Category Archives: Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Title IX Hits 40

Image courtesy of Sarah Jones via Wikimedia Commons (CC)

What does Title IX mean to you? Athletics is typically high up on the list for many people. Title IX has played an important role in getting girls and young women onto the field. On the 40th anniversary of the landmark gender equity in education legislation, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan noted in a speech, “when Title IX was enacted in 1972, less than 30,000 female students participated in sports and recreational programs at NCAA member institutions nationwide. Today, that number has increased nearly six-fold. And at the high school level, the number of girls participating in athletics has increased ten-fold since 1972, to three million girls today.”

In an era of nationwide public health concerns over childhood obesity, getting girls and young women involved in sports becomes even more important. However, Title IX’s expansion of school-based athletics programs has more far-reaching benefits as well. As Secretary Duncan pointed out, female athletes “are more likely to graduate from college than female students who don’t play sports.” Female athletes are also less likely to use drugs and become pregnant as teenagers.

Sports are only part of the Title IX picture though. In fact, neither the word “sports” nor “athletics” are used in the text of the legislation. The law has changed the academic landscape for female students.

U.S. Navy photo by Greg Vojtko (Public Domain)

Here’s a few things that you might not know:

  • 57% of students in postsecondary education in 2009-2010 were women; women also accounted for 62.6% of students receiving a master’s degree.
  • Since 1976, girls enrolled in gifted and talented education programs have outnumbered boys enrolled. In 2009, 8.1% of girls participated in gifted and talented education programs, compared to 7.4% of boys.
  • A greater percentage of the girls in 7th or 8th grade (20%) are taking Algebra I, compared with boys (18%).
  • Girls are evenly represented in biology and outnumber boys in chemistry, but are underrepresented in physics.

Welcome to middle age, Title IX. Let’s see what else you can do to get girls on the field and in the classroom.

Kerri Wachter

Data from the “Gender Equity in Education A Data Snapshot” by the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection.

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Should Physicians Prescribe Positivity?

Scott Jordan Harris  is a U.K.-based blogger, editor, book author, movie critic, and sports writer. Remarkable, considering that he spends most of his time in bed. His primary diagnosis is myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as chronic fatigue syndrome.

In a piece he wrote last week for the BBC’s website, Mr. Harris said that keeping a diary in which he focuses on the positive aspects of his life — at the suggestion of a doctor – keeps him “sane.”

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“My depression told me my existence was filthy and barren…. After a few months of storing up the previously unrecorded richness of my life, my diary simply disproved that. I knew from re-reading the pages I’d written that I was doing interesting things — and I began to ensure I kept doing them simply to have something to write about. The diary was better than therapy; it pushed me forward through mental pain that had been holding me back.”

He added, “Doctors unaware of the realities of the lives of the chronically ill often suggest we waste what little energy we have noting down exactly how unwell we feel each day, how much we sleep and how little we do, so that they may study the results. These doctors are to be smiled at, and nodded to, and instantly ignored.”

So should physicians advise patients with chronic conditions to keep positive diaries?  I asked two experts.  Dr. Daniel Clauw, a rheumatologist who directs the University of Michigan’s Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center, referred me to his associate, Afton Hassett, Psy.D.

“That was a compelling story in the BBC and it actually does reflect my clinical and research experience as a pain psychologist,” Dr. Hassett told me.

Negative and positive affect (emotions) have been well-studied  in health in general and chronic and acute pain states in particular. There are numerous studies suggesting that positive affect plays an important role in pain outcomes. While few formal studies have evaluated the effectiveness of the exact intervention Mr. Harris described, there are studies   supporting the efficacy of similar positive psychology interventions for depression, Dr. Hassett said.

“Enhancing positive affect is likely a good thing for one’s mental and physical health. Sometimes just keeping a gratitude journal like the BBC article writer noted is all it takes. I always tell people to write down three different things each day for which you are grateful. After the first week or so you really start looking for the small wonders in your life: a great cup of coffee, a kind gesture from a complete stranger, the first tiny yellow flowers of spring.”

