doctor with hands on patient's spine

What Is Post Laminectomy Syndrome?

Though the condition is not commonly known to the general public, those who suffer from post laminectomy syndrome (PLS, and also sometimes referred to as Failed Back Surgery Syndrome [FBSS]) likely know it all too well. When you’ve endured a high level of back pain, tried multiple forms of relief, and then undergone surgery — only to find it has caused you even more pain — the frustration is understandable.

As a 2015 study in São Luís, Brazil summarized: “PLS features intense levels of pain, reduced quality of life and greater physical and occupational disability.”

Therefore, concerned doctors and pain specialists are eager and determined to find solutions.

What is a Laminectomy?

A laminectomy, or decompression surgery, removes a part of the vertebrae (the lamina) to surgically create space for the spinal cord and associated nerves, relieving painful compression.

Spinal nerve compression can be caused by conditions including:

  • Spinal stenosis, or narrowing of your spinal canal
  • Herniated disc
  • Degenerative disc disease, or breakdown of the vertebrae
  • Vertebral injury
  • Tumors

A laminectomy is often considered when other forms of conservative treatments have been unable to relieve pain.

What are the Causes of Post Laminectomy Syndrome?

Unfortunately, the most common cause of post-laminectomy syndrome may involve a misdiagnosis of the area of nerve compression or pain source, as this 2016 study revealed: “Inaccurate diagnosing is a major factor leading to FBSS, with as much as 58% of FBSS resulting from undiagnosed lateral stenosis of the lumbar spine.”

Other causes of post-laminectomy syndrome can include:

  • Transfer of spinal pain to the site of surgery
  • Myofascial pain or inflammation
  • Nerve damage or infection caused by surgery
  • Recurrent underlying issues, such as spinal stenosis or disc herniation
  • Scar tissue that develops along the treated nerve
  • Epidural fibrosis after surgery
  • Further progressive disease

Individual patient risk factors can also greatly contribute to an unsuccessful laminectomy, including diabetes, obesity, smoking, and even depression prior to surgery.

What are Symptoms of Post Laminectomy Syndrome?

It’s normal to experience pain directly after surgery while your body begins the healing process, but if it persists for longer than a couple of months, you may want to discuss PLS with your doctor.

PLS symptoms vary based on the cause and each individual patient, but some of them include:

  • New or shooting, dull, or sharp back pain
  • Consistent, similar pain to that experienced prior to surgery
  • Radiating leg pain or numbness
  • Prolonged tenderness around the site of surgery
  • Difficulty sleeping due to pain
  • Difficulty conducting daily activities or going to work due to pain
  • Continued reliance on pain medication

Treatment Options for Post Laminectomy Syndrome

If you fear you may be experiencing PLS, the most important thing you can do is to schedule a thorough follow up examination with your doctor. An MRI or CT scan may be prescribed to get to the root of your pain — something that will be very important in order to treat it.

While the recommended solution will depend on this follow-up, PLS may be treated by:

Spinal Cord Stimulation: Electrical impulses are used to block pain signals to the brain.

Radiofrequency Ablation: Administered through a small needle, electric current heats nerve tissues and eliminates their ability to send pain signals.

Regenerative Medicine: Cutting-edge protocols harness your body’s own healing power to relieve pain.

If you’ve undergone a laminectomy or other back surgery and are still struggling with persistent pain, the specialists at Alliance Spine & Pain Centers offer personalized, state-of-the-art treatments. To schedule a consultation, visit us online or call (770) 929-9033.

person holding lower back in pain

Finding Relief from Lower Back Pain

Pain in the lower back is the leading cause of disability across the globe. In a 2012 National Health Interview Survey, more than 25% of surveyed adults reported experiencing lower back pain within the previous three months.

At best, lower back pain discomfort can be irritating. At worst, it can interfere with your daily life by disrupting your sleep and making it challenging to complete routine tasks.

But just because lower back pain is common doesn’t mean you have to suffer from its symptoms. Here’s a closer look at what causes this pain and what you can do about it.

Common Symptoms of Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain is experienced anywhere below the bottom edge of the ribcage. The discomfort can range from a dull ache, to shooting or stabbing sensations that become so intense they even interfere with the ability to stand.

