Krebs study didn’t see any of that happen.

Krebs and colleagues closely monitored the 108 people in the opioid arm of the study, using “multiple approaches to evaluate for potential misuse, including medical record surveillance for evidence of ‘doctor-shopping’ (seeking medication from multiple physicians), diversion, substance use disorder, or death.” They also had participants complete the “Addiction Behavior Checklist” and assessed their alcohol and drug use with surveys and screening tools.

What did Krebs find in the opioid group after 12 months of treatment?

“No deaths, ‘doctor-shopping,’ diversion, or opioid use disorder diagnoses were detected,” she reported. “There were no significant differences in adverse outcomes or potential misuse measures.”

Health-related quality of life and mental health in the opioid group did not significantly differ from the non-opioid group – and their anxiety levels actually improved.  

These are observational findings in the study. They were not a part of what Krebs and colleagues were specifically trying to measure. As the study notes: “This trial did not have sufficient statistical power to estimate rates of death, opioid use disorder, or other serious harms associated with prescribed opioids.”

ERIN KREBS, MD

ERIN KREBS, MD

But they are valuable observations. They note what didn’t happen in the study. Over 100 people were put on opioid therapy for a year, and none of them showed any signs of dose escalation or opioid-induced hyperalgesia, or any evidence of opioid misuse, abuse or addiction.

Krebs told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that this “could reflect the fact that the study did not enroll patients with addiction histories, and because the VA provided close supervision to all participants during the yearlong study.”

In other words, Krebs and colleagues used an opioid prescribing protocol that achieved an admirable level of patient safety. Their approach is similar to what many pain management practices currently pursue and what the CDC and various state guidelines recommend: Risk assessment before initial prescribing and careful monitoring over time.

The Krebs study provides rare and detailed observations of what happens when people are put on long-term opioid therapy. A lot of what is claimed about dose escalation, opioid-induced hyperalgesia, and misuse or abuse didn't happen at all.

This outcome demonstrates that long-term opioid therapy can be safe and effective, and may be useful in treating other chronic conditions, from intractable neuropathies to painful genetic disorders. That’s worth reporting too, isn’t it?

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Roger Chriss lives with Ehlers Danlos syndrome and is a proud member of the Ehlers-Danlos Society. Roger is a technical consultant in Washington state, where he specializes in mathematics and research.

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.

Is JAMA Opioid Study Based on Junk Science?

By Pat Anson, Editor

You may have read about a research study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), which compared the effectiveness of opioid and non-opioid medications in treating chronic pain. 

The yearlong study of 240 patients found that opioids were not superior to pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen in treating chronic back pain or hip and knee pain caused by osteoarthritis.  Pain improved for 41% of the patients who took opioids, compared to 54% in the non-opioid group.  

It’s an interesting study – one of the few to look at the effectiveness of any pain relievers long term – but some critics are questioning the study’s methodology and the alleged anti-opioid bias of its lead author, Erin Krebs, MD, a researcher for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

First let’s look at some of the news coverage the study is getting.

“Opioids Don’t Treat Chronic Pain Any Better Than Ibuprofen” reads the headline in Newsweek, an article that never mentions the JAMA study was limited to patients with back pain or osteoarthritis.

“Opioids Don’t Beat Other Medications for Chronic Pain” was the headline in NPR.com, while the Chicago Tribune went with “Opioids no better than common painkillers for treating chronic pain.”

The Tribune article included a quote from one of the co-authors of the CDC opioid guidelines. "The fact that opioids did worse is really pretty astounding," said Roger Chou, MD. "It calls into question our beliefs about the benefits of opioids."

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Notice the news coverage strongly suggests that opioids are ineffective for all types of chronic pain – not just back pain and osteoarthritis.  Patients living with chronic pain from arachnoiditis, trigeminal neuralgia or some other intractable pain condition would probably disagree about that. And they'd find the idea of taking ibuprofen laughable, if not infuriating. But no one asked for their opinion.

Also unmentioned is that opioids are usually not prescribed for osteoarthritis or simple back pain, which are often treated with NSAIDs and over-the-counter pain relievers.

So, what JAMA has published is a government funded study designed to look at a treatment (opioids) that most people with back pain and arthritis never actually get.

“You've been had by anti-opioid advocates disguising their advocacy as science.  Krebs is well known in professional circles for this kind of distorted advocacy junk science,” wrote patient advocate Red Lawhern, PhD, in a comment submitted to the Philadelphia Inquirer after it published a misleading headline of its own, “Prescription opioids fail rigorous new test for chronic pain.”

“I suggest that you retract your article.  In its present form, it is propaganda not fact,” said Lawhern, a co-founder of the Alliance for the Treatment of Intractable Pain (ATIP). “Opioids have never been the first-line medical treatment of choice in lower back pain or arthritis. That role is served by anti-inflammatory meds, some of them in the prescription cortico-steroid family.  NSAIDs have a role to play, recognizing that they are actively dangerous in many patients if taken at high doses for long periods.  Hundreds of people die every year of cardiac arrest or liver toxicity due to high-dose acetaminophen or ibuprofen.” 

Who is Erin Krebs?  

Dr. Krebs is an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School and a prolific researcher at the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis.

