Why Your Injuries Aren’t Healing Properly

injuryOveruse injuries are something I see in my practice on an almost daily basis.  Whether it’s low back pain from running, shoulder pain from lifting weights, or neck pain from being in the wrong position for too long, most of us have experienced an issue related to muscle pain.  Most of us have been told what to do when it comes to dealing with the immediate trauma-rest, ice, compression, elevation, etc.  But what about the majority of you who aren’t getting relief weeks, months, or sometimes years after the initial trauma?

What I’m finding is that the typical approach to soft tissue injuries (muscles, tendons, ligaments) is actually leading to further damage, and a long-term weakening of tissue.  Anti-inflammatory drugs and cortisone injections, the mainstay of treatment in conventional medicine, can help with short-term pain relief, but is rarely conducive to proper healing.  The whole point of the inflammatory response is to facilitate collagen repair, allowing tissue to fully heal, restoring it’s function back to normal.  Instead, our mainstream approaches to soft tissue healing are more degenerative in nature, setting people up for future pain and injuries.  So, what are the alternatives?

Acupuncture-While some people are afraid of it, acupuncture is actually one of the only therapies I know of that addresses pretty much every component of soft tissue healing.  Acupuncture not only works to diminish the perception of pain, but actually stimulates collagen repair through the release of platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF).  It also acts upon receptors in the central nervous system to create a sense of euphoria that will ultimately make people less prone to the psychological manifestation of chronic pain.

Proteolytic Enzymes-It’s possible that you’ve been told to eat pineapple after a dental surgery or procedure?  This is often due to the fact that pineapple is naturally high in bromelain.  Bromelain is one of several proteolytic enzymes that falls into the category of fibrinolytic agents.  Like nattokinase, serrapeptase, and other fibrinolytic agents, bromelain helps to speed up the healing response in areas of injury, getting rid of pain and swelling more quickly, all the while not interfering with the repair process.

Manganese-This trace mineral is extremely important in the tissue repair process.  Not only does it serve as an essential nutrient for laying down new collagen, but it also increases levels of superoxide dismutase (SOD), an antioxidant that helps to “clean up” chemicals in and around the area of injury that can lead to further tissue damage.

Herbs-There are a number of herbs out there that can help to minimize pain, without interfering with the healing response.  Some of the more commonly used examples include turmeric, ginger, and boswellia.  In addition to acting similarly to many of the commonly used NSAID drugs (without the side-effects!), these herbs also help to prevent platelet aggregation, allowing for a more rapid and complete healing response.  Plus, these herbs can usually be tolerated at high doses, without the kidney, stomach, and liver damage that can come with conventional anti-inflammatory and pain medications.

This list is by no means exhaustive, just a small sample of what can be done to both alleviate pain AND keep you from needing to revisit your doctor every few months with a recurring injury!  If you’ve been struggling with pain or a chronic injury, and felt like you had exhausted your treatment options, just know that there are other options out there for you to try that could be much more beneficial in the long run (literally)!

 

Drug Overdoses Responsible for More Deaths Than Car Accidents

More Americans now die from drug overdoses than in car accidents, according to a new government report released Tuesday.

In 2008, poisoning deaths became the number one cause of accidental deaths in the United States and the leading cause of injury death in 30 states, according to the report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ninety percent of these poisonings were linked to drugs, with a surge in deaths from prescription painkiller overdoses reported.

“During the past three decades, the number of drug poisoning deaths has increased sixfold, from about 6,000 deaths in 1980 to over 36,500 in 2008,” said report author Margaret Warner, an injury epidemiologist at CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, who added that this trend is only expected to continue.

The authors of the report found a 90 percent increase in poisoning deaths since 1999, while deaths from car accidents have dropped 15 percent in the same period.

By 2008, nine out of every 10 poisoning deaths were due to drugs. In that year, some 77 percent of these deaths were unintentional, 13 percent were suicides and 9 percent were of undetermined intent, according to the report.

Over the last 10 years, these increases were seen among both men and women and in all age and race/ethnic groups, Warner said. In 2008, the highest rates were among males and those aged 45 to 54.

In 2008, more than 40 percent of poisoning deaths were due to opioid painkillers. That’s way up from 1999 when these drugs were involved in only 25 percent of these deaths, Warner said. “CDC has called this an epidemic,” she noted.

In 1999, there were 4,000 deaths related to painkillers, but by 2008 that number had tripled, to almost 15,000 deaths, according to the CDC.

These deaths also vary by state. Although it isn’t clear why drug deaths vary across the country, one reason might be the different laws states have for controlling the use of prescription painkillers, Warner said.

Deaths are an accurate way to get a handle on the size of the problem, because these are definitive data, Warner said.

Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein, medical director of the Florida Poison Information Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said “we knew this was coming; it shouldn’t shock anybody. It’s disturbing though.”

More attention needs to be devoted to this problem, Bernstein noted. “It needs to be attacked from multiple angles and multiple levels in the way we have made headway in trauma,” he said.

“There are newer and better drugs and that’s great for treating people’s pain, but they come with a price,” Bernstein pointed out. “There is addiction and interactions with other drugs, and potential for overdose and misuse.”

The number of users and abusers of these drugs is much greater than those who die from them, Warner added. “This is the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

By 2010, 12 million Americans said they were using opioid painkillers without a prescription. In 2009, almost 500,000 emergency room visits were for abuse of these painkillers. This costs health insurance companies as much as $72 billion a year in direct costs, the CDC said in a November report.

Dr. Chris Jones, a CDC health scientist who was not involved in the latest report, said that deaths from opioid painkillers have “increased significantly over the last decade. We have also seen an increase in people who have nonfatal overdoses who are showing up in emergency departments.”