Acute pain can come on suddenly — often after an injury or strain, such as one experienced during heavy lifting. Chronic pain, on the other hand, can have more subtle causes and persist for more than three months. Regardless of the source or intensity, it’s a good idea to seek professional care for any back pain that doesn’t subside within 72 hours.

Causes

There are many potential causes of lower back pain beyond direct injury to the muscles and ligaments in the back. These causes may include:

  •       Sciatica
  •       Spinal stenosis, or narrowing of the spinal column
  •       Ruptured or herniated disk
  •       Arthritis

New Treatment Options

Fortunately, there are nearly as many ways to treat back pain as there are causes. Instead of simply dulling pain with medications, patients now have access to innovative and personalized treatments that address the underlying causes of back pain. While the recommended treatment will depend on the cause of your back pain – which is why consultation with your doctor is recommended — here are several ways the condition may be treated:

  • Injections: Often used for low back pain that radiates down the leg, injections such as epidural steroids can alleviate swelling and inflammation to eliminate pain.
  • Facet blocks: Facet joints are located on either side at the rear of the spine. Facet block injections to this area can administer anesthetic and anti-inflammatory steroid medication to alleviate symptoms.
  • Radiofrequency ablation: Especially effective for pain in the lower back, during this treatment electric current is administered through a small needle, heating nerve tissues and eliminating their ability to send pain signals.
  • Neurostimulation therapy: Artificial nerve stimulators can be implanted under the skin to deliver targeted electrical impulses to affected nerves. This treatment blocks pain signals, and can provide long-lasting relief.

If you’re struggling with persistent back pain and have yet to find lasting relief, turn to Alliance Spine & Pain Centers. We understand the challenges of ongoing back pain and offer personalized, state-of-the-art treatments delivered by experienced pain management specialists to help you feel like yourself again. To schedule an appointment, call (770) 929-9033, or view our full list of treatment options.

Woman holding foot in pain

What is Painful Diabetic Neuropathy (PDN)?

Painful diabetic neuropathy is nerve damage that results from diabetes. The high blood sugar that frequently appears as a result of diabetes can cause permanent injury to nerves throughout your body, which causes the intense pain. PDN presents as a burning, excruciating, stabbing or intractable type of pain, or presents with tingling or numbness. Nerves in the legs and feet are most often damaged with this condition. The symptoms are often painful and debilitating. Diabetic neuropathy is a serious complication from diabetes and can affect up to 50% of people with diabetes. 

As a result of the nerves affected, painful diabetic neuropathy can produce pain and numbness in your legs and feet and lead to issues with your digestive system, urinary tract, heart, and blood vessels. 

The American Diabetes Association recommends that screening for diabetic neuropathy begin immediately after someone is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and five years after diagnosis for someone with type 1 diabetes. After that, screening is recommended annually.

Causes: 

There are four distinct types of diabetic neuropathy: peripheral neuropathy, autonomic neuropathy, proximal neuropathy (diabetic polyradiculopathy), and mononeuropathy (focal neuropathy). The exact cause of each type of neuropathy is unknown. 

Researchers think that, over time, uncontrolled high blood sugar damages nerves and interferes with their ability to send signals, leading to diabetic neuropathy. High blood sugar also weakens the walls of the small blood vessels (capillaries) that supply the nerves with oxygen and nutrients.

Symptoms: 

According to Mayo Clinic, since there are four main types of diabetic neuropathy, symptoms depend on the type of diabetic neuropathy someone has and its degree of severity. Symptoms typically have a gradual onset, and many don’t notice they have a problem until they have experienced considerable nerve damage. 

Peripheral neuropathy

This type of neuropathy may also be called distal symmetric peripheral neuropathy. It’s the most common type of diabetic neuropathy. It affects the feet and legs first, followed by the hands and arms. Signs and symptoms of peripheral neuropathy are often worse at night, and may include:

  • Numbness or reduced ability to feel pain or temperature changes
  • Tingling or burning sensation
  • Sharp pains or cramps
  • Increased sensitivity to touch — for some people, even a bedsheet’s weight can be painful
  • Serious foot problems, such as ulcers, infections, and bone and joint pain

