Update on PTSD 2017: hope!

I have just spent a week in San Antonio, Texas at the AAFP FMX: American Academy of Family Physicians Family Medicine Experience.

Whew. Long acronym.

However, I attended two programs on PTSD. One was a three hour offsite one put on by the U. of Texas Health Sciences Department of Family Medicine. The other was a one hour program about active duty military and PTSD.

The biggest message for me is HOPE. Hope for treatment, hope for diagnosis, hope for destigmatization, hope for remission. I am not sure if we should call it a “cure”. Once a diabetic, always a diabetic, even if you lose 100 pounds.

In medical school 1989-1993 I learned that PTSD existed but that was about it. There was no discussion of medicines, treatment, diagnosis or cure.

Ditto residency. I learned much more about psychiatry reading about addiction and alcoholism and Claudia Black’s books then I did in residency.

Fast forward to 2010, when I opened my own clinic. I worked as a temp doc at Madigan Army Hospital for three months.

The military was aggressively pursuing treatment and diagnosis of depression, anxiety, PTSD and traumatic brain injury. I worked in the walk in clinic from 6:30 to 8:00 four days a week. Every walk in had to fill out a screen for depression. They were trying to stem the suicides, the damage, the return to civilian life problems and addiction too. They were embedding a behavioral health specialist in every section of the military. I was amazed at how hard the military was working on behavioral health.

In 2010 I took the buprenorphine course, which is really a crash course in addiction medicine, at the University of Washington Med School. I took it because it was free (I had just opened a clinic) and I thought we were as a nation prescribing WAY too many damned opioids. Yes! I found my tribe!

This gave me a second DEA number, to prescribe buprenorphine for opiate overuse, but also hooked me up with the University of Washington Telemedicine. I presented about 30 opiate overuse problem patients (anonymously, there is a form) to the team via telemedicine over the next year. The team includes a pain specialist, addiction specialist, psychiatrist and physiatrist. They do a 30 minute teaching session and then discuss 1-2 cases. They often do not agree with each other. They reach consensus and fax recommendations to me. The Friday addiction one was shut down and now I present to the Wednesday chronic pain one.

But, you say, PTSD? Well, chronic pain patients and opiate overuse patients have a very high rate of comorbid psychiatric diagnoses. It’s often hard to sort out. Are they self medicating because they have been traumatized or were they addicted first and then are depressed/traumatized and anxious? And what do you treat first?

There was an ADHD program at this conference that said we should deal with the ADHD first. One of the PTSD courses said deal with the PTSD first. The thing is, you really have to address BOTH AT ONCE.

Tools? PHQ-9, GAD-7, PCLC and there is an ADHD one too. These are short screening tools. I don’t diagnose with them. I use them to help guide therapy along with the invaluable urine drug screen. Love your patients but verify. That is, the chronic pain patient and the addiction patient tell me the same thing: but one is lying. I don’t take it personally because they are lying to themselves. Also, studies have shown that many patients lie, about their hypertension medicine or whatever. If they have to choose between food and medicine…. I think food may come first.

The San Antonio program has a behavioral health person embedded in their clinic (like a diamond) and if a PTSD screen is positive, the doctor or provider can walk them over and introduce them and get them set up. This is more likely to get the person to follow up, because there is still stigma and confusion for ALL mental health diagnoses and people often won’t call the counselor or psychologist or god forbid, psychiatrist.

They have a protocol for a short term four week treatment. Four weeks? You can’t treat PTSD in four weeks! Well, sometimes you can. But if you are making no progress, the person is referred on if they will go. I have the handouts. I do not have an embedded behavioral health person. I wish I did. I am thinking of setting a trap for one or luring them in to my clinic somehow, or asking if the AAFP would have one as a door prize next year, but…. meanwhile, I may do a trial of DIY. No! you say, you are not a shrink! Well, half of family medicine is actually sneaky behavioral health and I have the advantage of being set up to have more time with patients. Time being key. Also I have seven years of work with the telemedicine and access to that psychiatrist. Invaluable.