She was also an original member of the “Core Expert Group” – an advisory panel that secretly drafted the CDC’s controversial opioid guidelines while getting a good deal of input from the anti-opioid activist group Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP). The guidelines recommend that opioids not be prescribed for chronic pain.

Krebs also appeared in a lecture series on opioid prescribing that was funded by the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation, which coincidentally is the fiscal sponsor of PROP. 

Some of her previous opioid research has been controversial. In a study published last year in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Krebs reviewed 67 studies on the safety and effectiveness of opioid tapering. Most of the studies were of poor quality, but nevertheless Krebs came to the conclusion that pain levels and the quality of life of patients “may improve during and after opioid dose reduction.”

ERIN KREBS, MD

ERIN KREBS, MD

“This review found insufficient evidence on adverse events related to opioid tapering, such as accidental overdose if patients resume use of high-dose opioids or switch to illicit opioid sources or onset of suicidality or other mental health symptoms,” wrote Krebs.

PROP founder Andrew Kolodny, MD, read the review and liked it, tweeting that “dangerously high doses should be reduced even if patient refuses.”

But forced opioid tapering is never a good idea, according to a top CDC official.

“Neither (Kreb’s) review nor CDC's guideline provides support for involuntary or precipitous tapering. Such practice could be associated with withdrawal symptoms, damage to the clinician–patient relationship, and patients obtaining opioids from other sources,” wrote Deborah Dowell, MD, a CDC Senior Medical Advisor, in an editorial also published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. 

As for Krebs’ contention that there is “insufficient evidence” of adverse events associated with opioid tapering, that notion may be put to rest next month when the VA releases a new study showing that tapering has led to a growing number of suicides by veterans.

In a summary of the findings, which will be presented at the Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit, VA researchers report that “opioid discontinuation was not associated with overdose mortality, but was associated with increased suicide mortality.”  

Who and what should we believe in the neverending debate about opioids? PNN columnist Roger Chriss wrote about Krebs’ opioids vs. non-opioids study last year, when the initial reports of its findings came out. Roger said prescribing decisions are best left to physicians who know their patients’ medical conditions – not researchers, regulators or the news media.

“In reality, there is no ‘versus’ here. Opioids and NSAIDs are both valuable tools for chronic pain management. To pretend that one is inherently better than the other is to miss the essential point: Both work and should be available for use as medically appropriate,” Roger wrote. 

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.

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“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.

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.

An Open Letter to My Senator: CDC Has Killed Me

(Editor’s Note: Charles Malinowski is a 59-year old Paso Robles, California man who lives with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), degenerative disc disease, ankylosing spondylitis, spinal stenosis and other chronic pain conditions.  He recently wrote this open letter to U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA). We thought his letter worth sharing with PNN readers.)

Dear Senator Harris,

The CDC has killed me!

Let me repeat that: The CDC has killed me!

I have a severe neurological condition that causes me unspeakable and crippling pain. Pain medication is literally the only thing keeping me alive. But with the issuance of the CDC’s short sighted, so-called voluntary opioid prescribing guidelines -- which are being rammed down the throats of medical providers -- my pain management doctor has cut me off of opiates.

For the last 10 years, I have been subjected to nearly every type of physical therapy, medical treatment and medication applicable to my affliction. The one and only thing that has ever had any demonstrable benefit in even temporarily suppressing my pain to a tolerable level has, unfortunately, been opiates.

In early October, I was told that I would have to stop taking either the oral opiates or the intrathecal opiates, as it was now illegal for a person to receive two different types of opiates via two different delivery methods concurrently. This was a major problem, as even with both oral and intrathecal opiates, my pain was severely under-managed to the point where I was almost completely bedridden. I left the house only to go to doctor's appointments.

When I was told that my pain management regimen - specifically the opiates - was going to be cut in half, even though my pain was already grossly under-managed, I spoke out about this.

CHARLES MALINOWSKI

CHARLES MALINOWSKI

As a result, not only was I cut off from the oral opiates, I got kicked out of the pain management practice where I have been a patient for more than seven years. The doctor said he didn't want to risk his license - but was perfectly willing to risk my life - over the CDC opioid guidelines.  These guidelines are supposed to be voluntary and are not supposed to take desperately needed pain medication away from legitimate chronic pain sufferers such as myself.

I expect that within 60 days, I will be dead from either heart failure or a stroke due to my body's inability to cope with the stress of the unrelenting pain. My neuropsychologist, who has been treating me for nearly 10 years, has consistently rated my level of pain as moderate to extreme, even while being medicated with both oral and intrathecal opiates, which I am now denied.

I'm not dead yet, but within 60 days I expect that the CDC will have effectively killed me. I honestly don't see myself being able to tolerate the pain any longer than that.

Congress, in going along with this blindly, will be explicitly complicit in this negligent homicide - or homicide by depraved indifference, take your pick - of one Charles James Malinowski, that being myself.

I would like to thank you, Senator, and all the rest of your colleagues for murdering me.

To help ease your conscience, it is not just me that Congress is complicit in murdering, but thousands, possibly tens of thousands of people in like positions.

Sincerely,

Charles Malinowski

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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.

