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Pain, Pain Go Away: Texas Seeks A Choice Of Treatments For Chronic Pain Sufferers

Aug 18, 2007
Chronic pain affects between 75 and 90 million Americans every year, and will disable more people than cancer and heart disease combined. Texas is certainly no exception to this. Prospering pain management clinics in every major city in the state, from Houston, to Austin, to Dallas reflect this reality. Though chronic pain can be induced by a variety of situations, the majority of sufferers have back, hip and/or shoulder pain.

Carpal tunnel syndrome, work-related injuries, neurological disorders, joint disease, migraines, and autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, are just a few examples of conditions causing chronic pain. Particularly with the proper health insurance coverage, most painful conditions can be effectively treated and, if not cured, at least managed.

Pain is not always a negative experience. In fact, in many instances, it keeps us alive, or at least prevents us from injuring ourselves further. Think of the pain experienced when spraining an ankle, for instance -- that pain notifies the wounded person to stop what he or she is doing before further injury is sustained.

But acute pain is quite different from chronic pain. Acute pain occurs on a temporary basis, such as when spraining an ankle, or even when breaking a bone. Pain is considered chronic when it has occurred either continually, or intermittently, over a period longer than six months. Conditions of chronic pain can lead to anxiety, fear, depression, lack of activity, and unemployment. The management of chronic pain, then, is one of the most pressing health issues today throughout Texas and the rest of the United States.

While treating the psychological aspects of this condition is certainly just as important, and may, in fact contribute to, or cause pain, the following will focus on the more common physical treatments for the most widespread chronic pain -- that associated with the back, hip, and shoulders. In many instances, health insurance policies will cover certain treatments. Much of the information has been adapted from Prescriptions for Natural Healing by James F. Balch, M.D., and Phyllis A Balch, C.N.C. As always, consult a qualified health practitioner before undergoing any treatment.

(1) Chiropractic Care

Spinal manipulation is considered a "proven treatment" for lower back pain by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Though chiropractic care is effective for many conditions, treating disorders of the back and spine is, by far, the most common reason for seeking out such a practitioner.

Chiropractors focus on the spinal cord itself, believing that, if the spinal cord is able to relay unadulterated signals to the brain and other organs, then healthy function can be maintained throughout the body. Through careful adjustment of misplaced vertebrae, the spinal cord can regain its usual impulse signaling. This enables the body to restore normal nerve function -- reducing or eliminating pain, and heal itself of other ailments.

(2) Exercise

While obviously not appropriate for all chronic pain patients, exercise can be a critical part of treating painful conditions. By flexing, strengthening, and otherwise just moving the affected area, circulation increases, muscles are strengthened, and joints are made more limber. Exercise is also known to increase the immune system and reduce anxiety and stress -- unhealthy levels of which often contribute to the pain itself. Specific exercises may be prescribed, much like, or as a part of, physical therapy.

(3) Medications

The most common form of medication prescribed for chronic pain patients is morphine. This may be taken orally, or certain forms of morphine-like medicines may be injected at the site. Steroid shots, too, may be used with limited results, though possible long- term damage associated with repeated treatments raises questions over safety.

Several over-the-counter medications are available, including acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin), acetaminophen (more commonly known as Tylenol), and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), ibuprofen being the most common. Aspirin and NSAIDs act as anti-inflammatories and pain relievers, and acetaminophen acts as a pain reliever and fever reducer. They do not manage the same levels of pain as morphine, however.

(4) Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can be either active or passive, and utilizes a series of specialized exercises and/or body work techniques designed to help the body recover and regain function after some sort of trauma. While it may certainly provide at least some relief in later stages, all forms of physical therapy tend to be most effective in the first twelve weeks after sustaining an injury. While, at such an early stage, it is still unknown whether pain will develop into a chronic situation, proper recover is critical in determining the final outcome of any type of damage sustained by the body.

Physical therapists undergo years of specialized training, including intensive course work in anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology. The discipline has experienced many advances over the last few decades, and treatments are tailored to each individual, depending on the type of trauma sustained, level of current functioning, desired level of functioning, and physical limitations, among others. Massage therapy is also considered a form of physical therapy.

(5) Surgery

In severe cases, and when everything else has been tried, surgery may be necessary. While frightening for many, surgery can provide much-needed relief, particularly for those with herniated discs or pinched nerves. A physician can run specific tests to see if surgery is an option.

If considering surgery, make sure to do as much research as possible on your condition, ask as many questions as you need to, and choose your physician carefully. Surgery on, or near, the spinal cord is a delicate operation, and should be performed by those with years of experience and strong expertise.

Chronic pain is a health issue warranting considerable attention in the United States. Millions suffer from it every year, countless hours are missed from work nationwide, and the psychological repercussions are almost immeasurable. The majority of cases are due to back, hip, and/or shoulder pain. Through proper treatment, however, these conditions can be managed and, in some cases, even cured. The key is in careful research, and conscious decision-making.
About the Author
Pat Carpenter writes for Precedent Insurance Company. Precedent puts a new spin on health insurance. Learn more at Precedent.com
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