Taking Charge of Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is often an annoying part of daily life. But there are ways to manage and reduce its intensity. I learned several useful techniques from physical therapist Sharlene Wing, PT. First, a little background about what contributes to chronic pain:

For some people, misaligned posture can cause imbalance in the back, hips, knees, or ankles.The result is often extra stress on the body structure, causing pain. This makes it hard to find a stable, neutral position that would naturally hold a person upright.If the positions of sitting, standing, or walking, are not well supported, or are out of alignment, this puts more wear and tear on the joint surfaces, as well as on their supporting structures, such as ligaments.

The Gravity of the situation

One big challenge is to deal with the constant pull of gravity, finding positions where we can exercise or do repetitive activities without causing harm.  Besides motion, gravity also causes problems when we are still, as sleeping in bed, or sitting for long periods. “Even when you are still, gravity is still a constant force,” says Sharlene, “causing joint creep, as joints succumb to gravitational pull and become misaligned.” This “joint creep” contributes to stiffness in the morning, or when we stand up after a two-hour movie.

Everyday strategies to reduce chronic pain

Sharlene has several easy and safe exercise suggestions to do at home. I have tried them and have noticed a significant reduction in back and joint pain.

  1. Before getting out of bed, spend about ten minutes stretching your legs out and doing ankle pumps and ankle circles. Gently move hips and knees to get the synovial fluid moving. (This fluid bathes the joints to reduce friction.) If the back feels stiff, one option is to create gentle traction while holding onto the headboard and pulling only as much as is comfortable. If you do this before your feet hit the floor, it gets all the joints ready for weight-bearing. (Sharlene advises caution here if your shoulders are bothersome).
  2. Practice posture on a wall. With the back against the wall, touch the backs of the hands against the wall, arms turned outward to open the shoulders. Try to have the head, buttocks, and calves also touching the wall as much as possible, but not the lower back. Even if you can’t do all of this, says Sharlene, it is a good alignment practice, to lengthen and straighten as much as possible. If anything hurts, cautions Sharlene, don’t do it without consulting with a physical therapist.
  3. Try to be conscious of good posture alignment during day, whether getting in and out of the car, carrying things sitting at a desk, using a computer, or even during a movie. If you slouch, it should only be for short spans of time!

Pain is a warning sign that something is being stressed and should be addressed 

Even though pain is annoying, says Sharlene, we can also think of it as a protective mechanism. “Your body is telling you that something is wrong and you should pay attention,” she says. “Often, for people with chronic pain, the symptom gets heightened, and can become a constant, dull ache,” she says. “it often helps to work with a physical therapist to ‘unlearn’ problematic positions or behavior, strengthen muscles to compensate for overstretched ligaments, and learn new ways of using the body to reduce pain.”


Filed under Aging, Chronic Pain

Cold Showers and Depression

News from The Discovery Channel: “Treatments for depression range from medicines that can come with scary side effects to electric shock therapy, but a new paper suggests a simple cold shower might sometimes cure, and even prevent, the debilitating mood disorder.” Now I understand why I always feel so uplifted and, well, happy, after my morning cold shower gush.  Continue reading


Filed under cold shower health benefits, depression, Healing, Water

Cold shower burst – the science behind the madness

Former Navy SEAL Clint Emerson, author of 100 Deadly Skills: The SEAL Operative’s Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation, explains why it can be healthy for you to end a shower with cold water. Following is a transcript of his interview.
“Cold water will wake you up, without a doubt, and it will keep you awake. But it has more health benefits than anything else. In SEAL training you spend a lot of time in cold water and there’s actually some science to the madness of putting us in cold water. One, the reason professional athletes do it all the time after a workout is it increases recovery. It vasoconstricts the entire body, squeezing out all of that lactic acid so that you can feel good to go the next day and be ready for the next day training.
That cold water is therapy. Even though it was torture, it’s therapy so that it keeps you healthy, keeps your joints and inflammation down, vasoconstricts everything down and allows you to keep moving forward, hopefully without any more injury.”

My book with Alexa Fleckenstein, MD, explains more. So turn that shower dial to  cold for 20 seconds after your hot shower, and you’ll feel great!

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Filed under Chronic Pain, cold shower health benefits, Water

Are You Ready for Your Closeup? When health interferes with work

The good news about advances in the treatment of chronic illness and pain is that many of us are now living—and working— well into midlife and beyond. But this good news may be tempered with new challenges.  For some, the body’s responses to long-term wear and tear might create obstacles to going to work every day. Such obstacles might include problems with mobility or discomfort with sitting at a computer for long periods. It may even be difficult to find professional—and fashionable! shoes that we can walk comfortably in.

All the World’s a Stage

When we leave home in the morning to go to work, we are entering the world “stage” to perform as employees, says Martin R. Anderson, certified Trager® practitioner and former actor. “The more that we have prepared for our performance, the better we will be.” The gentle Trager Approach of mind/body integration and movement education helps free tight bodies for efficient and effortless function.