A Promising Solution to Lower Back Pain

By A. Rahman Ford, Columnist

As many of us can attest to, lower back pain (LBP) is a debilitating and painful medical condition that severely impacts quality of life.  An analysis of the Global Burden of Disease in 2010 showed that LBP ranked as the greatest contributor to disability out of nearly 300 conditions studied. 

Lower back pain tends to peak in older age groups; thus, regions with higher life expectancies are disproportionately impacted.  The number of people with LBP is projected to increase in the coming decades, especially in low- and middle-income countries.  About 149 million work days are lost every year in the U.S. because of LBP, at an estimated cost of $100-200 billion.  

Of course, the costs to the patient – both financial and emotional – can never be adequately quantified.

Tough Questions, Few Answers

Although the causes of LBP generally are multifarious, the National Institutes of Health maintains that the majority of cases are mechanical in nature.   The gradual degeneration of the spine as a result of normal wear and tear – referred to as spondylosis – can result in a myriad of painful conditions that range from simple sprains, to herniated or ruptured discs, to injuries caused by trauma. 

While the causes of lower back pain are rarely addressed, analgesic medications are routinely prescribed to treat its symptoms.  Commonly prescribed medications include opioids, NSAIDS, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, counter-irritants and epidural steroid injections.

However, these analgesic treatments have shortcomings: potentially dangerous side-effects, adverse drug interactions, addiction, organ damage or only temporary relief.  Other treatment options include physical therapy, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), acupuncture and in extreme cases, surgery. 

Sadly, neither the conservative management nor the more invasive surgical options consistently yield satisfactory results, because they fail to address the underlying disease processes.  In fact, some treatments may actually lead to a worsening of the condition in the long term.  Undoubtedly, new approaches are needed to solve the problem.

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Research Supports Stem Cells for LBP

Many cases of lower back pain involve structural damage to the intervertebral discs, either by way of a herniated disc or degenerative disc disease (DDD).  This condition is quite prevalent among older adults, with one study finding that 95% of older Americans exhibiting some degree of disc degeneration. 

In the search for treatments beyond analgesics and surgery, several researchers have demonstrated the effectiveness of stem cell therapy in treating disc injuries in both humans and animals. 

Leung et al. (2006) and Drazin et al. (2012) noted the potential for mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) to treat intravertebral disc degeneration in laboratory animals.  Orozco et al. (2011) used autologous bone marrow-derived MSCs to treat 10 patients with lumbar disc degeneration, who exhibited rapid improvement in pain and disability. 

Similarly, Pettine et al. (2015) reported significantly reduced pain scores in 26 patients who received autologous bone marrow-derived stem cells. 

Coming to a Clinic Near You?

Just this year, Centeno et al. successfully used an injection of autologous bone marrow derived MSCs to treat DDD in 33 patients with lower back pain.  The authors found “no safety issues, substantially reduced pain, increased function and reduced disc bulge size in most patients.”

That treatment utilized stem cell technology created by BioRestorative Therapies, which uses autologous bone marrow-derived MSCs to treat chronic lumbar disc disease.  According to the company’s website, “not only could this program potentially eliminate surgery in many cases, but it could also provide substantially more effective treatment than current non-invasive therapies with a design to be curative.”  The company has been cleared by the FDA for Phase 2 clinical trials to treat lower back pain due to DDD.

DiscGenics, a biotech company based in Utah, has also received FDA approval for a study of stem cell therapy to treat patients with intervertebral disc disease. DiscGenics’ approach is different, because it uses patented technology to derive its proprietary “discogenic cells” directly from adult human disc tissue.

“We believe it has the potential to offer pain relief and restored function to millions of patients suffering from the debilitating effects of lower back pain,” DiscGenics CEO Flagg Flanagan told The Salt Lake Tribune. “Receiving the go-ahead from the agency to begin in-human trials is a critical step forward for our clinical program.”

DiscGenics plans to begin enrolling 60 patients in the study before the end of the year.  

Although both BioRestorative and DiscGenics have therapies that look promising, it will be some time – likely years – before either treatment is publicly available. But these studies could be a major step forward in finding an actual cure for back pain, not just another treatment that masks the pain.

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A. Rahman Ford, PhD, is a lawyer and research professional. He is a graduate of Rutgers University and the Howard University School of Law, where he served as Editor in Chief of the Howard Law Journal. He earned his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania.

Rahman lives with chronic inflammation in his digestive tract and is unable to eat solid food. He has received stem cell treatment in China.  

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

9 Holistic Approaches to Relieve Joint Pain

By Nicole Noel, Guest Columnist

Whatever your ailment may be, holistic medicine has an answer.

A therapeutic method that dates back to early civilizations, holistic medicine takes into account the mind, body, emotions and spirit -- with the aim of helping patients achieve or restore proper balance in life and prevent or heal a range of conditions, including musculoskeletal pain. Holistic treatments offer a ray of hope for many patients suffering from arthritis, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia and other conditions that cause joint pain.

Not all alternative medicine is created equal, and some natural healing methods will produce better and quicker results. If you want to treat arthritis and other joint aches with holistic treatments, here are a few natural pain relievers you can try.