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons/4028mdk09/Creative Commons License

But Dr. David Spiegel, a psychiatrist who heads the Stanford University Center on Stress and Health, urges caution regarding positive psychology.   “I think the drumbeat for upbeat can be a little overwhelming… I agree with [Mr. Harris] that just focusing on how bad you feel you can dig yourself into a pit, but at the same time you can’t deny your feelings. The worst thing you can do to a depressed person is to tell them to cheer up.”

However, Dr. Spiegel, who works with breast cancer patients, noted that “you can help them by saying let’s give dimension to what’s bothering you, but also put that in perspective, and see other things that are good, that are positive. So it’s not one or the other…Happiness is not the absence of sadness.”

Dr. Spiegel said that advising patients with chronic conditions to keep a diary in general is an “interesting idea,” and that there is a literature base  for the medical benefits of journaling.

He advised that physicians suggest to their patients, “See if it helps you to have a daily journal of your journey through this illness, what your problems were and what your little victories were, and what you did that helped you deal with it and get beyond it.”

—Miriam E. Tucker (@MiriamETucker on Twitter)

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Top 20 Fitness Trends for 2012 Released

According to results from a new survey from the American College of Sports Medicine, the top three fitness trends for 2012 are educated, certified, and experienced fitness professionals; strength training; and fitness programs for older adults.

The findings, part of the college’s sixth consecutive “Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends,” appear in the November/December 2011 issue of ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal. Results were based on a survey of more than 2,600 fitness professionals. You can access the article for free here.

Outcome measurements and clinical integration/medical fitness both dropped out of the top 20 trends this year, but physician referrals ranks No. 20. “This is a trend toward an emergent emphasis being placed on partnerships with the medical community, resulting in seamless referrals to a health and fitness facility and health fitness professionals,” according to the article, which was assembled by Walter R. Thompson, Ph.D., a regents professor of exercise science in the department of kinesiology and health at Georgia State University.

The top 20 fitness trends for 2012 are:

1. Educated and experienced fitness professionals

2. Strength training

3. Fitness programs for older adults

4. Exercise and weight loss

5. Children and obesity

6. Personal training

7. Core training

8. Group personal training

9. Zumba and other dance workouts

10. Functional fitness

11. Yoga

12. Comprehensive health promotion programming at the worksite

13. Boot camp (a fitness activity structured after military-style training)

14. Outdoor activities

15. Reaching new markets. An estimated 80% of Americans don’t have a regular exercise program.

16. Spinning (indoor cycling)

17. Sport-specific training

18. Worker incentive program

19. Wellness coaching

20. Physician referrals

— By Doug Brunk

Image courtesy Flickr/ Sebastian Fritzon/Creative Commons License

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A New Weapon Against Concussion

Sports-related concussions are a growing concern in scholastic and professional athletics, as more studies have shown lasting effects from even a single blow to the head.  Concussions have also become a major concern for physicians, who are often pressured to clear athletes to return to play.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons user Patrick J. Lynch/Creative Commons

Earlier today, I heard a little about what is increasingly being deployed as a new weapon in the quest to learn more about sports-related concussions: the accelerometer.  Dr. Dan Garza, an emergency and sports medicine physician at Stanford Hospital and Clinics, and medical director for the San Francisco 49ers, discussed Stanford’s use of accelerometers in the helmets of football players and of female lacrosse and field hockey players. (Virginia Tech announced a similar program back in 2007.)

The goal: to get real-time data on what kind of hits these players are taking. During practices and games, the players wear mouthpieces outfitted with accelerometers and gyrometers “that measure the linear and rotational force of head impacts,” according to the Stanford news story on the just-initiated program.

It’s also rimmed with microchips that transmit the accelerational force (known as G force) data to coaches on the sidelines. Dr. Garza said the mouthpieces are a bit eery with their red glow. “They look like Christmas trees out there,” he told his audience, attendees at the American College of Emergency Physicians Scientific Assembly in San Francisco.