“As with any performance, we need ‘rehearsal time,’ says Martin, particularly when dealing with chronic musculoskeletal condition and pain.” Martin suggests incorporating movements such as as stretching, yoga, or tai chi—into your morning routine before leaving for work. This increases circulation of blood and fluids, reducing joint pain. “Focus fully on your bodily sensations, without distraction from radio or TV,” he cautions. “This can be a form of self-hypnosis, reminding yourself to be at ease during the day.” My addition: Try a ten-second cold shower burst to get some instant energy!

When You Need to Make a Change

Even with careful preparation, however, there may come a time when going to your workplace full-time becomes difficult, and you would like to find ways to work that accommodate to your physical constraints. Management consultant Barbara Kivowitz, co-author of In Sickness As In Health, points out that physical pain, mobility problems, or reduced energy can interfere with your confidence in your ability to do a good job. “Even though it is hard to accept the reality of your body and its limitations,” says Barbara, “if you do so early enough, you can work with your manager to make changes in the way you work. Thanks to the Internet, many jobs can be performed remotely.” As a first step, Barbara advises making sure your supervisor appreciates the value of your contributions. “Then, you can initiate conversations where you ask for the help of your supervisor to figure out how you can continue to contribute to the workplace, while accommodating to your physical limitations.” While the Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, says Barbara, it is best to approach your employer as a partner, solving this problem together. After the changes are put in place, says Barbara, “It is then important to continue the conversation by checking in every few weeks or months, to make sure the system is still working for both you and the workplace.”

Adds Martin: “Feel gratitude about all you are able to accomplish.”

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Filed under Aging, chronic illness, Chronic Pain, Work life

Do Our Genes Determine How Fat We Are? No!

scale-403585_1920.jpeg[By Roanne Weisman; Boston May 20, 2016] By now, you have probably heard about the “Biggest Losers” from the reality TV show: They all regained their original weight and, in some cases, even more. The media reporting on this result would have us believe that there is no escape from our genetic destiny. Once we have arrived at obesity, we are genetically trapped in metabolisms that, in the words of the New York Times article, “were intensifying their effort to pull the [Biggest Loser] contestants back to their original weight.” Ultimately, This article advises us to give up on ourselves. Why? Because “science” has said so. What kind of science is that? Or, perhaps more importantly, what kind of science reporting tells us that we have no control over our own bodies? The answer to both questions is “irresponsible.”

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Filed under diabetes, Health, Nutrition, Obesity

Tempting Snacks That Your Body Will Love©

Tempting Snacks your body will love

A doughnut or croissant in the morning tastes delicious, but the white flour and sugar are sending your body an urgent message: “Blood sugar on board; send insulin quickly!” Sugar and flour are simple carbohydrates, ending up in your bloodstream within a few minutes. Your pancreas senses the dangerously high blood sugar and releases insulin to pull the sugar (glucose) out of the blood and send it to other cells of the body to be used or stored as energy. Because high sugars are so dangerous, your body always sends in too much insulin, and this big insulin spike is followed by a deep plunge in blood sugar levels to below normal. Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) makes you tired and jittery, craving another sugary snack, like that chocolate muffin during the 3:00 PM office munchie attack.

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May 2, 2016 · 8:30 pm

Your Developing Baby: Secrets of your baby’s inner world of the womb

Your Developing Baby, Conception to Birth is the perfect “travel guide” for all pregnant couples embarking on the momentous nine-months of pregnancy. You will witness firsthand the miraculous journey to a new life from the time your body prepares for pregnancy to the moment you first hear your baby’s voice. This book is also a “must-own…for every Continue reading

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Filed under children's health, Doctors, Pregnancy, Ultrasound

Healing Hands: Physical Therapy for function, mobility, and comfort

I  have discovered a unique, highly effective form of physical therapy that combines the best elements of personal training with muscular therapy. Valerie Ruccia Eagan has developed her own brand of physical therapy that uses hands-on techniques, core- strengthening, and flexibility-building exercises, as well as mind-body energetic work. Her method cuts to the root of physical pain and mobility problems to provide deep and lasting healing.

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Filed under Aging, chronic illness, Chronic Pain, Healing, Marfan Syndrome

Restoring Order to Post-Traumatic Stress

As the horror of April 15th recedes from the national news, we in Boston are still in shock from the senseless results of evil. It seems as if everyone in this city and surrounding areas is joined in a caring network of personal connections and we are all feeling a kind of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), similar to warfighters back from combat. Continue reading


Filed under Healing, Health, mental health, Uncategorized

Pat Robertson is Dead Wrong

My OpEd in today’s Chicago Tribune:

A person with Alzheimer’s is not “kind of” dead. Not by a long shot. And televangelist Pat Robertson should know better than to speak flippantly from a position of authority on a matter that is complicated, nuanced and deeply personal. Continue reading


Filed under Aging, chronic illness, mental health

Amanda West: The Healing Power of Music

Early on in my journey toward healing, my daughter gave me a soundtrack to keep me company: CDs of a number of songwriters and musicians from her generation whose messages she thought would be useful for me in my travels. She was right. Through powerful lyrics, compelling melodies, and beautiful voices, I began to hear universal truths and realize how music—whether of our own time or of centuries past—cuts through our thoughts, assumptions, beliefs, to the essence of a humanity we all share. We are not alone. Continue reading

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