Health column: Find the source of an ailment to avoid chasing pain around your body
July 4, 2016
A few years ago, my mom was "that patient." She believed there was a pill to cure just about anything. Anytime she had a new symptom, she went to urgent care. Like many patients, she was only happy if they sent her home with a prescription. And, of course, if insurance covers it, then it must be good.
There is actually a word for when a person uses five or more prescription drugs: polypharmacy. She was a compliant patient to a fault.
She had a wakeup call when a Colorado visit landed her in the emergency room. She had accidentally forgotten one of her many medications at home. This resulted in a dangerous spike in her heart rate. Luckily, she was well cared for and saved from any damage greater than a massive scare. How had her life come to depend on medications? It opened her eyes to the fact that maybe she was taking too many pills.
She went back home and found a doctor she liked and who listened. They came up with a plan to cut her medicine consumption. They also addressed lifestyle. She cut sweets, added water aerobics and joined a gym. They treated the person and not just the symptoms. She is the happiest and healthiest I have seen in years.
Many have heard of similar cases. A person takes medication "A" and develops symptom "B." They take medication "B" and develop symptom "C," and so on. People tend to understand this concept when it comes to medication. What many miss is this exact principle applies to our injuries. We look at symptoms in isolation and treat them as such. Injury begets injury.
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Every person has a story. It starts with pain "A." For years, an individual suffers from hip pain. He or she did everything possible to fix the hip, but the pain persisted. Eventually, an X-ray reveals arthritis and the plan is to replace the hip. That goes seemingly well for a few years, until the opposite knee starts to hurt. All resources are exhausted to strengthen, stretch and relieve the knee, but nothing lasts. Again, an X-ray shows degenerative changes and the plan is to replace the knee. The knee is OK, but activity has to be modified. Next come bunions and then back pain. What's going on?
It turns out that hip pain was actually coming from a muscle in the back. Muscles have trigger points, a tight area within the tissue that causes pain in other parts of the body. For instance, the quadratus lumborum muscle in the back refers almost exclusively to the hip. All the attention had been given to the hip, when the source was actually the core. The surgery was technically successful, but the underlying core issue remains. Add to that scenario excessive scarring resulting in limited mobility of the hip.
With an inefficient core, and altered mobility, the brain doesn't find loading that side as safe. The brain finds safety loading the opposite limb. This explains the wear and tear on the other knee. Arthritis is a normal part of the aging process that is sped along by excessive loading. This uneven load impacts forces throughout the whole body. It's all connected. If something stops working, the brain will find another part to do the job. If one joint stops moving, we'll move another joint more to make up for it.
The problem is that we focus on the symptoms and don't always search for the source. When we focus on body parts in isolation, we chase the pain. Medical imaging can be helpful to confirm suspected pathology, but it doesn't tell the whole story. The solution is in the story. What's your story?
Julie Peterson, MPT, is the owner of Concierge Physical Therapy Colorado. She is a certified neurokinetic therapy specialist with a strong background in manual therapy. She can be reached at 970-306-3006 and firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit http://www.conciergeptcolorado.com.