Dr. Garza shared a game film from the Stanford Cardinals’ contest against Washington State on Oct. 15 in which wide receiver Chris Owusu received what looked to be a helmet-to-helmet hit (story here). He dropped to the ground and lay there for a bit. On the sidelines, Dr. Garza and his crew received the data from Mr. Owusu’s mouthpiece. They determined that the force of impact was equal to 184 Gs.

That type of accelerational force is considered deadly (for more on G forces, see here and here). For comparison purposes, astronauts only sustain up to 40 Gs at launch and an Indy race car driver might pull 3 Gs in a tight corner. Forces over 100 are usually only encountered in motor vehicle accidents.

Dr. Garza and his colleagues will use the data in a wider study. In the Stanford release, Dr. Garza said the study  “will build toward establishing clinically relevant head-impact correlations and thresholds to allow for a better understanding of the biomechanics of brain injuries.” It may also help with diagnosis and subsequent management of concussions.

Stanford’s football program is being especially closely watched these days, as its quarterback, Andrew Luck, is considered to be a potential number one pick in the NFL draft next year.

The NFL recently announced that it would restart a long, broad look at concussion among its players.  The league has also bankrolled a head-injury program overseen by the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy.

As more attention has been focused on sports-related traumatic brain injury, Congress has gotten involved also. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is having a hearing this Wednesday on companies marketing supposed anti-concussion equipment.

—Alicia Ault (on Twitter @aliciaault)

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What Fuels the Athlete With Type 1 Diabetes?

A phenomenon that was virtually impossible just a couple of decades ago is now becoming increasingly commonplace: Athletes with type 1 diabetes are not only competing at elite levels in just about every sport, but in many cases are actually beating nondiabetic competitors. Gary Hall Jr. won three Olympic Gold medals in swimming after his diagnosis in 1999. Natalie Strand, an anesthesiologist, won the TV extreme-sport reality show Amazing Race with her partner last December. And bicycle racers Team Type 1 won the Race Across America in 2009 and 2010.

Of course, exercise is encouraged for people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes as a way of improving glycemic control, cardiovascular health, and quality of life. But in competitive sports, milliseconds count and physical perturbations of any kind can mean the difference between winning and losing. With type 1 diabetes, aerobic exercise can result in hypoglycemia, while anaerobic exercise can cause glucose levels to rise. Many sports involve a combination of the two. The athlete with type 1 diabetes must perform frequent glucose checks and eat or take insulin as needed to maintain normal or near-normal glucose, while at the same time performing the athletic feat itself. It seems nearly impossible, yet they do it … with the help of both new technology and devoted health care professionals.

“I take each athlete, learn their sport and find solutions,” said Dr. Anne Peters, the endocrinologist who managed Gary Hall Jr.’s diabetes regimen during the Olympics and is now doing the same for professional racecar driver Charlie Kimball. “Each athlete is unique and requires individualized care.”

Javier Megias of Team Type 1 checks his blood sugar while warming up for a time trial at a race in Italy. Photo courtesy of Team Type 1

New research is aimed at understanding the physiology of these athletes better in order to improve that care. Team Type 1, sponsored by Sanofi, is funding a study in which data are being collected on about 10 bike racers with and 10 without type 1 diabetes. The athletes are being evaluated before, during, and after races using continuous glucose monitors and devices placed on the bicycles that measure variables such as power, heart rate, energy expenditure, speed, and altitude. Data on the athletes’ diet, insulin doses, and other variables are also being collected in a total of five major cycling events, each of which includes 4-8 individual races. “Bottom line, it’s a lot of data,” said Team Type 1 director of research Dr. Juan Frias.

Interestingly, blood glucose values of up to 200 mg/dL - far above “normal” – have been recorded in the nondiabetic riders during very intense portions of races. This “stress hormone” effect had been seen previously in the lab and in some hospitalized patients, but has not been well documented in field-based, real-world studies of healthy people. “Ultimately we hope that this feasibility study will provide data that will help us begin to better understand the optimal glucose concentrations needed to maximize athletic performance, Dr. Frias said.