Autonomic neuropathy

The autonomic nervous system controls your heart, bladder, stomach, intestines, sex organs and eyes. Diabetes can affect nerves in any of these areas, possibly causing:

  • A lack of awareness that blood sugar levels are low (hypoglycemia unawareness)
  • Bladder or bowel problems
  • Slow stomach emptying (gastroparesis), causing nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite
  • Changes in the way your eyes adjust from light to dark
  • Decreased sexual response

Proximal neuropathy (diabetic polyradiculopathy)

This type of neuropathy — also called diabetic amyotrophy — often affects nerves in the thighs, hips, buttocks or legs. It can also affect the abdominal and chest area. Symptoms are usually on one side of the body, but may spread to the other side. You may have:

  • Severe pain in a hip, thigh, or buttock
  • Eventual weak and shrinking thigh muscles
  • Difficulty rising from a sitting position
  • Severe stomach pain

Mononeuropathy (focal neuropathy)

There are two types of mononeuropathy — cranial and peripheral. Mononeuropathy refers to damage to a specific nerve. Mononeuropathy may also lead to:

  • Difficulty focusing or double vision
  • Aching behind one eye
  • Paralysis on one side of your face (Bell’s palsy)
  • Numbness or tingling in your hand or fingers, except your pinkie (little finger)
  • Weakness in your hand that may cause you to drop things

Treatment: 

Since diabetic neuropathy doesn’t have a known cure, the goals of treatment are to slow the progression of the disease, relieve pain, and manage complications/restore function. 

To Slow Disease Progression: 

  1. To slow the progression of the disease, consistent management of blood pressure levels within a normal range will help. Blood sugar levels might need to be set on an individual basis. The National Diabetes Association recommends between 80 and 130 mg/dL, which is 4.4 and 7.2 millimoles per liter (mmol/L) before meals and less than 180 mg/dL (10.0 mmol/L) two hours after meals. 
  2. Mayo Clinic encourages slightly lower blood sugar levels for most younger people with diabetes, and slightly higher levels for older people who may be more at risk of low blood sugar complications. Mayo Clinic generally recommends the following target blood sugar levels before meals: between 80 and 120 mg/dL (4.4 and 6.7 mmol/L) for people age 59 and younger who have no other medical conditions and between 100 and 140 mg/dL (5.6 and 7.8 mmol/L) for people age 60 and older, or for those who have other medical conditions, including heart, lung or kidney disease

Pain Relief: 

Prescription drugs represent another possible therapy for diabetes-related nerve pain. Potential options for pain relieving prescription medication are: 

Anti-seizure drugs: 

The American Diabetes Association recommends pregabalin (Lyrica) and Gabapentin (Gralise, Neurontin) as options. Side effects can include drowsiness, dizziness, and swelling. 

Antidepressants: 

Antidepressants can alleviate nerve pain, even if you aren’t depressed. Tricyclic antidepressants can help with mild to moderate nerve pain. Amitriptyline, desipramine (Norpramin) and imipramine (Tofranil) are all in this category of drug. Side effects can include dry mouth and drowsiness.

Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are another class of antidepressant that may help with nerve pain and have fewer potential side effects. The American Diabetes Association recommends duloxetine (Cymbalta) as a first treatment. Another that may be used is venlafaxine (Effexor XR). Possible side effects include nausea, sleepiness, dizziness, decreased appetite and constipation.

Physicians may combine an antidepressant drug with an anti-seizure drug. These drugs can also be used with pain-relieving medication, including acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin IB) or a skin patch with lidocaine (a numbing substance).

HFX™ Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS): 

It’s the only spinal cord stimulation system approved by the FDA to manage pain associated with diabetic neuropathy. 

The HFX™ Solution treatment system involves a minimally-invasive implant procedure, allowing the patient to go home the same day. The spinal cord stimulation device then delivers mild electrical pulses to the nerves, interrupting the transmission of pain signals to the brain, which reduces pain. 

Managing Complications and Restoring Function: 

The treatment a patient requires will depend on the neuropathy-related complication a person has. 

