We all have aches and pains. Eighty percent of us will experience severe pains in the back, neck and joints at some time in our lives, says pain management specialist Dr. Selina Xing of Newark.
Some of those pains are minor. Some are serious and long lasting. Treating those pains, according to Dr. Rachael Smith of Dover, is a $100 billion-a-year industry in the United States. That’s a lot of hurt, and it results in $50 billion in lost work hours and productivity every year. But there is relief.
Pain results mainly from two causes: injury—like back trauma suffered in a car accident, or a weekend warrior’s sprain on the field of play—and from medical conditions such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. For most people, injuries can be healed in 12 weeks. Other pains are chronic and debilitating. Some can be cured though treatments, such as physical therapy, medication, steroid injections, manual adjustments, therapeutic massage and other therapies. Surgery, Xing and Smith say, is always the last resort.
Some pain, however, can’t be cured. The best the patient can hope for is good management. “It is a difficult time for the patient,” Xing says. “They wonder how their life is going to be for the rest of their years. I encourage them not to give up, give them strategies to learn how to live with the pain.”
Treating the associated depression is, in fact, key to ridding one of pain, according to Smith. “If you feel better mentally, you’ll feel better physically. If you feel bad emotionally, you’ll feel bad physically. Most of us can account for that fact.” Both she and Xing sometimes refer patients to a counselor for help with depression.
Xing, who trained in both China and the United States, brings another tool to the table, acupuncture, which she uses to supplement conventional Western treatments in about 25 percent of her patients. The ancient healing art relieves pain by restoring the body’s natural flow of energy. Xing gets good results for neck and lower back pain, and she reports an increasing number of referrals from other physicians. “They’re fascinated,” she says, “or they may have exhausted other treatment options.”
Xing points out that age-related aches and pains are made worse by inactivity. She and Smith recommend that everyone exercise regularly. Smith stresses using proper biomechanics—or good form—when exercising and when working, even if you sit at a desk. Regular stretching helps maintain healthy joints. (Xing is especially fond of yoga.) Proper footwear helps prevent problems that result from poor posture. And losing excess weight can relieve stress on over-burdened backs and legs.
For those who have trouble finding relief, Smith stresses, “There’s always something out there. You never give up hope. You never give up trying. This treatment may not work, but there is something.”