Ky. Voices: Relieving lower back pain without danger of toxic shots

October 30, 2012 

Dr. Jim Roach practices at the Midway Center for Integrative Medicine.

The growing number of deaths from fungus-contaminated cortisone back injections are tragic. What are the options? Hardworking physicians have struggled for answers.

Most pain relief is limited to the duration of an injection or pain pill. Physical therapy, often effective, can fail. Beyond infection, cortisone in any form promotes diabetes, cardiovascular disease and bone decay.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs increase bleeding and cardiovascular risk, can impede healing, but may relieve break-through pain. Chronic narcotic use can lead to addiction, crime, damaged fetuses and destroyed families.

Prescriptions are now the preferred drugs of abuse. Hydrocodone use has led to a surge in heroin addiction far outpacing cocaine. Can prescriptions be for five pain pills instead of thirty? Can disability rolls be pared?

A root cause of pain is inflammation. In my clinical experience, joints can have no cartilage — "bone on bone" — yet be pain-free absent inflammation.

Many foods promote inflammation. To experience joint or muscle pain, eat fried food, sugar or foods readily converting to sugar: snack foods, grains, white potatoes and excess fruit.

Food sensitivity can be a key factor, especially cow's milk products, grains and often eggs. Organic vegetables, high omega-3 wild salmon or sardines, and green tea are anti-inflammatory. Baked organic poultry and raw nuts are safe in moderation.

Anti-inflammatory botanicals abound, including quality-sourced dynamos turmeric, ginger and boswellia; use caution if on blood thinners.

A critical pain factor is hormone imbalance. Ask a perimenopausal woman how muscles and joints feel in days prior to menses. Most of us today have relatively low testosterone and higher estrogen. Those in chronic pain typically have low normal or deficient testosterone, substantially increasing pain sensitivity. Unfortunately, pain medicine lowers testosterone, promoting dependence.

As an anabolic hormone, testosterone strengthens muscle, cartilage and bone, bolstering spine alignment and speeding healing. It motivates, uplifts and reassures. Prescription testosterone is sometimes indicated, but to preserve testicles, other strategies are preferred.

Rampant deficiencies of vitamin D and zinc contribute to low testosterone. Quality anabolic botanicals used knowledgeably are excellent. In healing and pain, male and female, testosterone support is huge.

Many factors lower testosterone. Stress raises cortisol, suppressing testosterone. The diabetes drug metformin and cholesterol-lowering drugs lower testosterone. Cortisone injections, by lowering testosterone, may perpetuate or exacerbate back problems. Inadequate sleep lowers hormones, worsening pain; natural strategies aid sleep and nocturnal pain relief.

Solutions overlooked by medicine and the public include cognitive behavioral therapy, osteopaths, acupuncture, chiropractors and massage. Reiki is used in intensive care. Hands-on therapy, in part, provides "TLC", lowering cortisol and raising hormones.

Could these strategies pre-empt chronic pain pills and steroids? Can we preserve families and community, prevent and reverse disability? Pray for our leaders and health providers as they strive for ever-improving healing strategies.

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