  • Urinary tract problems. Some drugs affect bladder function, so your doctor may recommend stopping or changing medications. A strict urination schedule or urinating every few hours while applying gentle pressure to the bladder area can help some bladder problems. Other methods, including self-catheterization, may be needed to remove urine from a nerve-damaged bladder.
  • Digestive problems. To relieve mild signs and symptoms of gastroparesis — indigestion, belching, nausea or vomiting — doctors suggest eating smaller, more-frequent meals. Diet changes and medications may help relieve gastroparesis, diarrhea, constipation and nausea.
  • Low blood pressure on standing (orthostatic hypotension). Treatment starts with simple lifestyle changes, such as avoiding alcohol, drinking plenty of water, and changing positions such as sitting or standing slowly. Your doctor may also recommend compression support for your abdomen. Several medications, either alone or together, may be used to treat orthostatic hypotension.
  • Sexual dysfunction. Medications taken by mouth or injection may improve sexual function in some men, but they aren’t safe and effective for everyone. Mechanical vacuum devices may increase blood flow to the penis. Women may find relief with vaginal lubricants.

If you have any more questions, the pain specialist experts at Alliance Spine and Pain are here to help. Reach out to any of our pain specialists by clicking here or by giving us a call at 770-929-9033.

Orthopedist examining patients back

Treatment Spotlight: Radiofrequency Nerve Ablation

Persistent pain in the back, neck, or joints is frustrating at best. At worst, it can interfere with your daily routine, making everyday tasks like standing, sitting, bending, and walking painful and exhausting. If you’ve tried home remedies and non-invasive treatments, but they’ve done little to alleviate your discomfort, radiofrequency nerve ablation could be right for you. Here’s everything you need to know before scheduling a consultation.

What Is Radiofrequency Nerve Ablation?

Also called radiofrequency neurotomy, radiofrequency nerve ablation (RFA) is a technique typically performed by pain management specialists with the goal of addressing chronic pain in the back, neck, hip, or knee. RFA is widely recommended by doctors for pain that:

  • Is localized to the back, neck, hip or knee and does not radiate
  • Intensifies while lifting or twisting
  • Feels better while lying down
  • Occurs on one or both sides of the back

In general, RFA helps patients with persistent pain caused by the degeneration of joints, usually from arthritis.

How Does RFA Work?

RFA uses heat generated by radio waves to disrupt the pain signals in the spinal nerves. Typically, the treatment will be performed while the patient is awake but mildly sedated, and will involve the following steps:

  • The injection area is numbed to minimize discomfort when the needle is inserted.
  • Under x-ray guidance, the doctor inserts a needle to the appropriate nerve branch. 
  • After the needle has been placed, an active electrode is inserted through the needle to emit a controlled electrical current. This will stimulate the nerve and may briefly create some discomfort, but allows the physician to confirm that they’ve targeted the proper treatment area.
  • Upon confirming the target nerve, the physician will use an ablation method (pulsed, water-cooled, or traditional radiofrequency) to create a heat lesion, which prevents the nerve from sending pain signals to the brain. If needed, the process will be repeated on other nerves.

The process takes 30 minutes, and patients can typically return home the same day. Common side effects include temporary discomfort at the injection site and numbness of the skin.

Most patients experience relief within one to three weeks after the treatment. During recovery, patients should allow their pain levels to guide their activities. Physical therapy may be advised to help patients regain strength and mobility if their pain has limited their activity range for some time.

Who’s a Good Candidate for Radiofrequency Nerve Ablation?

Although RFA isn’t considered a permanent fix for back or neck pain, it can provide lasting relief for anyone who wants to avoid or delay full back surgery but has had little success with other treatment options, such as physical therapy or lifestyle adjustments. It may be right for you if you’re experiencing chronic back or neck pain, or pain in the sacroiliac joint near the base of the spine and hip bones. Some patients experience pain relief that lasts years, and the treatment is considered a safe, well-tolerated treatment with few complications. Most people find that pain levels are much improved after the treatment.

If previous attempts to alleviate your back pain have done little to bring relief, turn to Alliance Spine & Pain. We understand the frustration of ongoing discomfort and offer state-of-the-art treatments delivered by experienced pain management specialists to help you feel like yourself again. To schedule an appointment, call (770) 929-9033 or reach out to us online.

Five Ways to Prevent Stiff Joints in the Morning

Ever wake up and feel so sore you’re not sure you can get out of bed? Morning joint stiffness is a common complaint among older adults, and several changes contribute to this symptom as we age.