1. Tai Chi

A low-impact activity that can increase range of motion and strengthen joints and surrounding muscle tissue, tai chi is an ancient physical and spiritual practice that can help arthritis patients soldier through their pain.

According to a 2013 study, tai chi can relieve pain, stiffness, and other side-effects of osteoarthritis. In addition to pain relief, tai chi can help improve range of motion and alleviate joint pain for people living with fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.

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2. Yoga

Another ancient technique which promotes natural healing, yoga is perfect for individuals suffering from lower back and joint pain. Gentle stretches and poses opening the joints can help prevent and alleviate chronic soreness in the shoulders, hips, and knees.

A form of yoga called mudras utilizes a series of hand gestures to increase energy, and improve mood and concentration.

3. Massage

An invigorating massage with warm essential oil can help many conditions, and joint pain is one of them.

By enhancing blood flow, relaxing the muscle tissue and soothing inflammation, a well-timed massage can ease joint stiffness and increase range of motion in individuals suffering from arthritis, fibromyalgia, and osteoporosis.

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4. Acupuncture

A 2013 review of medical studies has shown that acupuncture can help relieve musculoskeletal pain caused by fibromyalgia. By activating the body’s natural pain relief system and stimulating the nerves, muscles and connective tissue, acupuncture can relieve joint aches for people who are resistant to other holistic pain relief techniques.

A 2010 study found that acupuncture can also be a beneficial for peripheral joint osteoarthritis.

5. Diet Changes

An apple a day may or may not keep the doctor away, but a custom-tailored diet can help you with joint pain. Nutritional tweaks can begin with increased intake of chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine, and Omega 3 fatty acids, which can reduce joint pain in arthritis and osteoporosis patients.

To ease joint problems, your pantry should be stocked with foods that promote healing and reduce inflammation, such as onions, carrots, and flaxseed. Herbs and spices such as turmeric (curcumin) and cayenne pepper can also help with pain relief.

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6. Aromatherapy

If you think pain relief can’t smell good, you’re mistaken. Studies have shown that peppermint and eucalyptus oil can reduce swelling, pain and discomfort in patients with inflamed joints. For joint soreness and stiffness caused by arthritis, aromatherapy experts recommend regular application of myrrh, turmeric, orange, or frankincense oil to ease inflammation and pain, and to increase range of motion.

You can also combine aromatherapy with heat and cold treatments.  Be sure to keep the tender joints elevated during treatment to reduce swelling.

7. Spa Treatments

Few things can beat the appeal of a full-scale spa experience. If you’re suffering from knee, hip, shoulder or elbow pain and other holistic methods haven’t helped, try balneotherapy, which combines aqua massage with deep soaks in heated mineral water and medicinal mud baths.

One study found that balneotherapy significantly reduced knee and back pain in older adults.

8. Aquatic Sports

If you don’t want to immerse yourself in mud, you can supplement your holistic pain therapy with water aerobics, swimming, aqua jogging or aqua spinning. According to a 2014 study, water exercises can ease pain and improve joint function for osteoarthritis patients.

Additionally, a 2015 study found that aquatic circuit training can help relieve knee pain in cases of progressed osteoarthritis.

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9. Capsaicin cream

Another natural treatment for joint pain and stiffness is homemade capsaicin cream, which can help reduce swelling and increase range of motion. To stay on the safe side, you should be careful when handling hot peppers when preparing the cream, and avoid using it on sensitive and damaged skin.

As our bodies age, joint pain can become a chronic. If you don’t want to take your chances with conventional pharmaceuticals, you can always turn to holistic medicine for answers and help. When musculoskeletal pain hits home, one or more of these holistic treatments can help.

Nicole Noel is a lifestyle blogger who is passionate about yoga and healthy living. She enjoys sharing her experiences and ideas on how to lead a happy and healthy life. If you want to read more from Nicole, you can find her on Twitter and Facebook.

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

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5 Things to Know About Epidural Steroid Injections

By Margaret Aranda, MD, Columnist

Some patients with neck and back pain report that their doctor requires them to get epidural steroid injections (ESI's) before they are prescribed opioid pain medication. Many do not realize that the procedure or any use of drugs for spinal injection is not FDA approved and is considered "off label."

Some patients benefit from ESI’s, while others gain no pain relief or suffer serious complications. In 2014, the FDA warned that injection of corticosteroids into the epidural space of the spine may result in rare but serious neurological events, including "loss of vision, stroke, paralysis, and death."  

A 2015 commentary by FDA scientists in The New England Journal of Medicine urged doctors to carefully select patients to identify those who might benefit from spinal injections and to minimize serious risks.

Probably the worst epidural steroid catastrophe was the 2012-13 outbreak of fungal meningitis, caused by contaminated steroids produced at the New England Compounding Center. As many as 13,000 patients nationwide were exposed to the fungus, mostly through epidural injection, resulting in 751 meningitis infections and at least 64 deaths.

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Let's take a step back to assess why epidural steroids may or may not be a good idea. The rationale behind the procedure comes from the anti-inflammatory effect of steroids on the nerves.