Findings from the TT1 study will likely be announced at scientific conferences during 2012 and ultimately published, he told me.

Another research project, led by Nate Heintzman, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Diego, is studying athletes who are part of Insulindependence, an organization that promotes physical fitness and sport for people with type 1 diabetes. One of Insulindependence’s recreation-specific clubs, Triabetes, trains people with type diabetes to compete in triathalons. The UCSD-supported project, called the Diabetes Management Integrated Technology Research Initiative (DMITRI), is looking at many of the same variables as in the TT1 study, but is also collecting other data, including behavioral and cognitive information and biospecimens for DNA sequencing.

Insulindependence Captains starting their track workout at UCSD in June. Every person in this photo has type 1 diabetes. Courtesy of Nate Heintzman, Ph.D.

“The idea is to use emerging wireless and device technology as well as genetics and genomics to understand more about the personalized basis of blood glucose management. I think we’ll uncover trends to help tailor therapeutic regimens, and also develop technology on a personal level,” Dr. Heintzman said.

The DMITRI project began in June, and data will begin to emerge in the coming months. In the meantime, if you’re a health care provider or person with diabetes interested in learning more, Dr. Peters recommends Sheri Colberg-Ochs Ph.D.’s Diabetic Athlete’s Handbook. And if you’re seeking inspiration, you can follow Team Type 1 founder and CEO Phil Southerland’s efforts to enter the team in the 2012 Tour de France, professional cycling’s most elite event.

Bottom line, according to Dr. Peters, “The truly gifted athletes I have known seem to be born with an ability that compels them to compete, diabetes or not.”

-Miriam E. Tucker (@MiriamETucker on Twitter)

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Rheumatology’s PR Problem

Overheard on the steps of the ExCeL London convention center on the last day of the annual European Congress of Rheumatology:

Attendee 1: “What is rheumatism?”

Attendee 2: “You know. Achy legs and such.”

Attendee 1: “Sounds dull.”

Attendee 2: “They’re probably saying that about us.”

Attendee 1: “Doubt it.”

In the interest of full disclosure, I should explain that not only was it the last day of this year’s EULAR congress, it was also the second day of the MCM Expo London Comic Con, which was taking place at the west end of the same convention center. The above discourse occurred between a giant insect and an anime character.

Photo by Diana Mahoney

It was impossible not to be amused by the unlikely juxtaposition of the two gatherings, particularly because the facility’s main entrance was on the building’s west side,. To get to the EULAR events, thousands of suited and serious rheumatologists had to weave in, out, and around the Comic Con crowd, all of whom were dressed as their favorite comic, manga, anime, film, game, and cult entertainment stars and were engaged in various modes of role play.

Despite the apparent incongruity, however, the above discourse seemed inherently relevant, as it came on the heels of a presentation that elucidated some persistent obstacles to the early diagnosis and optimal treatment of early rheumatologic disease, which I have come to think of as collective symptoms of rheumatology’s PR crisis.

In short, a lot of people don’t know what rheumatology is, and the opinions of those who have some vague sense of it continue to be colored by myths and misconceptions, including the belief that arthritis (or “rheumatism,” as per the arachnid quoted above) is a single entity and that there’s not much that can be done for it.

With respect to rheumatoid arthritis, in particular, this lack of awareness contributes to diagnostic and treatment delays that can have devastating consequences. While much effort has been spent recently on the development of early arthritis clinics within rheumatology centers as a way to streamline patient management, their success is limited. They can address the needs of only those patients who walk through the doors, not those of people who don’t seek treatment when their symptoms develop and persist or whose symptoms are inadequately assessed and managed initially by primary care physicians, according to session panelist Dr. Vivian Bykerk from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “We have to remove all of the  roadblocks that are keeping very early inflammatory arthritis patients from getting to the rheumatologist,” she said.