One major cause of this pain is drying cartilage — the spongy cushioning that helps to absorb shock. A decline in production of synovial fluid can also mean joints are less lubricated. Additionally, stiff tendons and weak muscles become even tighter due to lack of activity during sleep. Finally, the symptoms of arthritis, a condition commonly associated with aging, can be more severe in the morning.

No matter what’s causing your morning pain, you don’t have to live with stiff, achy joints every day. Here are a few ways to get your joints going at the same time you do.

1. Stretch in Bed

Pop right out of bed upon waking up and you’re sure to feel like the Tin Man. Instead, try a few gentle stretches while you’re still lying down to gradually wake the joints up. Start by moving your neck from side to side, then stretching the upper body. Rotate hands and wrists in small circles, then activate the shoulders and elbows with similar gestures. Continue this circulation slowly down the body, including hips, knees, ankles, and toes in a way that feels good to you.

2. Take a Hot Shower

Make your way to the shower after climbing from bed. Turn the water temperature up to the highest comfortable setting, then allow your stiff joints to reap the soothing benefits of heat. Stay under the spray for at least 10 minutes to expose your joints to both water and the steam, which can help reduce inflammatory agents that contribute to arthritis.

3. Move Throughout the Day

Vigorous exercise may feel like the last thing you want to do with sore joints, but low-impact physical activity is one of the best treatments for joint pain. It strengthens supporting muscles, boosts bone strength, provides energy, and can help control your weight to reduce the strain on your joints. Regular movement also promotes restful sleep, giving your body the opportunity to repair overnight. Work with your care provider to come up with a plan that incorporates low-impact aerobic exercises, such as swimming or cycling, as well as stretching and strengthening moves.

4. Try an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

According to the Arthritis Foundation, following a Mediterranean-style diet can reduce inflammation that causes joint pain and stiffness. The dietary approach prioritizes inflammation-fighting agents, such as omega-3 fatty acids in fish and monounsaturated fats in nuts and seeds. It incorporates antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, as well as beans and whole grains. It also limits processed foods, which often contribute to inflammation.

5. Assess Your Mattress

While the right mattress can alleviate joint pain, the wrong one can aggravate it. If you’re getting the recommended eight hours of sleep, mattress quality becomes even more compelling, as you’re spending a third of your life there! The Sleep Foundation recommends models that provide both cushioning and support, prevent sinking, and keep the spine in proper position.

At Alliance Spine and Pain, we don’t just mask joint pain or stiffness with medication — we use individualized treatments to prevent or relieve them. To find out how we can ease your joint pain and stiffness, schedule an appointment online or by calling (770) 929-9033.

Woman stretching at desk

Why Your Spine Health Really Matters

Oftentimes, we don’t give much thought to our back health until something goes wrong. Perhaps it’s persistent neck pain, or a twinge in your back, but a sudden ailment can draw attention to the state of your spine. 

Caring for this central part of your body is just as important when you’re not experiencing any issues, however. Here’s why your spine deserves the same careful regard as any other aspect of your health.

The Spine’s Functions

Acting as the body’s main structural support system, the spine holds us upright. It connects all parts of the skeleton — head, chest, pelvis, shoulders, arms, and legs — and bears the weight of your entire upper body. 

In addition to its vertebral bones, the spine is also made up of elastic ligaments and spinal disks, which allow it to bend and twist. This flexibility also provides mobility throughout the whole body. Among its main key functions, the spine also serves as a balance system and shock absorber, thanks to its unique S-shape. 

The bones of the spine also protect a key component of the central nervous system— the spinal cord. The spinal nerve roots located there connect a series of peripheral nerves that branch off and extend to the extremities. To safeguard this critical nerve network, cerebrospinal fluid encases the spinal cord along with layers of protective membranes, all shielded by your vertebrae.

The Importance of Spinal Health

Keeping your spine healthy is one of the most important preventive health measures you can take. Certain spinal conditions can hinder your mobility, resulting in a loss of independence or a reliance on assistive devices. For example, the pain from a sciatica can be caused by degenerative disc disease or narrowing of the spinal column, and it irritates the sciatic nerve. This condition can cause immense pain while walking, standing, or even sitting. 