Chronic inflammation in nerves can lead to pain, numbness, and muscle weakness. Nerve injury causes microscopic changes in nerve anatomy, including tissue swelling or edema, an increase in fibrous tissue and, in the worst case, nerve death through something called Wallerian degeneration. In cases like traumatic brain injury or stroke, the nerve damage can be permanent.

There are now about 9 million epidural steroid injections performed annually in the U.S and the number of procedures appears to be growing.

During a standard epidural injection, the doctor may inject into the epidural space a contrast dye using x-ray guidance (fluoroscopy) to make sure the dye is going into the correct location.  Others may use a more blind approach, called the "loss of resistance" technique, with a syringe of air that injects itself into the epidural space as it enters. There is a "pop" when the needle penetrates the epidural space.

After the air or dye is injected and the needle located, a second syringe containing  the steroid is injected. Afterward, the patient is observed for signs of pain relief and complications.

Many studies show that about 50% of patients feel better. If there is no pain relief after one ESI, a second attempt is usually in order. If partial relief is exhibited, a series of three injections in two weeks may be performed.

There is controversy over the rate and frequency of epidurals for pain. Typically, a “cycle” of epidurals is done, but if there is no pain relief after two injections, some doctors recommend that a different treatment be used. Some patients report getting as many as two or three dozen epidurals in a single year.  Critics say that raises the risk of a misplaced needle causing “cumulative trauma” and serious complications such as adhesive arachnoiditis.

If you doctor recommends that you get an epidural steroid injection, here are five things you need to know:

1. Drugs Used: The two most common drugs for ESI are a local anesthetic (lidocaine or bupivacaine) and/or a corticosteroid (betamethasone, dexamethasone, hydrocortisone, methyl-prednisolone, triamcinolone). 

The local anesthetic offers immediate numbing and pain relief. It also verifies whether the injection was done in the right place and gives an idea of how the steroid may act to decrease inflammation. After the anesthetic wears off, the steroid kicks in for an effect that may last varying times, sometimes for a short period and sometimes forever.

Patients and doctors need to know whether there was immediate pain relief from the local anesthetic. The doctor should ask, "Does the pain feel better?" to assess the temporary anesthetic effect.

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If the answer is yes, then the steroid should provide more pain relief. If the answer is no, the steroid is much less likely to have any clinical effect. There is no indication to repeat the procedure if there is no decrease in pain. Doing so would unnecessarily expose a patient to serious complications or death.

2. Injection Sites: The most common injections are into the neck (cervical) and into the lower back (lumbar). Less commonly, epidural injections are placed into the upper back (thoracic) or to the bottom tip of the spine in the sacral area (caudal). The needle can go either straight into the middle of the spine (interlaminar), or enter from the left or right side (transforaminal). 

In general, the closer the injection is placed to the head, the greater the risk of serious complications if the needle accidentally hits a nerve or artery, an air bubble causes an embolism, or if the injection goes into the spinal fluid.

3. Minor complications: Adverse events can occur within minutes or up to 48 hours after an injection. Minor complications are generally not life-threatening and usually go away with little to no treatment.

Some patients get an "epidural headache" when the needle is inserted too far into the dura, causing a leak of cerebrospinal fluid. This is a stressful and painful headache, but it usually completely resolves. Other minor complications include facial flushing, fainting, hypertension (high blood pressure) and increased pain.

4. Serious complications: No one really knows the complication rate of epidural steroid injections, due to under-reporting by doctors and the lack of standard guidelines.

Normally, the steroid will flow into the epidural space above and below where it was injected, but it can also flow into unintended places like the subdural or intrathecal spaces, cranial nerves, brain stem, and lower midbrain.

For example, if the injection accidentally goes into the spinal fluid, the procedure becomes a spinal block, not an epidural block. This may lead to potentially life-threatening complications. If this happens during an injection to the neck, it can spread upward, toward the top of the head and into the brain, leading to serious complications. 

Severe complications from an injection can include arachnoiditis, allergic reactions, stroke, brain edema, cauda equina syndrome, seizures, vasculitis, blindness, and death.

5. Off-Label Use: The FDA places epidural steroids in the category of "off-label" use that falls within the practice of medicine and is not FDA-approved. The FDA requires all glucocorticoid steroid warning labels to state:

The safety and effectiveness of epidural administration of corticosteroids have not been established and corticosteroids are not approved for this use… serious neurologic events, some resulting in death, have been reported with epidural injection of corticosteroids.”

The FDA website also warns patients to seek emergency medical attention if they experience any unusual symptoms, such as loss of vision or vision changes, tingling in the arms or legs, sudden weakness or numbness, dizziness, severe headache or seizures.

If you have concerns regarding the use of epidural steroid injections, talk to your doctor.

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Dr. Margaret Aranda is a Stanford and Keck USC alumni in anesthesiology and critical care. She has dysautonomia and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) after a car accident left her with traumatic brain injuries that changed her path in life to patient advocacy.

Margaret is a board member of the Invisible Disabilities Association. She has authored six books, the most recent is The Rebel Patient: Fight for Your Diagnosis. You can follow Margaret’s expert social media advice on Twitter, Google +, Blogspot, Wordpress. and LinkedIn.

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.

FDA Approves Advanced Spinal Cord Stimulator

By Pat Anson, Editor

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new spinal cord stimulator developed by Medtronic that can be managed, tracked and updated remotely on a Samsung Galaxy tablet.

