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Phantom Limb Pain...It's very real, but it's all in your head!

The human brain is a most interesting organ.  Have you ever stopped to think about all the functions carried out by the brain in a typical day?  The brain is sort of like the conductor of an orchestra...sending signals to all parts of the body to control blood pressure, heart rate, ambulation, thoughts, moods, and everything in between.  Pretty amazing stuff, if you stop to think about it.

A most fascinating phenomenon known as phantom limb pain illustrates just how complex and amazing the human brain really is.  Phantom limb pain is something that occurs in patients who have experienced an amputation. The brain is telling them that they are having pain in an arm, a foot, a leg that has been surgically removed. But the reality is, that arm, foot, or leg is no longer there!

According to medical literature, physicians have been aware of this phenomenon since the 1860s;  In more recent years, there have been many amputations due to injuries of war and diabetes, and this has spurred new…

Unexpected Connections: Sleep Apnea May Increase Risk of Gout

Researchers are always looking for ways to connect the dots; to try to understand how two things that are seemingly unconnected might really be related.  Today's topic is no exception to that statement.

A study based in the United Kingdom has done just this.  The authors report in Journal of Rheumatology about a large scale study of persons with sleep apnea and how it might be related to gout. Their findings indicate that persons who suffered sleep apnea were almost twice as likely to have gout as someone who does not suffer from the sleep issue. The highest risk of having both diagnoses was increased in persons with elevated body mass indexes (BMI).

Two things about this study are worth pointing out:

1) Increased BMI is a  strong risk factor for both gout and sleep apnea.

2) Due to episodes of hypoxia, persons with sleep apnea are prone to elevated uric acid levels, thus increasing the risk of developing gout. You might recall that gout results from excess uric acid in circulati…

This simple trick may help relieve migraine for some sufferers

For the 14% of Americans who suffer from migraine headache, remedies come in many forms. There are prescription devices and medication  of many sorts on the marketplace; over-the counter medications such as Tylenol or Excedrin Migraine are the product of choice for others. For yet another group, there's nothing more effective than lying in a dark quiet room and waiting for the storm to pass.

One study claims that use of peppermint oil may be just what the doctor ordered.   A product known as Stopain Migraine (a menthol gel formulation) was studied at Thomas Jefferson University.  This may not be a treatment of choice for everyone. For example, if a person becomes sensitive to aromas during a migraine attack, this may not be a good option.  On the other hand, peppermint is a pretty benign substance.  Also, there is no rebound headache following use--which can be a problem with some other treatment options.

Sources:;; Wikimedia

Gaining control of chronic pain by turning it off may be in future...

Persons with chronic pain disorders know that regular discomfort is a part of every day life.  And while we all know that there are some ways to manage that discomfort, it is ever present.  Wouldn't it be great if there was a way to just...turn if off? The exciting news I have for you today is...maybe someday in the future it will be possible to do just that!

About a year ago, researchers at the University of Saint Louis discovered that pain pathways originating in the brain could be the key.  According to their findings, if a certain chemical receptor in the brain and spinal cord was turned on,  the pain pathways in animal models of chronic neuropathic pain were turned off.  Activation of the A3 receptor was accomplished using a naturally occurring substance known as adenosine. Synthetic molecules developed by NIH were also tested during the study.

The beauty of using a system such as this is that there are no risks of analgesic tolerance or intrinsic
rewards in contrast to opio…

Drug-Drug Interactions, Drug-Food Interactions, and Drug Side Effects In The World Of Chronic Pain

Whether you are a chronic pain patient, or anyone else for that matter, here is some food for thought.

Every medication known to us has the potential to present us with at least three types of problems--

1) Medications can interact with other medications in a person's system.
2) Medication can interact with foods that people eat.
3) All medications have side effects.

Let me elaborate a bit:

Medications can interact with other medications in a person's system.

Many drugs have the potential to interact with other drugs; it's probably a lot more common than one might believe.  A common reason for this type of problem occurs when both drugs in question are metabolized in the liver, commonly through the cytochrome P-450 system.  In this scenario, both drugs are competing for the same enzyme, and usually one drug will predominate.  This results in a change of effectiveness and/or drug toxicity for one or all of the drugs involved.  The opioid drugs are an example of a class of d…

Reducing Opioid Usage: Less is M.O.R.E.!