A stable spine has greater flexibility, meaning it allows you to move naturally and freely without pain. But an injured spine can make it challenging to lift, reach, stretch, or complete other everyday movements.

In fact, back and neck pain are the most common causes of physical pain in the U.S., and are responsible for the greatest number of doctors’ visits, outside the common cold. Back conditions are also the most common reason for disability in the U.S. 

Taking care of your back is therefore not just a matter of preserving long-term health, but of protecting your livelihood, too.

Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Spine

While we can’t always control whether we’ll develop spinal conditions such as osteoporosis or arthritis, there are plenty of things we can do to boost spine health. Here are a few to start practicing now.

  • Lift carefully. Keep objects close to your body as you lift them, and use your leg strength to bear the weight instead of your back.
  • Practice good sleep posture. Aim to keep your spine in its neutral alignment while you sleep. You may need to put a pillow between your legs if you’re a side sleeper, under your knees if you’re a back sleeper, or beneath your hips if you sleep on your stomach.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight puts added stress on your spine. Follow a nutrient-rich diet and exercise regularly. As an added bonus, mixing strength, stretching, and aerobic activities will help keep your back more resilient against injuries.

Our team at Alliance Spine and Pain promotes spine health by addressing the root causes of back issues. We use state-of-the-art therapies to address a wide range of back issues. Schedule an appointment online or by calling (770) 929-9033.

Close-up of a woman holding her knee

How Does PRP Provide Pain Relief?

Many musculoskeletal conditions can be notoriously challenging to address. Whether caused by sports injuries or general wear and tear of the joints, these issues are common in adults and can involve ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and other soft tissues. Low back pain, in particular, is believed to affect 568 million people across the globe, diminishing mobility and dexterity, and contributing to other health issues if left unaddressed.

Treatments such as physical therapy and lifestyle modifications can reduce symptoms. But in some cases, you may need a more powerful approach while avoiding invasive surgeries that require significant downtime. Fortunately, there’s a pain management solution that can address the root cause of musculoskeletal pain without the need for surgical interventions: PRP.

What Is PRP?

PRP stands for platelet-rich plasma, a treatment that leverages the patient’s own blood cells (specifically platelets) containing growth factors. PRP has the ability to:

  •       Stimulate cell proliferation
  •       Accelerate healing
  •       Facilitate tissue regeneration

PRP therapy is a cutting-edge treatment for joint injuries and other musculoskeletal conditions. The process is simple and minimally invasive. During the procedure, a small sample of blood is taken. The blood sample is then placed in a centrifuge to separate the platelets from the other components in the blood. The concentrated PRP is then redelivered to the body via injection.

How Does PRP Alleviate Pain?

When the platelet-rich portion of the plasma is isolated and injected into an area where the tissue has been injured or otherwise compromised, it can stimulate healing and increase the number of reparative cells at the site. Due to the powerful growth factors, PRP has been shown to improve tissue strength, reduce inflammation, and increase muscle regeneration. Thanks to increased strength and elevation of healing from PRP therapy, individuals with both acute injuries and chronic tendon, ligament, or muscle issues can experience reduced pain levels. 

Because the treatment uses the patient’s own blood, risks of rejection, transmissible infections, or allergic reaction are low. There is little to no downtime required, and most patients can resume their normal activities immediately after receiving injections.

What Conditions Can PRP Help With?

Results for PRP can vary based on the area of treatment and the nature of the injury or condition. PRP is commonly used to treat the following conditions:

  •       Chronic tendon injuries, including tennis elbow and Achilles tendinitis
  •       Acute ligament and muscle injuries, such as pulled hamstrings
  •       Osteoarthritis in the knee, hip, shoulder, and spine
  •       Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries
  •       Plantar fasciitis
  •       Ankle and ligament sprains

PRP therapy engages the body’s natural healing process, which means it may take some time for full results to be realized. Pain relief may increase gradually over several weeks, but subsequent injections may be needed to achieve optimal results.

If you’re curious about how PRP injections could reduce your pain levels, contact Alliance Spine and Pain Centers. Our physicians use safe, evidence-based techniques to provide pain relief so you can return to your normal lifestyle. Schedule an appointment online or by calling (770) 929-9033.