Among the strategies recommended by Dr. Bykerk and co-panelist Dr. Paul Emery, EULAR president and head of musculoskeletal diseases at Chapel Allerton Hospital in the United Kingdom, were the possibility of prescreening referrals, the development of a specialized rheumatology referral form to help primary care physicians identify urgent referrals, the implementation of central triage clinics, and protocols for educating physicians and patients about the signs and symptoms of rheumatologic diseases and the value of early intervention. In other words, rheumatology needs better PR.

—Diana Mahoney

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Whose Rights Are at Stake?

The Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in support of the 2007 Vermont statute limiting the release of the information detailing which drugs doctors prescribe. This information is maintained by pharmacies, which sell it to data-mining agencies, that in turn sell it to drug companies, for marketing purposes. Patient information is excluded from the data, doctor’s information is not.

Under the Vermont law, this information can be released only with the consent of the doctor. However, once data collection firms like IMS Health and interested parties like Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America, challenged the statute, the issue became a question of free speech.

In the case of Sorrell v. IMS Health Inc., data-mining firms claim they have First Amendment rights to buy and sell the information for their marketing use.

However, the state’s attorney’s office likened the release of the confidential information to disclosing a doctor’s tax returns, patient files, or a competitor’s business information, arguing that First Amendment rights in the case apply to protecting doctor’s information. But since the information is given away to parties including insurance companies, journalists, and law enforcement, the court wasn’t too convinced.

” … just don’t tell me that the purpose is to protect their privacy,” said Justice Antonin Scalia. “[A doctor's] privacy isn’t protected by saying you can’t sell it but you can give it away.”

Justice John Roberts said Vermont is trying to reduce health care costs by “censoring” information doctors hear about brand-name drugs, with the intent that they will prescribe more generics, a measure Justice Scalia added was a restriction on free speech.

Vermont Assistant Attorney General Bridget Asay responded that “the purpose of the statute is to let doctors decide whether sales representatives will have access to this inside information” on the prescribing habits of physicians.

Attorneys general of several states, the federal government, AARP, medical associations, privacy groups, and the New England Journal of Medicine have filed briefs in support of the Vermont statute, according to a brief by Cornell (N.Y.) University Law SchoolThe National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the Association of National Advertisers, the Associated Press, and Bloomberg have filed in support of the data mining firms.

In an age in which personal data can mined through social networks and search engines, this case could set the precedent concerning how much personal information can be used for marketing. A decision is expected by June.

 Tell us what you think. 

–Frances Correa (@FMCReporting on Twitter)

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Surgeons Sound, Heed Call to Serve

As president of the Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons (SAGES), Dr. Jo Buyske has made it her mission to develop a “more humanitarian SAGES,” she said at the organization’s annual meeting last week in San Antonio, Texas.

Dr. Jo Buyske challenged her SAGES colleagues to share their gifts with those in need. Photo by Diana Mahoney

Toward this end, the University of Pennsylvania adjunct professor and associate executive director of the American Board of Surgery spearheaded a series of initiatives that debuted at the conference. On Thursday, a group of meeting attendees boarded a bus to a Habitat for Humanity construction site where they swapped their surgical scrubs and scalpels for hard hats and hammers to help build a new home for a low-income family. The following day, SAGES sponsored an on-site donor blood bank and a bone marrow testing station at the convention center – both of which were well utilized between sessions – and a number of SAGES surgeons offered to mentor local high school students with an interest in medicine who had been invited to the meeting for the day.

Throughout the week, attendees dropped off used medical text books for medical schools in China and old medical instruments and supplies that for shipment (via Medwish) to the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Haiti. During the course of the week, SAGES members also gathered information about international volunteerism from the several medical volunteers’ desks located near the SAGES membership booth and Dr. Buyske announced the formation of a SAGES humanitarian task force, charged with identifying new service opportunities and resources for its SAGES members.

Dr. Buyske volunteering with Aloha Medical Missions in Bohol, Philippines. Image courtesy of SAGES.