A relatively new approach to reducing opioid usage and improving ability to combat chronic pain is the MORE technique. This practice focuses on developing mindfulness skills, i.e. positive psychology. Participants in an 8 week course of treatment learn to reduce their dependence and craving for pain controlling medications by learning to "feel good" through the techniques they learn.

It is thought that over the course of time, a person with chronic pain is less able to experience the joys in life because they have been worn down by living in discomfort so much of the time.  Mindfulness Oriented Recovery Enhancement helps these folks to work on their positive emotions by focusing on the positives, such as the beauty of nature.  In this way, a patient learns to resort to the learned techniques instead of medications when they feel bad and need to feel better.

Early indications from the initial study at the University of Utah are promising.  It is believed that these same tech…

Moxibustion: Ancient Chinese Secret?

Moxibustion is an ancient Chinese medical practice employed by some practitioners of acupuncture. These practitioners employ an herb known as "moxa" during an acupuncture session in order to warm and improve blood flow to the area being treated.  Some claim that this practice is effective in relieving chronic pain, especially arthritis. The practice of moxibustion has been around for thousands of years, it true?

An article in MedPage Today from 2014 cites a study about this very topic.  A randomized clinical trial was conducted, involving 110 osteoarthritis patients who were unfamiliar to this type of treatment.  It was reported that after six weeks of treatment,three times per week, pain scores were reduced by about half in those who received active treatment. In a similar manner. their physical function difficulty scores also improved greatly!
It is interesting to note that after a certain period of time--around 24 weeks of further improvement was no…

The Role of Glutamate in Fibromyalgia and Other Chronic Pain Conditions

The human nervous system uses several different neurotransmitters to send messages throughout the body. The names of some of these compounds are very familiar: serotonin, norepinephrine, GABA, dopamine, and acetylcholine may come to mind.  One of the lesser known neurotransmitters is the compound glutamate.

Fortunately or unfortunately, it appears that this lesser known compound may play a role in pain transmission for those who suffer from fibromyalgia, and perhaps other chronic pain conditions.  It is an excitatory neurotransmitter, meaning that it has a stimulant effect on the nervous system. Researchers report that higher than normal levels of glutamate can be correlated with self reports of increased pain.  For those with fibromyalgia, higher levels of glutamate in the brain (on a chronic basis) may contribute to the prolonged chronic pain experience associated with this condition.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer that is used in the food industry to enhance flav…

What do you believe?

"If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it."                             William Arthur Ward

This is what I'd like to reflect on in today's post.  I am not talking about the latest breakthrough in pain management research. I am simply asking you to think about some of the non-drug pain management ideas we've explored on this blog in the past--such as dietary changes, weight loss, smoking cessation, and exercise.  It's not easy to find the motivation to make these changes for many of us. These lifestyle changes begin as every journey does--by taking the first step.  But what is the first step?  Is it heading for the gym tomorrow, or starting a  new diet tomorrow?  It is not.
What is the first step, then, you ask? And so I will tell you. The first step requires time to think about what you really need to do.  It requires accepting the challenges you will face when you make that very first step.  In order to accomplish this…

Color your pain away!

Did you love coloring as a child?  As it turns out, psychologists say that coloring is a good alternative to meditation.  If you have been following alternative methods of pain management for a while, you know that meditation is a great non-drug way to deal with chronic pain.  Coloring achieves many of the same goals... unlocking creative potential, releasing tension and anxiety. I have seen adult coloring books for sale at and also in craft stores. Some of these books are even on Amazon's best seller list!  If you want to read more about coloring as therapy, click here!

Below is a sample of the kind of image you might find in one of  these books.  You can browse the selection of these books at Amazon by clicking here.;; Wikimedia

Fibromyalgia: Pain Inhibition Issues a Key Problem

Fibromyalgia is a complex problem; if it weren't we would surely have a lot more figured out by now. That being said, one thing is for sure--one key problem is that there is a dysfunction in the usual pain inhibition mechanism.

