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Month: January 2015

Electrical Stimulation as a Treatment for Back Pain

Back pain–whether acute or chronic–can range from mildly uncomfortable to truly debilitating. And in some cases, the exact cause of the pain can be very difficult to diagnose. If you’ve ever experienced severe back pain yourself (or spent time with friends or family members who have), you can probably understand why physicians do what they can to help patients manage the pain as part of their treatment. Relieving back pain can improve quality of life and allow you to get back to doing the things that you enjoy.

electrical-stimulation-search-collage-200-300Depending on the circumstances, doctors can use a variety of approaches, ranging from relatively conservative manual therapies (such as chiropractic adjustments, spinal mobilization, massage techniques and acupuncture) to more aggressive ones involving drugs and surgery. It might surprise you to know that in some cases physicians also use electricity to help relieve patients’ back pain. In fact, electrotherapy has been practiced in a variety of forms for over 100 years.

How Electrical Stimulation Is Performed

One method that doctors use is to stimulate the spinal cord using a small electrical pulse generator implanted in the affected individual’s back. Although researchers aren’t certain why this sort of stimulation reduces back pain, they believe that the electricity may work to “distract” the nerve impulses. Instead of focusing on the area that would normally be triggering pain, the nerves focus on the electrical stimulation they’re receiving. As a result, the distracted nerves do not seem to send pain-related messages to the brain and the patient doesn’t experience the sensation of pain.

There are a number of companies that make these types of implants, each of which works somewhat differently from the others. However, all have shown to be equally effective when compared in studies. The actual results vary more patient-to-patient than device-to-device.

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

TENS also uses electrical stimulation to reduce pain, but it is applied very differently. Small electrodes are placed on the skin in the areas where pain occurs and are attached with adhesive. At most, you will feel some warmth or tingling where the electrodes are attached. Galvanic Stimulation (GS) and Interferential Current (IFC) are similar systems that are powered by battery or from an adapter that works from an electrical outlet. Electrical stimulation is used often in physical rehabilitation settings.

Increasing Endorphins to Kill Pain

In addition to interfering with the nerve signals that cause pain, electrical stimulation has also been proven to increase the production of endorphins. These brain chemicals are released in response to stress or pain and they act as natural pain killers by interacting with receptors in the brain and reducing your perception of pain.

For anyone who has had to live with back pain, effective treatment options that don’t involve riskier drugs or surgical procedures are often attractive and worth a try. There are rarely side effects experienced with electrical stimulation therapy and, when they do occur, they’re usually limited to minor allergic reactions to the adhesive or transient pain resulting from the electrical stimulation. However, be sure to tell your doctor if you are pregnant or have any other health conditions.

Need a Good Night’s Rest? Try These Natural Approaches Before You Visit the Medicine Cabinet

How well did you sleep last night? If you’re like nearly one third of American adults, the answer is probably “not that well.” Stress and distractions can make it difficult to nod off, but that doesn’t mean you have to turn to over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids to get the rest you need. Consider these natural sleep aids as a way to get some shut-eye.

man-sleeping-at-playground-200-300Create a Restful Environment and Routine

Creating an environment that is conducive to sleep is an effective way to drift off naturally. This includes making sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature, as well as following a bedtime routine that helps you wind down and relax. Make sure your bed is comfortable–don’t be afraid to experiment with different pillows and mattress toppers to find the ones that work best for you. Avoid bright lights in the hour before you go to sleep (this includes computers, phones, and televisions). Read a book or take a warm bath before bed to help you relax and get ready to rest. Establishing this type of routine will make it easier to transition from wakefulness to sleep.

Try Chamomile Tea

Chamomile is a traditional herbal remedy that has been used for millennia as a solution for sleeplessness. It is a safe, mild sleep aid that can be a relaxing part of a bedtime routine. If you are taking any other medicinal sleep aids, be sure to consult with your doctor before adding chamomile (or any other oral sleep aid) to your regimen.