In fact, there was a 98 percent increase in emergency room visits due to these painkillers between 2004 and 2009, he said. These emergency room visits are greater than those seen for overdoses of heroin and cocaine, Jones added.

The dramatic increase in deaths and overdoses from prescription drugs is due to a vastly increased use of these drugs by doctors. “Between 1999 and 2010, the sales of these drugs increased fourfold,” he explained.

“Part of this is an attempt to better treat pain. As we have seen the medical use go up, we have also seen the abuse of these products go up,” Jones said.

This doesn’t have to be as widespread of a problem as it has become. There are plenty of alternative methods that can be used to reduce pain, including acupuncture, naturopathic manipulation, and nutritional/herbal interventions.  The data here is pretty clear-the use of prescription painkillers is seriously risky business, and puts you at a much higher risk for long-term complications, especially addiction.  Please consider all other options before agreeing to take painkillers, and consult with your local naturopathic physician for the appropriate guidance.

Neuropathy and Natural Medicine

Neuropathy, whether it’s diabetic or idiopathic, is often challenging to treat, with any modality. However, I do find that the combination of acupuncture and naturopathic interventions tend to be much more successful than the “standard” protocol (which usually includes gabapentin and various cocktails of prescription painkillers). A recent study from the journal Diabetes Care (2011 July 25) discovered that 600 mg/day of the nutrient alpha-lipoic acid lead to a clinically significant improvement in patients with diabetic neuropathy. Clinically, I’ve also found that other forms of neuropathy often respond well to alpha-lipoic acid therapy as well. Other treatments that help to enhance peripheral circulation and restore nutrition to damaged nerves, such as acetyl-l-carnitine, mixed bioflavonoids, and B-vitamins, can also be beneficial in the treatment of peripheral neuropathy.

It’s not uncommon for people to be kept on medications for life when trying to deal with peripheral neuropathy pain, with the resulting relief being minimal at best. If this is something you have suffered from, don’t be afraid to seek alternatives, as there is enough clinical and research evidence to support the benefits.

Acupuncture and Anxiety

In my practice, I’m always amazed at how effectively acupuncture is able to diminish the severity of anxiety, even for patients who experience panic attacks other extreme forms of this condition. A recent study measured the response of patients to acupuncture before operations, and how well it was able to reduce their anxiety levels. The results showed a marked decrease in anxiety levels after acupuncture was performed. Although this study applied exclusively to preopearative anxiety, it still demonstrates the efficacy of acupuncture in treating stress and anxiety. 

Please don’t be afraid to seek out acupuncture if you’re burdened by chronic stress, as you’re otherwise overlooking a proven treatment that could end up being very effective in your quest to destress.
“Comparing the treatment effectiveness of body acupuncture and auricular acupuncture in preoperative anxiety treatment,” Wu S, Liang J, et al, J Res Med Sci, 2011 Jan; 16(1): 39-42. (Address: Department of Psychology, School of Aerospace Medicine, Fourth Military Medical University, Xi’an, China).

PCOS Patients Benefit From Exercise and Acupuncture

Acupuncture and physical exercise improve hormone levels and menstrual bleeding pattern in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), reveals research from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. 

PCOS is a common disorder that affects up to 10% of all women of child-bearing age. Women with PCOS frequently have irregular ovulation and menstruation, with many small immature egg follicles in the ovaries. This causes the ovaries to produce more testosterone which, in turn, leads to troublesome hair growth and acneObesity, insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease are also widespread among these patients. 

In the current study, published in the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, a group of women with PCOS were given acupuncture where the needles were stimulated both manually and with a weak electric current at a low frequency that was, to some extent, similar to muscular work. A second group was instructed to exercise at least three times a week, while a third group acted as controls. All were given information on the importance of regular exercise and a healthy diet. 

“The study shows that both acupuncture and exercise reduce high levels of testosterone and lead to more regular menstruation,” says docent associate professor Elisabet Stener-Victorin, who is responsible for the study. “Of the two treatments, the acupuncture proved more effective.” 

Although PCOS is a common disorder, researchers do not know exactly what causes it. “However, we’ve recently demonstrated that women with PCOS have a highly active sympathetic nervous system, the part that isn’t controlled by our will, and that both acupuncture and regular exercise reduced levels of activity in this system compared with the control group, which could be an explanation for the results.” 

In my experience, women I’ve seen with PCOS respond extraordinarily well to nutritional, botanical, and dietary interventions. Plus, conventional medical treatments tend to be very “piecemeal”, treating each component of PCOS as individual symptoms, rather than addressing the body as a whole. As this study confirms, exercise and acupuncture are other treatments that can be implemented to successfully reverse PCOS.  

Acupuncture, Hot Flashes, and Tamoxifen

The Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine published a recent study demonstrating the benefits of acupuncture for treating hot flashes and other side-effects related to chemotherapy and tamoxifen. Patients used in the study had been receiving tamoxifen for at least 6 months, and experiencing at least 4 hot flashes and night sweats per day for at least 3 months. Treatment with acupuncture (8 treatments) was found to reduce the frequency of hot flashes and night sweats by an average of 50%. At the end of the treatment period, significant improvements were found in: anxiety/fears; memory/concentration; menstrual problems; sexual behavior; sleep problems; somatic symptoms; and vasomotor symptoms. The authors state, “These results compare favorably with other studies using acupuncture to manage HF&NS, as well as research on nonhormonal pharmaceutical treatments. In addition to reduced HF&NS frequency, women enjoyed improved physical and emotional well-being, and few side-effects were reported.”