The very vocal call to arms is more than just lip service for Dr. Buyske. In her presidential address, aptly titled, “To Whom Much is Given, Much is Required” [Luke 12:48], she described her own humbling experiences as a surgical volunteer in remote villages of Chiapas, Mexico; Bohol, Phillipines; and in the Republic of Mozambique, where access to sufficient water and electricity was erratic, at best, and where all of the niceties of surgery in this country, such as having assistants to help scrub, glove, and gown, as well as prepare and handle instruments, were non-existent. “I was not prepared for things as simple as having to pick up and unwrap my own instruments and choosing which sutures to use and which size needle. I was used to having everything handed right to me. It takes a different part of you brain to think about these things.”

Despite at various times having to pull anesthesia tubing from the trash to reuse it, having such poor lighting that she had to wait until the afternoon sun was just right in to perform cesarean sections, and having to use water from the local stream to scrub, Dr. Buyske said that each of the volunteer experiences made her a better person, and a better surgeon,. “You begin to think hard about what you use and why; you become more flexible; and you become more frugal. You revisit surgery in a way you might not have since medical school or residency. And though you’ll be exhausted, you will also be refreshed.”

As surgeons, “we have the great good fortune of doing work that allows us to go to bed every night knowing that just by doing our jobs, by our livelihoods, we have taken care of people; we have improved lives; we have done good. We should pause for a minute and savor the great good fortune, the luck, the wisdom, the hard work that went into a profession that is so fulfilling. but we should also be good stewards of our skills and our good fortune and take advantage of opportunities to be of service,” Dr. Buyske stressed. “As our Japanese friends and colleagues can tell us, our fortune and status can’t be taken for granted. There is no guarantee that it will be with us, even tomorrow.”

Thoracic surgeon Dr. Cameron Wright is a Colonel in the Medical Corps of the US Army Reserve. Image courtesy of MGH.

Dr. Buyske’s pledge to service was echoed by Dr. Cameron Wright, during the meeting’s Gerald Marks Lecture. A respected thoracic surgeon at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Wright is also a colonel in the Medical Corps of the US Army reserve, which he joined in 2007, “for many reasons,” including the obvious need for qualified surgeons to deal with the many casualties of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the opportunity to experience war surgery, he said. The most important reason, however, was the fact that his son, a heavy weapons specialist in the US Marine Corps “had skin in the game, and I decided I should put my skin in the game as well.”

In a moving slide presentation, Dr. Wright told his story through dramatic pictures, both of the soldiers with whom he served with and those to whom he ministered. Evident in all of the pictures are the camaraderie and sense of shared purpose that pervades military deployments, but also the human destruction that begs for the hands of a skilled surgeon.

— Diana Mahoney

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Osteoarthritis: Disease or Late-Life Benchmark?

Osteoarthritis is a well-accepted diagnosis among physicians for a painful and stiff joint, but the other day I spoke with a rheumatologist who has a very different take on how to characterize these symptoms.

image courtesy Flickr user Jeff Rasansky

Dr. Nortin M. Hadler, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, insisted on calling the condition “regional joint pain.” Calling it osteoarthritis reflected the over-medicalization that modern industrialized society imposes on ubiquitous conditions that shouldn’t really qualify as bona fide disorders, he said.

Dr. Hadler’s contention is that having a joint or two grow painful and less functional over the course of more than half a lifetime was inevitable for most people, as unavoidable as “headache and heartache,” he told me. “There is no person after midlife who does not have substantial regional joint pain,” and the older they get the more this colors their life. “It is abnormal [for a middle-aged or elderly person] to go a year without important back pain, or to go 3 years without important knee pain,” he said.

Dr. Hadler added that when people seek out medical care for such routine aches and pains of aging, there is really something else going on in the patient’s life. “The regional disorder can be viewed as a surrogate complaint,” he said. A patient might say “My knee is hurting,” but the reality is that their complaint reflects a broader difficulty they’re having.

He described a study he ran that compared two sets of similar elderly people with the same complaint of knee pain. One group had sought medical care, the other hadn’t. What also distinguished the two groups were their levels of loneliness and depression, which were both higher among those who went to see a physician, he said.

