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

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

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

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

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

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

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

‘Music is Like DNA’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FDA Takes a Bite Out of Nyloxin

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are Sit-Stand Desks Overrated?

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

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

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

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

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

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

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Minimal Health Benefits

Just how reliable is this industry-promoted research?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Study: Alcohol Relieves Fibromyalgia Pain

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Sodas and Smoking Worsen Disability

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smoking Worsens Risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Advances in Hormonal Pain Care

By Forest Tennant, MD, Guest Columnist

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

Hormone Derivative Treatment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medrol Test

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

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

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

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

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

Hormonal Extracts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Impact of Chronic Pain on Family

By David Hanscom, MD, PNN Columnist

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following observations were made:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anger and Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

Healing Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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