The Intellis stimulator is designed for patients with chronic, intractable pain of the trunk and/or limbs.

The Intellis platform can track patient activity 24/7 on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 tablet, enabling physicians to personalize the settings for individual patients and monitor their progress using Medtronic’s Evolve software system. 

"The launch of the Intellis platform isn't just about a new device, but about combining cutting edge hardware with optimal therapy through the Evolve workflow to enable personalized, long-term pain relief," said Marshall Stanton, MD, president of Medtronic's Pain Therapies division.

“The Intellis platform was designed based on what is most important to patients and physicians. We considered the entire patient journey - starting with the primary goal of optimal pain relief and access to important diagnostic tools, like MRI, to ease of use with simplified programming, faster recharge and a smaller implant."

MEDTRONIC PHOTO

MEDTRONIC PHOTO

Spinal cord stimulators (SCS) are often considered the treatment of last resort for chronic back and leg pain, because the devices have to be surgically implanted near the spine and connected to batteries placed under the skin. The implants send electrical impulses into the spine to mask pain.

Some patients find the stimulators ineffective and have them removed. According to one study, only about half of patients who received a traditional SCS device have a 50 percent reduction in their back and leg pain. New technologies are being developed to make the devices smaller, more effective and easier to recharge.

Medtronic says Intellis is the world's smallest fully implantable SCS neurostimulator. Its battery can be fully recharged from empty to full in about one hour and physicians can estimate recharge intervals based on therapy settings. Software upgrades are also easier to get through Samsung Galaxy tablets.

"We are excited to partner with Medtronic in their aim to simplify programming, and streamline therapy management with the Intellis platform," said Dr. Dave Rhew, chief medical officer and head of Healthcare and Fitness for Samsung Electronics America. "Samsung's Galaxy tablets-secured by the HIPAA-ready Samsung Knox mobile security platform-will support future Medtronic therapies and over the air (OTA) software upgrades to ensure clinicians using Intellis have access to the most up-to-date solutions."

One of the first implantation procedures using the Intellis platform was performed at Duke University Medical Center.

"Chronic pain is challenging to manage. Having real-time data can provide more information about patients' quality-of-life changes. This platform represents a welcome new option for managing some kinds of chronic pain," said Lance Roy, MD, a pain medicine specialist at Duke University Medical Center.

Chronic Pain Patient: ‘They Are Killing Us Off’

By Pat Anson, Editor

Rob Hale isn’t sure how much longer he’ll live. Which is why the 51-year old Missouri man wants to share his story one more time, so people can see the impact the CDC's opioid prescribing guideline -- what Rob calls the “new cruelty” – is having on pain patients like himself.   

“That's it, man. I quit. I am too weak to continue. I'm beat. I hope some of you can live long enough to see some change in this new cruelty,” Rob wrote to me in an email. “Thank you so much, Pat, for providing me a platform in which to vent my frustration, pain, and anger at the system. I'm not sure if it helped anyone or not, but I hope it did.”

Rob first shared his story with us in a PNN guest column last December. At the young age of 27, he was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a degenerative and incurable form of arthritis that causes severe inflammation in spinal joints.

As the decades passed, the joints in Rob’s spine and neck became fused, and he was disabled and bedridden by chronic pain.

Relief only came from relatively high doses of opioid pain medication – as much as 600 MEMs (morphine equivalent units) a day. It reduced the pain enough for Rob to start working again, do chores around the house, and take care of his elderly father. Rob felt like his life was worth living again.

ROB HALE

ROB HALE

Then came the CDC guidelines in 2016. Although they are voluntary and only intended for primary care physicians, Rob’s pain management doctors reduced his daily morphine dose to 120 MEMs, with the ultimate goal of getting it down to 90 MEMs – what the CDC recommends as the ceiling for high doses.

With his pain no longer being treated properly, Rob’s health deteriorated and he started taking high doses of Motrin, a prescription form of ibuprofen. He took so much Motrin it built up to toxic levels in his kidneys.  

“I was hospitalized in May, when my father couldn’t revive me in the morning. I woke up intubated, with IV’s and wires connected everywhere.  I was unconscious for 4 days, and when I finally awoke, I thought I had died and come back,” Rob said. “I was told if my dad hadn’t found me, I would have died within hours."

The cost to Medicare and taxpayers for that one stay in the hospital was $91,000 -- one of the unintended consequences of weaning or tapering a patient off high doses of opioids. Their healthcare costs often go up.

"None of that would have been necessary if I hadn't been denied my meds in the first place," Rob adds.

Rob was hospitalized a second time in June. His pain now grows worse every day, his health is failing, and he feels his time is running out.

“I nearly died, all because of this ‘opiate crisis.’ I just wanted to tell you that I’m home, albeit on oxygen, because my lungs are still filled with fluid, and I’m not sure how long I have to live,” he said.  “My old palliative care doctor and my current GP doctor think all of this that I’m going through right now is because of the trauma of the pain that I’ve been feeling since they started cutting me back.”

Rob feels he and other pain patients are being held responsible for an overdose crisis they didn’t create. He’s written letters to the CDC, FDA, DEA and to President Trump -- and only gotten form letters in return.