Watch What You Eat

Your eating habits can impact your ability to fall asleep. If you rely on coffee to keep you going during the day, try eliminating caffeinated beverages in the ten hours leading up to bedtime. It is also a good idea to avoid eating large meals late at night. It takes your stomach quite a bit of work to digest rich food, which may prevent you from drifting off. Finally, be careful about how many liquids you consume in the last two hours before bed. Late night fluid consumption often leads to multiple bathroom trips, making it hard to settle down and fall asleep.

Consult with a Chiropractor

If you’ve tried these natural sleep solutions and still aren’t getting the rest you need, a chiropractor may be able to help. Interferences in the body’s central nervous system can create a stress response in your body, which makes it difficult to sleep. Chiropractic care can help to correct these interferences safely, allowing your body to function as it should. Chiropractors can also work with you to identify lifestyle factors that may interfere with your sleep patterns and help you create a plan to correct them.

Insomnia is a frustrating issue, but there are natural alternatives to visiting your medicine cabinet. In many cases, a combination of lifestyle changes and chiropractic care can help you find the rest you need.

Tips and Precautions for Winter Exercise

For many people, colder temperatures outside—whether at home or while traveling over the winter holidays—can mean big changes in exercise routines. Some will move their workouts indoors or hibernate during the winter months. Others, though, will decide to work with the seasons and find ways to be active outside. If you’re one of those people, this article is for you.

cold-weather-jogging-200-300While there’s certainly no rule against venturing out into the cold for a little bit of exercise, it’s important to be smart about how you do it. Remember to protect yourself from frostbite, hypothermia, and injuries that can come with freezing temperatures. To help you do that, we’ve put together a short checklist that you can use to exercise outdoors safely this winter.

Remember that Cold Weather is Often Dry Weather. Winter weather is often associated with precipitation. However, as the temperatures drop to dangerous lows—close to freezing and below—the opposite is often true regarding humidity. The air will get drier, and even if you don’t sweat as much, you can still lose valuable moisture. When exercising in the cold weather, remember to drink plenty of water, even if you don’t really feel thirsty or sweaty.

Understand the Real Temperature Where You Plan to Exercise. Look up the weather on a website or app before you head out into the cold, but understand the numbers you are looking at. The general weather conditions can differ greatly from place to place locally, even in the same region. Pay especially close attention to wind chill numbers, since the combination of wind and your own movement may lead you to experience lower temperatures. The thermometer may say it’s 35 degrees out, but the wind chill may mean it feels closer to 20 degrees in certain areas.

Dress Appropriately. It may be tempting to bundle up when going out in the cold to work out, but this comes at a cost. Thick, warm clothes will make you sweat more easily, and that sweat can leach heat from your body and allow your temperature to drop to unhealthy levels. The key, as cold weather experts know well, is to dress in layers, starting with a thin synthetic layer of wicking material, then a fleece and finally a thinner waterproof coat. The added benefit to this clothing strategy is that it’s flexible. You can always take off layers if you get too hot.

Warm Up the Extremities. When exercising in the cold weather, pay particular attention to your extremities, which are more vulnerable to frostbite. It’s especially important to cover your fingers and head. If the air is very frigid, cover up your nose and mouth, too: That cold air can damage your lungs and freeze your nose.

Fuel Up. A source of energy is vital to keeping up your metabolism and keeping you warm when out in the cold. Eat a healthy amount of complex carbs and proteins before you go out, and if you’re going to be out for a few hours, then bring a snack along, too. Stay away from sugars and other less dependable sources of energy, if possible.

Start Slow. Stretching and warming up will both make injury less likely and help your metabolism pick up until you are ready for more strenuous work. Always warm up before going out into the winter weather, particularly if you are planning on an intense session with lots of running or heavy exertion. Otherwise, joint and muscle injuries could result.

Know the Danger Signs. Hypothermia and frostbite can creep up on you if you’re not careful. You can defend against the cold better if you recognize the signs. Frostbite occurs on exposed skin like your cheeks, nose, ears, and hands, especially below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Hypothermia occurs when shivering cannot keep up your core body temperature and your heart and brain begin to shut down. Watch for intense shivering, sudden weariness, slurred words, and trouble with coordination.