Navigating Life with Chronic Pain: Part 1

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Fiona McMahon, PT, DPT

Why Should Everyone Care About Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is the in vogue topic of the day. It is a subject that has pushed its way into American’s awareness for very good reason. According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, chronic pain currently affects more than 1.5 billion people worldwide, affecting work, sleep, and quality of life. Most importantly chronic pain has become dangerous as the opioid crisis has come to a head. Out of the 28,000 people who died of accidental drug overdose, nearly 12,000 died from painkillers, three times as many in 1999, according to the American Academy of Pain Medicine.

What Is Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is classically defined as pain that persists more than 3 months, but it is so much more than that. When pain becomes chronic, it is actually processed in the brain differently than acute pain. This is one of the reasons chronic pain has proven to be so difficult to treat using traditional means.

Pain serves a vital function and is something we need to survive. Pain alerts us to danger like a hot stove or broken bone and compels you to take action. This “take action now” pain is acute pain. Chronic pain lingers and can be totally independent of what is actually going on in the tissue. In fact, the tissue may have healed completely and still pain persists. There are a lot of thoughts as to why pain becomes chronic. It can seem like there is nothing left to treat, and all we can do is blunt it with analgesics and painkillers. But there is more to do. All pain, whether it is acute or chronic is processed by pain receptors, the spinal cord, and finally the brain. By addressing pain at the level of the nervous systems, we can change the way stimuli are perceived in the brain, and hopefully reduce pain.

The book, Explain Pain, by David Butler and Lorimer Moseley does a really superb job explaining this concept. In the book, they explain chronic pain is the body’s response to prolonged exposure to noxious stimuli. (In non medical person terms: basically if you have pain for a long time, the body becomes much more sensitive to things that may or may not be painful or damaging). In states of chronic pain, your body can actually lower the threshold for something to become considered painful in the brain. Meaning, that simple stimuli like tight fitting clothing, or sitting can feel very painful. Your body is doing this, because it is on guard for anything that might hurt it. Chronic pain is your body’s way of looking out for you, but has gone way too far.

This blog is not long enough to dig into all of the varied nuances of how and why chronic pain occurs, but if your interest is peaked, I would highly recommend taking a look at Explain Pain or The Explain Pain Protectometer in order to dig down into the deep and fascinating science behind chronic pain.

False Leads and Dead Ends In Pain

Opiods, Addiction, and Efficacy

The nature of chronic pain has proven to be elusive for patients and healthcare practitioners alike. In the 1990’s, in an effort to finally address chronic pain, opiods became much more widely used. At the time, drugs like Oxycontin were marketed as a safe way to treat chronic pain. The manufacturer of Oxycotin, Purdue Pharmaceuticals, instructed their drug representatives to tell doctors that the rate of addiction for long term Oxycotin users was 1%, according to pharma who help fund these studies. Although one study did indeed find these numbers many other found addiction rates in excess of 40%.

Probably one of the most unfortunate aspects of the push by pharma to prescribe opioids more freely, is despite marketing to the contrary, there have been more and more studies supporting the theory that opioids may in fact be ineffective for the treatment of chronic pain. Studies of worker’s compensation patients being treated for chronic pain indicate that patients on higher opioid dose, return to work more slowly than those on lower doses. Additionally, patients with back pain, who are being treated with long term opiod therapy report greater disability than those who are not on opioids.

Opiods have their place, especially in the treatment of cancer, procedural, and end of life pain, however it is becoming more and more clear that opiods are not the miracle drug we once thought they were in the treatment of long term chronic pain. The increased risks of addiction, accidental overdose, falls and fractures, depression, and severe constipation (which can indeed worsen the pain for which the opiod was prescribed in the first place), make it clear that as a medical community, we need to find a safer and more effective way to reduce chronic pain symptoms.

First steps

If you can find a cause, but at the same time don’t get hung up on it.

This is easier said than done. Often times, by the time patients reach us here at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, they have folders that are stuffed to the brim with expensive diagnostic tests that read “unremarkable”. This can be incredibly frustrating for someone suffering with very real pain. My first word of advice is, If something doesn’t feel right with your body, don’t stop looking for help, until you find someone who can truly help you. There are many pain conditions like, chronic prostatitis and endometriosis. Which are poorly understood by many providers, that require treatment and or consultation by a specialist. This isn’t to say that the clinicians that are unfamiliar with chronic pain conditions aren’t fabulous providers, but these chronic pain conditions often require a clinician who spends his or her career treating and managing these type of pain syndromes. Basically, don’t allow yourself to be written off by any clinician who tries to tell you your pain isn’t real. It is, but most importantly there are things to be done. At Beyond Basics, we have extensive training on chronic pain conditions, additionally we have multiple connections with physicians, nurse practitioners, and other clinicians who treat chronic pain, that we will often refer too if we feel additional intervention beyond physical therapy is necessary.