Here is an example:  If I put on an article of clothing that is uncomfortable--such as a piece of underwear that's too might feel uncomfortable at first, but as the minutes to hours go by I become less aware of the discomfort....unless I happen to have fibromyalgia.  In that case, the discomfort is the same at the end of the day as it was when I put that undergarment on in the morning.  Can you imagine? If you have fibromyalgia...yes you can imagine.

A couple of studies have shed some light on our understanding of this problem.  In one study, the authors compared the pain experience of fibromyalgia to people with irritable bowel and also normal individuals.  Somehow the fibromyalgia group was the least able to inhibit the pain.  In a second …

Common Sense Tips for Coping With Shingles

Now that there is a vaccine for chicken pox, fewer children will experience that dreaded childhood disease.  But a word of caution here...whether you had chickenpox or the vaccine, you can still contract a case of shingles!  The shingles are actually a re-activation of the same virus (herpes zoster) never really leaves you once it's introduced to your body.  It simply goes into a dormant state after a case of chicken pox or a chicken pox vaccination.

Many years later this, same virus can re-awaken and cause a very itchy, blistery rash on one side of the body. Pain can develop in the area of the rash. Flu like symptoms can occur at this time.  Over the course of several weeks, most of the problems subside.  However, some people experience problems for months to years after such an infection.

If you do become afflicted by a case of shingles, here are some common sense tips from the American Academy of Dermatology:

Consult a physician as soon as possible if you have a rash that…

The Spice Shop: Common Herbs and Spices with Pain Relieving Properties

You might or might not realize this...but many herbs and spices have medicinal properties. Some of them are useful for pain management purposes. Who knew you might have just what the doctor ordered right in your kitchen cabinet? These are good to know when you don't feel good and need something in a pinch, or if you have a "less is more" idea about medications and want to be more holistic about your health...

Here are some examples:


 While you might know ginger as a remedy for an upset stomach, it can also be used for joint pain!
 If you suffer from arthritis or gout, try rubbing ginger powder (mixed into a little sesame seed oil) on  an achy joint.


One of the most common pantry ingredients, onion can be used to treat bruises, contusions, etc.
  To prepare, grind the onion into a paste and then warm it through. Apply directly to affected area       to relieve pain and inflammation.

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is great for pain relief on the skin, especially for minor b…

The Effect of Sugar Intake on Chronic Pain

**This is a repost from November 2014**
Halloween is over, and if you're like most people, it's difficult to resist indulging the the sweets brought home by household trick-or treaters, or left over candy..  Most of us are fully aware that chronic intake of foods with high glycemic loads can lead to health problems, such as weight gain and type II diabetes...but did you know that elevated blood glucose levels can worsen chronic pain?

Here's a short explanation of the problem:  When you ingest candy, or any other food that has a high glycemic index, there is an immediate spike in blood glucose levels.  As mentioned, these blood sugar spikes are bad news for those with diabetes; when blood sugar levels are frequently allowed to spike, complications of the disease, such as diabetic neuropathy, become more problematic.  For those with chronic pain--diabetic or not--elevated blood sugar levels cause a chain of reactions that damage body tissues and promote inflammation.  This i…

Is Copper Therapy Effective for Arthritis?

Since the 1970s copper bracelets (and more recently, copper socks) have been available to rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. Purportedly, the copper in the jewelry is absorbed by the body and has a therapeutic effect on the wearer.  While I was looking for information for this post, I discovered the following facts about this practice:

According to WebMD and the Arthritis Foundation, the practice of wearing copper jewelry(or socks)
has NO therapeutic benefit. 

A 1976 study I found in the NIH archives showed that subjects who wore copper containing products absorbed some copper through their skin over the course of wear.  Symptom improvement was reported, but it could well be placebo effect.
Copper is an essential mineral. A small amount of copper in the diet is necessary for nutritional reasons. It does have anti-inflammatory properties but there's no evidence to support that taking copper supplements is beneficial to RA patients.
Sources:; WebMD; NIH; Wikimedia

Magnet Therapy--true pain relief or, not?