Athletic senior man in a blue t-shirt going for a jog outside.

Preventing Pain During Healthy Aging Month

September is Healthy Aging Month, which spotlights the importance of maintaining physical, mental, and emotional health throughout life’s changes. Thanks to modern medical advancements, the 65+ population has risen in the last ten years and is expected to grow by an additional 45% by 2060.

This increased longevity makes it even more important to ensure you can and will enjoy yourself through your golden years. But the aches and pains that come with age-related conditions have the potential to impact your physical health, and affect you emotionally and mentally, too.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to keep pain at bay and continue your favorite activities.

Common Causes of Age-Related Pain

According to the Cleveland Clinic, some of the pain created by the wear and tear your body experiences over the years might be simply considered “nuisance pain.” As we age, the cartilage between bones diminishes naturally, and discs in the spinal column may lose moisture and therefore provide less shock absorption. But pain from other conditions can worsen these effects.

For instance, the Arthritis Foundation notes that at least 54 million adults have some version of arthritis. The most common form is osteoarthritis: characterized by swollen, painful joints caused by a breakdown of cartilage. While osteoarthritis is a common age-related condition among many, athletes and individuals with physical jobs may be more susceptible. 

Other chronic conditions commonly seen in aging populations may also contribute to pain. Hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may all impact your body’s ability to combat inflammation and deterioration, reducing your capacity to function optimally. Further health issues caused by a sedentary lifestyle, such as joint stiffness and frailty, may also contribute to pain. 

Whether or not you’re already managing a preexisting condition, here’s what you can do to minimize discomfort through adulthood.

Pain Prevention Through the Ages

Stay Active

Our bodies are meant to move. Joint-friendly exercises can support mobility without compounding existing damage. For instance, biking and swimming take the load off your joints while keeping you active.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Staying within a healthy weight range can reduce the strain on your body. Obesity increases the risk for arthritis, along with other health issues, but maintaining your weight by eating a nutrient-rich diet and staying physically active can mitigate your risks.

Don’t Overdo It

Muscle fibers become less dense with age, making you more injury-prone. Ask for help when needed to prevent a muscle strain, and practice bodyweight or light weight-bearing exercises, (such as squats or bicep curls) to build up your strength gradually and avoid injuries.

Stay Hydrated

Hydration promotes shock absorption. Your cartilage and spinal discs need moisture to stay healthy, so pay attention to your body’s thirst cues. Ideally, you should be drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day, and swap out sodas and other calorie- or sugar-rich beverages for water when possible.

Address Persistent Pain

While we can expect certain pains to come and go as we age, intense or persistent pain should never be ignored. Discomfort is the body’s way of telling us something’s wrong, so professional help is essential for addressing the root issue. 

If you’re experiencing chronic or acute pain, turn to Alliance Spine and Pain for an effective care plan. Our team is dedicated to bringing you relief through state-of-the-art treatments and a personalized approach to patient care. Call 770-929-9033 or schedule an appointment online 

Young boy in yellow shorts is playing outside with his golden retriever.

How Childhood Habits Can Affect Chronic Pain

Though children sometimes seem indestructible — bouncing back from illness and injury more quickly than the grownups around them — their growing bodies are, in fact, susceptible to pain. And behavior patterns they establish now could prevent more serious suffering later in their lives.

Here are some things to stay aware of to help children avoid chronic pain, especially at the beginning of a new school year. 

Overburdened by Backpacks

If your child regularly uses a backpack, improper adjustment can cause aches and pains in their shoulders, neck, and spine. Keep these things in mind while packing them up for the day:

  • Weigh the bag and its contents carefully. Altogether, the pack should weigh only 10 to 15 percent of a child’s body weight. Extra books can be carried in their arms, if necessary. 
  • Make sure the bag has two straps, and that both are secured over the child’s shoulders, so that the pack rides high between their shoulder blades and does not drop below their waist. 
  • Consider a rolling backpack/suitcase if that suits their style and will help make maneuvering easier. 

Keep Them Moving 

Everyone benefits from regular physical activity, but especially children. “Exercise leads to improved motor skills (such as hand-eye co-ordination), better thinking and problem-solving, stronger attention skills and improved learning,” according to About Kids Health. “Not surprisingly, these all combine to benefit school performance.”