I am warning you, before you read this paragraph, I am about to say something that on its face will seem mind numbingly contradictory. Bear with me please, and read the entire passage. If you do get a diagnosis, do not expect an immediate cure of pain. Chronic pain has gone past the point of solely being about tissue damage. A chronic undiagnosed infection, muscle spasm, or injury should be treated to remove the fire or proximate cause of the pain. Just because the pain is gone, does not mean the nervous system will immediately calm down. In chronic pain, treating the proximate cause enables the nervous system to begin to down regulate (or less threat sensitive) with further treatment, but does not always guarantee immediate cure.

This brings me to the problem with imaging. Imaging is a great tool and advances in the ubiquity and affordability of imaging techniques like ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), are allowing more and more people glimpses inside their body. If you have ever looked at an MRI of yourself the feeling is profound. I have been fortunate enough to see both my brain and right hip in mind blowing detail on MRI. It’s amazing, but sometimes knowing where every tear, herniation, and bit of swelling is not only unhelpful, but downright dangerous to some patients.

I am not being hyperbolic simply to drive a point home. Early and unindicated MRI in cases of low back pain has been shown to result in increased time spent on disability and increased cost of care ranging between $8,000-13,000 according to the article by Webster, cited in the sources. The fact is with imaging as powerful as MRI, we get to see almost EVERYTHING and because MRIs are getting slightly cheaper and more common, we are identifying structural changes like disc herniation in people, who might not have had a reason to suspect that there was something wrong in their spine in the first place. Sometimes knowing there is a structural abnormality in your body can cause pain and hypervigilance, when prior to knowing, you may not have had the same quality or as much pain in the first place.. Reports indicate that disc herniation and narrowing of the spinal cord can be seen in up to 57% of people who have no symptoms at all. It’s not a far leap to imagine someone with pain hanging all of their problems on a slipped disc if the MRI shows it. What’s worse, is MRI results are alluring and can often lead practitioners down the wrong path of treatment, because it is an easy answer.

In physical therapy school, my professors drilled into us, with almost religious fervor, treat what you find. A fabulous Physician’s Assistant of mine also told me 90% of what you need to know is in a patient’s history of their present illness. It is so true. You can tell a lot about the origin of the pain by asking questions like, how long has it been around, what makes it worse, what makes it better, and what does it feel like. Imaging can sometimes be a bit of a red herring, rushing well intentioned clinicians towards what they think is a cure, while skipping some crucial information through gathering steps that would aid in a more accurate diagnosis.

MRI’s aren’t all bad. They can be life saving and life improving when they are used appropriately. There are many clinical practice guidelines that guide providers on when it may be beneficial to order MRI or other imaging, however, research has certainly borne out that early imaging is actually counter productive in the treatment of chronic pain.

 

If you find a cause, great. If you don’t, or still feel bad don’t despair

We place so much of our hopes on diagnosis. It seems logical that if there is a cause, there must be a cure. Unfortunately, it is not alway so simple. We went over in the opening paragraphs about how chronic pain is more than what’s going on in a specific body part, it also involves the brain. Sometimes simply curing the tissues is not enough. Sometimes we never know what the cause is. This can be so frustrating for patients. As a pelvic pain specialist, I treat a lot of patients with pelvic floor pain and spasm, who have not yet figured out what specific incident brought the pain on. Rarely, in these cases, is there the “oh, crap” moment, when you realize you have injured yourself. Sometimes the development of chronic pain is like having a water glass. We are all born with water glasses of different sizes. We pour a little water in for something like poor posture, genetics, injury, diet, stress, etc., and when our water glass has overflowed, we develop chronic pain. There is no one definitive cause in cases of the overflowing water glass. Many factors have contributed, and many factors must be addressed in order to treat it properly. That’s why the holistic, mind-body approach is really where it’s at, when we treat chronic pain.

Now that you have a grasp on pain science and how chronic pain can behave differently from acute pain, you can begin to approach treating and dealing with it in a different way. In part two of this blog we will discuss different treatments for chronic pain, including yoga, acupuncture, meditation, of course, physical therapy, and many more. Please stay tuned.

