In The News: March 2010
Electrical Stimulation Not Effective for Back Pain
A new guideline issued by the American Academy of Neurology has found that transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)—a widely used pain therapy involving a portable, pocket-sized device that applies a mild electrical current to the nerves through electrodes—is not recommended to treat chronic lower back pain. Researchers reviewed all evidence for lower back pain lasting three months or longer, including that caused by a pinched nerve, severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine), severe spondylolisthesis (displacement of a vertebrae) or obesity, and found TENS not to be effective. However, there was substantial evidence that the procedure can be effective in treating diabetic back pain. TENS has been used for pain relief in various disorders for years, with the belief that electrical stimulation may confuse the brain and block actual pain signals from getting through. The guideline was published in the December online issue of Neurology.
Tai Chi Found to Reduce the Discomfort of Knee OA
Adults age 65 and older with knee osteoarthritis (OA) who engage in regular tai chi improve their physical function and experience less pain. So concludes a study that appeared in the November 2009 issue of Arthritis Care & Research. At the end of a 12-week period, patients practicing tai chi experienced a 75 percent reduction in pain and a 72 percent improvement in their ability to perform everyday tasks, such as climbing and descending stairs. Tai chi is consistent with current exercise recommendations for OA, which include range-of-motion exercises (see page 5), flexibility, muscle conditioning, and aerobic workouts. The study’s authors also suggest that tai chi’s promotion of psychological well-being may counter the negative effects of chronic pain. Nearly 4.3 older adults suffer from OA of the knee, and it’s believed that half of all Americans may develop it in at least one knee by age 85.
Anesthesiologists Urge Patients to Fight Back Against Pain
Whether the result of injury, illness, or a chronic condition, 70 million Americans experience pain annually. To help fight pain, the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) recently recommended that patients seek the guidance of a pain-medicine expert for appropriate treatments, which may include medication, injections, physical therapy, psychological support, and acupuncture. The ASA further suggested the following steps that patients can take to address their pain: 1) See your doctor (you’ll need the help of an expert to treat your condition); 2) Be an active participant (those who are true partners with their doctors have more success than those who take a passive, hands-off approach); 3) Make a sustained commitment (overcoming pain is often a multi-step process and requires following a prescribed course in its entirety); 4) Recognize the important role your physical health plays (it’s easier for an otherwise healthy person to fight chronic pain than it is for an unhealthy person); 5) Talk to others who have had the same condition (hearing a firsthand account can make your pain less of a mystery).
Sham Acupuncture as Effective as Real Thing at Easing Pain
Proving the placebo effect can often be just as successful in easing pain as actual acupuncture, investigators at the Group Health Center for Health Studies in Seattle compared back-pain sufferers who received acupuncture with a group prodded with toothpicks in the same areas (participants could not see which treatment they received). Sixty percent of those in the acupuncture group reported improvement at the end of eight weeks, compared with 40 percent of those who received the placebo treatment. The study’s authors believe that more than the placebo effect may have been at work in the group that was needled with toothpicks, since real acupuncture points were poked—which may have resulted in genuine relief.