I first heard of magnetic jewelry some years ago. A friend told me that she bought a necklace with a magnetic pendant; purportedly the magnet improves the circulation in the area where the magnet sits on the body, ultimately providing pain relief to the wearer.  In addition to necklaces, there are rings,bracelets and magnetic strips that can be worn on ankles, wrists and back.

According to Wikipedia, several studies of this type of self treatment for chronic pain is perfectly safe, but the efficacy of these products has yet to be proven.  So if you want to try it, there is no harm in doing so, but it may not provide the pain relief you might anticipate.  There's always the chance that you will experience the "placebo effect" and actually feel that it provides some level of comfort.  If that's the case, go for it!

Sources: Wikimedia; Wikipedia

The science behind laughter, the BEST medicine

We've all heard the expression "Laughter is the best medicine."  But did you know that there is really scientific evidence to explain it?  It really is fascinating.  Here are some of the facts about laughter that explain why it really does help with chronic pain and other illnesses.

Immune system booster:   by increasing immune cells and antibodies
Reduces stress hormone levels
via release of endorphins
Helps prevent heart disease
due to improved circulation
Promotes muscle relaxation
direct effect--causes reduction of tension
Improves mood
through endorphin release
Enhances resilience
allows person to regroup during times of emotional distress
Diffuses conflict
a good laugh can break up an argument in progress by diverting attention from anger to humor
Attracts other people to us
Shared laughter makes relationship between persons more appealing
Promotes group bonding
Laughing together is a great way to build relationships!
Decreases pain
Endorphins are the body's natural feel good ho…

Back Pain : Prevention Tips for Women

This post is for all you women out there... it turns out that there are some fairly common causes of back pain that are particular to the female gender.  This post might not help you to solve evert back pain issue, but it will give you some food for thought as to why you might be having back pain in the first place...

Many people have a weak know, area of your body from your shoulder to your groin.  In case you did not realize, a strong core is key and there are many types of exercises you can do to keep these muscles in tip top shape.  Sit ups are one example of a core exercise.. the plank or hover is another.  Here is a post I wrote earlier this year about that very subject.

Menstruation is another back pain problem unique to the women of the world.  Often times, women experience menstrual cramps in the back as opposed to the abdomen.  In addition, our bodies secrete a hormone called relaxin just before menstruation.  This hormone makes all the joints in the body more fl…

Chronic Pain Linked to ADHD

Have you ever heard of PAIN Week?  It's a group that hosts a series of small conferences around the country and one big meeting every year...and as the name implies, the focus of all the seminars has to do with pain management.

At the 2015 conference, an interesting small scale study was presented by Forest Tennant, MD of Intractable Pain Management group.  According to the study, approximately one in three persons who suffers from chronic pain (excluding arthritis or neuropathic pain) may actually have ADHD in addition.  During the study, the pain condition improved for these subjects once they were diagnosed and treated for the attention disorder problem.

ADHD is a problem that has gained a lot of attention over the years. Those who deal with the disorder face challenges with inability to concentrate, short attention span, impulsivity, temper, and memory.  When a chronic pain issue is added to the picture, an overactive nervous system adds fuel to the fire. This seems to make t…

Fibromyalgia in Women: Connected to Other Health Issues???

Today's post sheds a very interesting light on our understanding of fibromyalgia--if you're a woman, of course.  This very new study, released in late summer of 2015, examined the medical histories of 219 women with fibromyalgia and 16 other women who suffer from non-fibromyalgia with chronic pain.  The researchers found that there is a likely link between the onset of fibromyalgia and the pre-existence one (or more) of three pre-existing condition types: gynecologic, endocrine, or autoimmune.

The chart review of these patients showed a strong correlation to a history of gynecologic issues prior to the onset of fibromyalgia.  It is not uncommon that these conditions existed for a number of years--which points to the hormonal (endocrine) aspect of the problem.  Ultimately, many of these patients end up having surgery to correct the gynecologic problem at hand.  The study showed a connection between hysterectomies and oophorectemies (ovary removals) and onset of fibromyalgia.  …