Sources:

AAPM Facts and Figures on Pain. The American Academy of Pain Medicine. http://www.painmed.org/patientcenter/facts_on_pain.aspx. [Accessed June 25, 2017]

Butler, David S, and G L. Moseley. Explain Pain. Adelaide: Noigroup Publications, 2003. Print.

Zee A. The Promotion and Marketing of Oxycotin: Commercial Triumph, Public Health Tragedy. Am J Public Health. 2009;99(2):221-227

Singh P, Chaturvedi A. Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Cancer Pain Management: A Systematic Review. Indian J Palliat Care. 2015. 21(1): 105-15

Von Korff M. Long-term use of opiods for complex chronic pain. Best Pract Clin Rheumatol. 2013 Oct 27(5):663-72

Webster B, Bauer A, Choi Y, et al. Iatrogenic Consequences of Early Magnetic Resonance Imaging in Acute, Work Related Low Back Pain. Spine. 2013. 38(22) 1939-46

A Holiday Gift for You! BBPT is Offering Free Consults for People Living in the Greater NYC Area!

Group Serious 2

Any persistent pain or chronic back or pelvic pain can be tough. It is tough to have and often times it can be extremely isolating. Many of our patients have to go through a number of clinicians before they even get a diagnosis of pelvic floor dysfunction. If you are reading this blog, you probably have some questions about pelvic floor dysfunction and if physical therapy is right for you.

We are here to help. If you are living in the Greater New York Area and have some questions about orthopedic, sports or pelvic floor dysfunction and if physical therapy is right for you, I encourage you to call our office. For a limited period of time, we are offering free 15-minute phone consults with our licensed physical therapists to patients in the greater New York Area. For those of you living outside this area, a fee may apply to the consult but can be applied towards payment for a PT visit if you chose to visit us. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn more about your pelvic floor and what PT can do for you.

The Physical Therapists at Beyond Basics also treat orthopedic (sport and joint injuries), pediatric pelvic floor dysfunction and orthopedic injury, and much more. Give us a call to discuss how PT can help with any one of these issues!

All the best,

Beyond Basics Physical Therapy

212-354-2622 (42nd Street Location)

212-267-0240 (William Street Location)

Ph101 Men’s Only Seminar

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

On November 1st, at 7pm we will be hosting our  “Men’s Only Seminar”. Join Sarah Paplanus, DPT and Dr. Seth Cohen as they discuss how pelvic floor dysfunction affects the male pelvic floor. Learn how your sex life can be improved by pelvic floor treatment, how to regain function after a prostatectomy, and how to rid yourself of the pain of prostatitis, and avoid antibiotics for the most common type of prostatitis. This seminar is not to be missed!

For more reading on men’s pelvic health topics, check out:

All About Testicles

Navigating Life with Chronic Pain: Part 1

Navigating Life with Chronic Pain: Part II

Prostatitis What it is and What to do About it

Read more about our hosts here:

Sarah Paplanus PT, DPT

Sarah graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science from Manhattan College and a Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Hunter College. Her clinical studies included advanced training in manual therapy at Functional Physical Therapy in Denver, Colorado. She has continued her training as a functional manual therapist with the Institute of Physical Art and is pursuing certification in Functional Manual Therapy (CFMT).

Prior to joining Beyond Basics, Sarah spent over five years specializing in orthopedics. Her interest in pelvic floor physical therapy grew through working alongside talented pelvic floor physical therapists and seeing the connections between orthopedics and pelvic floor dysfunction. Sarah has continued her training in pelvic health through the Herman and Wallace Pelvic Floor Rehabilitation Institute.

Sarah is a member of the International Pelvic Pain Society (IPPS).

Seth Cohen, MD, MPH 

Dr. Cohen treats erectile dysfunction, male sexual dysfunction, low testosterone, benign prostatic hyperplasia, enlarged prostate,  and kidney stones and other conditions including male and female pelvic pain. 