“The simple truth is this: They are killing us off - all of us chronic pain patients. We are, quite simply, a drain on the system, and the whole system would function much better without us. They'll get what they want, too. Before long, we'll all be gone - whether by our own hands, or by complications from our untreated pain, like me,” Rob wrote.

"I sure hope something changes soon. I’m not ready to give up the ghost yet, but I’m so weak that I can hardly type.  Why are they doing this to us, man?"

Spouse Criticism Makes Back Pain Worse

By Pat Anson, Editor

Not one likes being criticized. But people with chronic back pain take it harder – physically and emotionally – when having an argument with a loved one.

Even a brief fight with a spouse can significantly worsen lower back pain, according to the findings of a small study published in the journal Pain.

Researchers at Rush University in Chicago – who have been studying the emotional, cognitive and social aspects of pain – enrolled 71 couples in a study to see how patients with degenerative discs, spinal stenosis or herniated discs coped with criticism from a spouse.

Researchers watched as the couples engaged in a 10 minute discussion that focused on how the partner with back pain could improve their ability to cope with pain. The patients were then put through a structured activity that included walking, bending, lifting and sitting while the spouse watched.

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Pain levels and how the couple interacted were coded by researchers, who watched for signs of hostility or criticism.

Patients who felt they were criticized by a spouse not only experienced more anxiety, anger and sadness, but their pain levels increased for as long as three hours. Women and patients who were depressed seemed most sensitive to criticism.

“Results support the hypothesis that spouse criticism and hostility - actually expressed or perceived -- may worsen CLBP (chronic low back pain) patient symptoms. Further, women patients and patients high in depressive symptoms appeared most vulnerable to spouse criticism/hostility,” wrote lead author John Burns, PhD, principal investigator at the Acute and Chronic Pain Research Lab at Rush University.

Researchers were surprised to see that even when a partner was supportive – and expressed concern about a patient's pain or gave “helpful” suggestions – the interaction was still perceived as negative by patients.

“Because the study required both patient and spouse to cooperate enough to participate, they generally got along just fine,” Burns told Reuters Health. “Even with these fairly happy couples, spouses uttered enough critical and hostile comments to negatively affect patient pain and function.”

Previous research has also found that how couples interact with each other can play a significant role in pain levels. A recent study found that even just holding hands reduces pain intensity.    

Lyrica and Neurontin Face More Scrutiny

By Pat Anson, Editor

The safety and effectiveness of Lyrica (pregabalin) and Neurontin (gabapentin) – two non-opioid drugs widely used to treat chronic pain – are drawing new scrutiny from researchers and doctors who believe the medications are over-prescribed.

In a study published in PLOS Medicine, Canadian researchers say there is little evidence that gabapentinoids – a class of nerve medication that includes Neurontin and Lyrica – are effective in treating chronic low back pain. In their review of 8 clinical studies, the researchers also found the drugs have a “significant risk of adverse effects.”

Lyrica and Neurontin are commonly prescribed for fibromyalgia and neuropathic pain, but the researchers say the drugs are increasingly prescribed for chronic back pain, even though there is “no clear rationale” for it.

"Despite their widespread use, our systematic review with meta-analysis found that there are very few randomized controlled trials that have attempted to assess the benefit of using gabapentin or pregabalin in patients of chronic low back pain," wrote lead author Harsha Shanthanna, MD, an assistant professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

"They necessitate prolonged use and are associated with adverse effects and increased costs. Recent guidelines from the National Health Service (NHS), England, expressed concerns on their off-label use, in addition to the risk of misuse.”

Shanthanna and his colleagues found that gabapentin showed “minimal improvement” in back pain compared to a placebo and pregabalin was “inferior” compared to other analgesics. There were no deaths or hospitalizations reported in any of the studies, but both drugs were associated with increased risk of dizziness, fatigue, visual disturbances, and diminished mental activity.

Lyrica and Neurontin are both made by Pfizer and are two of the company’s top selling drugs, generating billions of dollars in sales annually. Lyrica is approved by the FDA to treat diabetic nerve pain, fibromyalgia, post-herpetic neuralgia caused by shingles, and spinal cord injuries. It is also prescribed off-label to treat other chronic pain conditions, including lower back pain.

Neurontin is only approved by the FDA to treat epilepsy and neuropathic pain caused by shingles, but is widely prescribed off label to treat depression, ADHD, migraine, fibromyalgia and bipolar disorder. According to one estimate, over 90% of Neurontin sales are for off-label uses. Pfizer has paid $945 million in fines to resolve criminal and civil charges that it marketed Neurontin off-label to treat conditions it was not approved for.

Sales of pregabalin and gabapentin have risen steadily in recent years, in part because of CDC prescribing guidelines that recommend the two drugs as alternatives to opioid pain medication. About 64 million prescriptions were written for gabapentin in the U.S. last year, a 49% increase since 2011.

“We believe… that gabapentinoids are being prescribed excessively — partly in response to the opioid epidemic,” Christopher Goodman, MD, and Allan Brett, MD, recently wrote in a commentary published in The New England Journal of Medicine. “We suspect that clinicians who are desperate for alternatives to opioids have lowered their threshold for prescribing gabapentinoids to patients with various types of acute, subacute, and chronic noncancer pain.

