BERLIN — Setting aside the fight to prevent and cure disease, the medical watchword — phrase, really — of the decade is pain management. Advances in nutrition and healthcare have allowed Americans to be more active for longer than ever before. But with expanded life-expectancy and the quality of life that it tends to inspire, dealing with aches and pains that range from nagging to debilitating, is a continually rising concern.
While pharmacology hasn’t progressed much beyond aspirin or narcotics or some combination of the two, strides in physical therapy have continually allowed patients to rethink what is possible in terms of their comfort and mobility will into their senior years.
But stretches and exercises can only take a person so far. Worse, decreased mobility means that many are not agile enough to get the maximum benefit from the physical therapy routines that can and do relieve pain.
Physical therapy is one of the most practical treatment regimens still active today. The focus is on finding something that works for a particular patient rather than conforming to template medicine.
To that end, in recent years a machine called the E-Stim has come into use and its effectiveness in treating pain is making it a regular go to for many patients who battle chronic pain of all kinds.
The machine’s premise is almost laughably simple. Patients who are having muscle or joint pain have small electrodes adhered to the skin around the affected area and small doses of electricity are introduced into the patient’s body.
The patient holds a “kill switch” the entire time in the event that the shock becomes too intense, but David Barnes, a physical therapist at Peninsula Home Care, said the button is very rarely used. It is more there for the patient’s piece of mind than as a physically protective measure.
The shock creates a feeling like an internal muscle ripple and is more properly described as a pulse.
Since adding this tool to his anti-pain arsenal a little more than a year ago, Barnes has had either very positive results or unbelievably positive results. He could not recall one patient who didn’t see at least some benefit from the treatment when it was appropriate but has a wealth of success stories that continue to surprise even him.
E-Stim treatment has to be prescribed by a doctor as part of an overall wellness plan, but as patients are significantly reducing or even completely eliminating pain medication from their pain management schemes, doctors are likely to continue to prescribe the treatment as part of either the short or longterm recovery plan.
Barnes shared a story wherein success using the E-Stim was literally scary. He entered a patient’s home and was unable to find the gentleman with whom he had a weekly appointment. Barnes became concerned when he saw the man’s walker in the kitchen but the patient was nowhere in site. When he called out, he discovered the man had abandoned his walker for a cane instead, such was the relief the treatment provided.
“Once you’re pain free your quality of life is better,” he said. “I’ve yet to have anybody it was completely ineffective with.”
The reason pain management is so critical is because the pain that accompanies and ailment can actually begin to cause others. In simple terms, favoring one muscle or joint group over another because of pain, stresses and degrades the overused set at an uneven rate. The result can often be damage to the opposite muscles or joints that initially required medical care.
Barnes said that although the E-Stim must be doctor prescribed, if it demonstrates effectiveness for a patient whose diagnosis includes the expectation of longterm pain management procedures, sometimes he can recommend an E-Stim be ordered for the patient’s personal use. He said he’s had several patients who have so succeeded with E-Stim treatment that their machine was covered by Medicare.
Barnes warned that the E-Stim is not a silver bullet and was often best used as part of a comprehensive physical therapy plan. But by reducing patient’s pain enough that they can undergo a more vigorous physical therapy regimen the road to recovery can be, in not shorter at least less uncomfortable and more efficient.
For more information about the possibility of at home physical therapy call Peninsula Home Care.