Credentials

Positions
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Urology
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Board Certifications
  • American Board of Urology – Urology, 2016
Education and Training
  • Fellowship, Univ of CA San Diego Med Ctr, Sexual Medicine, 2014
  • Residency, Lenox Hill Hospital, Urology, 2012
  • MD from Tulane University, 2007
  • MPH from Tulane University, 2003
Departments
  • Urology, 
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology

Register here: pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com

Location:

110 East 42nd street

Suite 1504

NY NY

10017

Pelvic Health 101 Fall 2018

 

PH101: Ladies Only Session

By: Fiona McMahon, DPT
Hey Ladies!!! In the next installment of our Pelvic Health 101 course, we are hosting a women’s only session to allow for a safe and non-threatening place to discuss many issues that can affect the health of your pelvic floor. This class one of Stephanie Stamas’s (the founder of PH101’s ) favorites and is definitely not to be missed. Hear more about it in her video below! Join us at 7pm on October 25th, 2018. Please register at pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com

 

 

Location

110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1504

New York, NY

10017

Pelvic Health 101 Fall 2018

Ph101 Why is Pooping so Difficult?

 

toilet

Fiona McMahon, PT, DPT

The number of Americans who deal with constipation issues is massive (4 million)! It seems like every time I mention that I’m a pelvic floor physical therapist, another friend of a friend pulls me aside with bowel movement concerns. Why is it that so many people have issues? And more importantly – what can we do about it? This is the topic of our next Pelvic Health 101 seminar on October 11th  at 7pm.

Not only will constipation be discussed but other bowel conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, fecal incontinence, bloating, and hemorrhoids will be addressed. The lecture will also go in depth on the role of fiber, water intake, toilet posture and pelvic floor muscles in having a successful bowel movement. You will even go home with easy techniques that you can implement immediately to help you get that smooth move! Don’t miss out on this FREE event – it’s a MUST for anyone who struggles on the porcelain throne. Seats are going fast!  Light snacks and refreshments will be served.

 

Register at pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com today.

Location

110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1504

New York, NY

10017

Check out or upcoming courses!

Pelvic Health 101 Fall 2018

 

 

PH101: Does my Diet Really Matter?

Fiona McMahon, DPT

 

 

Gluten free, soy free, low FODMAP… It’s amazing how many diets there are out there that really can provide people with symptom relief. If you are suffering with chronic pain you may be confused on where to start, or what is right for you. You also may have tried out a bunch of different ways of eating, not seen results, and got really frustrated. If this sounds like you, I highly encourage you to come to our next pelvic health seminar on October 4th  at 7pm “Does my diet really matter”.

jessica-drummond-headshot-197x300This seminar will be hosted by a special guest speaker, nutritionist Jessica Drummond, MPT,CCN,CHC. Jessica Drummond is a former pelvic floor physical therapist who now specializes in nutrition for those suffering with pelvic floor dysfunction. This seminar has been a huge hit and is a great starting point for those considering adding nutrition as part of their healing journey.

Register at pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com today.

 

 

Location

110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1504

New York, NY

10017

Pelvic Health 101 Fall 2018

 

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

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Oliver Sjöström
 via Pexels 

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Here at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, we treat many men both before and after treatment for prostate cancer. We focus on restoring the health of the pelvic floor and tissue surrounding the prostate to restore normal sexual and urinary function.

Beyond Basics itself has an outstanding program in pre and post operative prostate care in two locations in NYC:

 

Beyond Basics Physical Therapy (Midtown)

Pre-op/Post op Prostatectomy Program

110 E 42nd Street, Suite #1504, NY, NY 10017

T: 212-354-2622

 

Beyond Basics Physical Therapy  Downtown (Downtown)

156 Williams Street #800,New York, NY, 10038

T: 212-267-0240

 

Beyond Basics Physical Therapy offers a unique and comprehensive rehabilitation program focused on the healthcare needs of people who have

  •      Incontinence or sexual dysfunction due to prostate surgery
  •      Pain and/or bladder retention, frequency or urgency due to prostate treatment (with or without surgery)

Our physical therapists that work with these clients have extensive training and knowledge in pelvic related issues.

Pre-operative: patient will be seen by a therapist to not only evaluate their prior function, but also give them exercises to do before and after surgery.  The evaluation will include:

  • Muscle strength testing including pelvic floor and lower extremities
  • Biofeedback evaluation using either internal rectal sensors or external anal sensors
  • Education on what to expect and things to do to optimize surgical outcomes
  • Overall posture evaluation

Post-operatively: patient will be seen 2-6 weeks after surgery. Treatment will include the following

  • Muscle re-education utilizing biofeedback
  • Bladder re-education/timed voiding
  • Postural education
  • Overall core stabilization when appropriate
  • Behavioral Modifications

We treat our patients for 60 minute sessions in private rooms and use state of the art biofeedback technology.   If you have specific questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

As always, our programs are tailored to your specific needs.