“Patients who are in pain deserve empathy, understanding, time, and attention. We believe some of them may benefit from a therapeutic trial of gabapentin or pregabalin for off-label indications, and we support robust efforts to limit opioid prescribing. Nevertheless, clinicians shouldn’t assume that gabapentinoids are an effective approach for most pain syndromes or a routinely appropriate substitute for opioids.”

FDA Seeks Public Comment on Abuse of Lyrica

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced last week that it was seeking public comment on reports that pregabalin is being abused. The FDA action was in response to a formal notification from the World Health Organization (WHO) that it may place international restrictions on pregabalin to reduce the risk of abuse and diversion. The FDA has until September 30 to respond to WHO.

Reports indicate that patients are self-administering higher than recommended doses to achieve euphoria, especially patients who have a history of substance abuse, particularly opioids, and psychiatric illness. While effects of excessively high doses are generally non-lethal, gabapentinoids such as pregabalin are increasingly being identified in post-mortem toxicology analyses,” the FDA said in a notice published in the Federal Register.

Pregabalin is already classified as Schedule V controlled substance in the U.S. under the Controlled Substances Act, which means the DEA considers it to have a low potential for abuse.

The idea that Lyrica and Neurontin are being abused is surprising to many patients and doctors, but there are growing signs the drugs are being used recreationally.

Both Lyrica and Neurontin have been linked to heroin overdoses in England and Wales, where prescriptions for both drugs have soared in recent years.  Addicts have apparently found the medications enhance the effects of heroin and other opioids.

A small study of urine samples from patients being treated at U.S. pain clinics and addiction treatment centers found that one in five patients were taking gabapentin without a prescription.

Gabapentin and pregabalin are also being abused by prison inmates, according to Jeffrey Keller, MD, chief medical officer of Centurion, a private corrections company. 

“Gabapentin is the single biggest problem drug of abuse in many correctional systems,” Keller recently wrote in Corrections.com. “There is little difference (in my opinion) between Lyrica and gabapentin in both use for neuropathic pain or for abuse potential.”

Pfizer did not respond to a request for comment.

Study Finds Rain Not Linked to Joint Pain

By Pat Anson, Editor

The debate over weather’s influence on pain is heating up again, with the release of a new study that showed warmer temperatures -- not rainy conditions -- are associated with an increase in online searches about joint pain.

The apparent increase in knee and hip pain may be due to increased outdoor physical activity, according to researchers who reported their findings in PLOS ONE.

Investigators used Google Trends to analyze how often people used Google’s search engine to look up words and phrases associated with hip pain, knee pain and arthritis. Then they compared the results with local weather conditions at 45 U.S. cities. The weather data included temperature, precipitation, relative humidity and barometric pressure - conditions previously associated with increases in musculoskeletal pain.

Researchers found that as temperatures rose, Google searches about knee and hip pain rose steadily, too. But knee-pain searches peaked at 73 degrees Fahrenheit and became less frequent at higher temperatures. And searches for hip-pain peaked at 83 degrees and then tailed off.

Surprisingly, rain actually dampened search volumes for both knee and hip pain.

"We were surprised by how consistent the results were throughout the range of temperatures in cities across the country," said Scott Telfer, a researcher in orthopedics and sports medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Searches about arthritis, which was the study's main impetus, had no correlation with weather conditions.

"You hear people with arthritis say they can tell when the weather is changing," he said. "But with past studies there's only been vague associations, nothing very concrete, and our findings align with those."

What do the findings mean?

Because knee and hip-pain searches increased until it grew warm, and rainy days tended to slightly reduce searches for hip and knee pain, the researchers speculate that changes in outdoor physical activity may be primarily responsible for those searches.

"What we think is much more likely explanation is the fact that people are more active on nice days, so more prone to have overuse and acute injuries from that and to search online for relevant information,” Telfer said, adding that web searches are often the first response people have to health symptoms.

Researchers in Australia recently reported that cold, rainy weather has no impact on symptoms associated with back pain or osteoarthritis. Warmer temperatures did slightly increase the chances of lower back pain, but the amount of the increase was not considered clinically important. 

A previous study on back pain and weather by The George Institute for Global Health had similar findings, but received widespread criticism from the public, a sign of just how certain many people are that weather affects how much pain they feel.

“I know it is going to rain or have a thunderstorm before the weather person announces it on the news,” says Denee Hand, who suffers back pain from arachnoiditis, a chronic inflammation of the spinal membrane. She says the pain spreads down to her toes when the weather changes. 

“It is like my nervous system and muscles react to the coming weather and finally I get pain that feels like the tops of both my feet are being crushed,” she said in an email to PNN. “I have compression of the spinal cord with nerve damage to my nerves from the scar tissue and when the weather changes the scar tissue presses down against the damaged nerves.”

Researchers at the University of Manchester recently ended a study involving thousands of people who used smartphone apps to report their pain levels, giving investigators the ability to compare the pain data with real-time local weather. Researchers are now analyzing the database compiled over the last 15 months and will release their results next spring.