Removing osteoarthritis from the category of pathology and reclassifying it as a more benign and routine part of aging would, no doubt, come as a surprise to many physicians who specialize in studying and treating it.  Last September, I covered the annual meeting of the Osteoarthritis Reasearch Society International (OARSI) and, in counterpoint to Dr. Hadler’s contention, this meeting was attended by hundreds of experts and specialists who would be happy to detail the pathophysiologic processes that appear to define osteoarthritis. Back then, I posted an entry on this blog on the intriguing hypothesis that joint trauma (a severely twisted knee, for example) sets off an acute inflammatory cascade that can have profound long-term consequences for joint health and osteoarthritis development. This notion raises the possibility that a quick and potent anti-inflammatory intervention could help prevent or attenuate the longer-term irreversible damage, the same way that prompt treatment of a myocardial infarction can limit damage to the heart.

My guess is that the reality falls somewhere in between. I’m sure Dr. Hadler is right about some people. Their joint pain is really not too disabling and is something that many other people would just work through, but because of an overlay of coincident emotional and psychiatric issues, they seek medical care and in many cases find physicians who are willing, as Dr. Hadler puts it, to medicalize life and “create a society of the walking wounded.”

On the other hand, I also believe that as the result of some unusual trauma or bad genetics a person can develop a deteriorated and painful joint that is truly pathologic and outside the scope of normal wear and tear and really needs medical attention.

—Mitchel Zoler (on Twitter @mitchelzoler)

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Now tell me where ELSE it hurts…

When it comes to managing chronic pain, have physicians been looking in the wrong places? Physical findings in peripheral tissues rarely match up with patients’ reports of pain, or vice versa. Yet, clinicians typically examine only the area where the patient reports the pain, rather than looking at the whole body and considering that the patient’s perception of persistent pain may have a more central origin, according to pain expert Dr. Daniel J. Clauw.

Image by Kira.Belle via Flickr Creative Commons

“There is no chronic pain state where degree of damage or inflammation in the periphery correlates well with level of pain. Yet, the diagnostic algorithms or paradigms that everyone uses for treating chronic pain still assume that all pain is nociceptive. What we see in the peripheral tissues is not necessarily what our patients are experiencing,” Dr. Clauw said at last week at a 2-day scientific workshop on pain and musculoskeletal disorders, sponsored by the University of Michigan and held on the Bethesda, Md., campus of the National Institutes of Health.

That narrow focus has led many medical professionals to assume that when there is a disparity between peripheral findings and pain, the pain must be caused primarily by psychological factors. A prime example is fibromyalgia, still a somewhat controversial diagnosis. But as the first chronic pain syndrome identified as NOT being caused by peripheral inflammation or damage, fibromyalgia is “a metaphor for the centrality of chronic pain,” Dr. Clauw said.

So what should clinicians do differently? First, look beyond the immediate area the patient is complaining about. Has the patient had pain in other parts of the body? Experience frequent headaches? Have irritable bowel? Previous chronic neck pain, and now pain in the hip? “To me as a pain researcher, this is a blinking neon light that the person has a problem with pain processing. It may be that the particular symptom they’re coming in with is due to increased volume control setting rather than a pathologic problem in that part of the body,” Dr. Clauw told me.

And treatment? Ensuring adequate exercise and sleep and reducing stress are important yet underemphasized. Cognitive behavior therapy also has been shown to help. Pharmacologic therapy that acts centrally, rather than peripherally, may also be effective. The antidepressant duloxetine (Cymbalta), for example, is a serotonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor that has been recently approved to treat osteoarthritis of the hip and low back pain, in addition to fibromyalgia and diabetic peripheral nerve pain.

A major challenge, Dr. Clauw believes, might be in getting clinicians to change their approach to pain. “It takes a long time for people trained in one way of thinking to think differently. This isn’t just a new drug or a new device. It’s a major paradigm shift.”

-Miriam E. Tucker (@MiriamETucker on Twitter)

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