Getting into the habit of physical activity now may also help prevent chronic pain later. Besides the other general health benefits of exercise,  Utah State University Heart Extension also reports that “Physical activity reduces chronic pain by building muscle strength and flexibility, reducing fatigue, reducing pain sensitivity, and reducing inflammation.”

Sedentary school schedules, a reduction in physical education or recess, and the appeal of video games and tablet time may make it challenging to get a child active, however. But combatting these trends doesn’t require a grueling sports schedule. “Every time you and your child throw a softball, swim a lap, climb a flight of stairs, walk to the store, or carry packages, your health and fitness levels are improving,” reminds Parents magazine

Even 10-30 minutes a day of helping with outside chores, climbing on a playground, or running through a homemade obstacle course can make a positive impact. 

But Warm Them Up, First

Though little ones might be eager to dive right into physical activity, Harvard Health cautions against doing so. This is because sending “cold” muscles into abrupt action can cause injury, due to a lack of blood flow or proper oxygen. 

Before sending them into the pool, onto the trampoline jump zone, or across the ball field, give kids a quick warm-up to elevate their heart rates and move joints and muscles through a basic range of motion. NerdFitness recommends some of the following for adults, but they can work for children too:

  1. Marching in place while swinging arms
  2. Jumping or walking jacks
  3. Arm circles and shoulder shrugs
  4. Hip rotations (like stepping over a fence) or hip circles (like you’re hula hooping)
  5. Squats or lunges

All of these elements in combination can help prevent injury and more complex chronic pain issues later in life. Though a child may not yet suffer from the same causes for pain that you do, we’re still here to help (and especially so if they are experiencing pain). Schedule an appointment with us online or call 770-929-9033 to investigate any pain they are suffering, or discuss an individualized plan for prevention.

Patient with a hurt back standing in front of a doctor explaining a balloon kyphoplasty procedure

Treatment Spotlight: Balloon Kyphoplasty

At Alliance Spine and Pain Centers, we specialize in many progressive pain relief solutions, including balloon kyphoplasty. We’re here to provide thorough answers to your questions.

Who is a balloon kyphoplasty candidate?

A minimally invasive, outpatient procedure for people with compression fractures of the vertebra (generally caused by osteoporosis or spinal tumor), balloon kyphoplasty can help alleviate pain and improve mobility. 

There are some risk factors, however, including 

  • Being a female over 70 years of age
  • Weighing less than 125lbs
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Chronic steroid use
  • Chronic alcohol use

Please thoroughly discuss these risks with your doctor and our specialists to ensure balloon kyphoplasty is safe for you. 

What does the procedure involve?

Light sedation may be administered prior to the procedure, but in all cases a local anesthetic is injected into the immediate area. Using fluoroscopic (X-ray) guidance, a needle is inserted into the fractured vertebra. An orthopedic balloon is then inserted through the needle and inflated to restore vertebral height. Next, bone cement (polymethyl methacrylate, or PMMA) is injected into to fill the cavity created by the balloon. Imaging tests are conducted throughout the process to ensure the cement has properly filled the space. When it hardens, the cement becomes a fixative for the fracture by stabilizing the bone and preventing further collapse.

If treatment is only needed for one vertebra, the procedure should take approximately one hour. Afterward, our staff will observe you for 15-30 minutes to ensure you are stable and safe to be released.

What is the recovery time?

First, you’ll be required to have a driver to leave the office. Once home you’ll need a full hour of supine bed rest. Another four hours bed rest is recommended following the initial period, but it isn’t necessary to remain flat on your back for the entirety. 

Most people experience significant pain relief within 24 hours after the procedure. You can expect to gradually resume your normal daily activities after 48 hours with the proper amount of rest. In the meantime, ice packs may help relieve any residual soreness or swelling you might experience. 

To help strengthen your back muscles and minimize recovery time, New Health Advisor recommends therapeutic exercises, including:

  • Static glutes
  • Ankle pumps
  • Transabdominal and quadriceps settling

If you think you might be a candidate for balloon kyphoplasty, we encourage you to discuss the potential benefits and risks with your doctor.

If you have additional questions about balloon kyphoplasty or would like to make an appointment, call 770-929-9033 or schedule online.