So what is the most common cause of civilian PTSD? Motor vehicle accidents. I didn’t know that. I would have said assault/rape. But no, it’s MVAs. Assault and rape are up there though, with a much higher PTSD rate if it is someone the victim knows or thought loved them. Rates in the US general population is currently listed at 1%, but at 12% of patients in primary care clinics. What? One in ten? Yes, because they show up with all sorts of chronic physical symptoms.

Re the military, it’s about the same. BUT noncombatant is 5%. High intensity combat has a PTSD risk of 25%, which is huge. One in four. Not a happy thing. In 2004 less then half the military personnel who needed care received it. PTSD needs to be destigmatized, prevented, treated compassionately and cured.

The risk of suicidality: 20% of PTSD people per year attempt. One in five.

Men tend to have more aggressiveness, women more depression.

Back to that PCLC. A score of over 33 is positive, over 55 is severe. There is sub threshold PTSD and it does carry a suicide risk as well. In treatment, a score drop of 10 is great, 5-10 is good and under 5, augment the treatment. Remember, the PCLC is a screening tool, not a diagnosis. I often ask people to fill out the PCLC, the GAD7 and the PHQ9 to see which is highest, to help guide me with medicines or therapy. If I need a formal diagnostic label, off to psychiatry or one of my PhD psychologists or neuropsych testing. Meanwhile, I am happy to use an adjustment disorder label if I need a label. If the patient is a veteran and says he or she has PTSD, ok, will use that.

Untreated PTSD, the rate of remission is one third at a year, the average remission is 64 months.

Treated PTSD, the rate of remission is one half at a year, and the average duration is 36 months. So treatment is not perfect by any means.

Pharmacology: FDA approved medicines include paroxetine and fluoxetine, and both venlafaxine and one other SSRI help.

Benzodiazepines make it worse! Do not use them! They work at the same receptor as alcohol, remember? So alcohol makes it worse too. There is no evidence for marijuana, but marijuana increases anxiety disorders: so no, we think it’s a bad idea. Those evil sleep medicines, for “short term use” (2 weeks and 6 weeks), ambien and sonata, they are related to benzos so I would extrapolate to them, don’t use them, bad.

Prazosin helps with sleep for some people. It lowers blood pressure and helps with enlarged prostates, so the sleep thing is off label and don’t stop it suddenly or the person could get rebound hypertension (risk for stroke and heart attack). I have a Vietnam veteran who says he has not slept so well since before Vietnam.

Part of the treatment for the PTSD folks at the U. of Texas Medical Center is again, destigmatization, normalization, education, awareness and treatment tools.

Hooray for hope for PTSD and for more tools to work with to help people!

disaster and withdrawal

When I watch the disaster news, what I think about is withdrawal.

Everyone who is on a substance that causes dependence or addiction is withdrawing.

They don’t seem to ever discuss that, but think…. if you are in Houston or Florida when everything floods, are your cigarettes dry? I don’t think so. And put multiple people in close contact in a shelter, with many withdrawing… I am not surprised that tempers flare.

Let’s look at numbers.

Tobacco: in 2013, 21.3% of the US population age 12 and older, smokes tobacco. Disasters are a reason to quit. It’s hard enough to quit tobacco, but imagine going cold turkey if we have our Pacific Northwest really massive earthquake. Quit smoking now, don’t wait for a disaster. And think about being in a stadium with one in five of the people over age 12 withdrawing from tobacco. Is that fun?

Alcohol: “In 2013, 30.2 percent of men and 16.0 percent of women 12 and older reported binge drinking in the past month. And 9.5 percent of men and 3.3 percent of women reported heavy alcohol use.” Ok, that’s rather vague. If you have a drink or two after work every day or with dinner, will you notice the lack? Yes, I think so, but maybe only 10% of the adults are really going into alcohol withdrawal. That’s a conservative estimate. 30% are probably grumpy.

Illicit drugs: 4-8% of the 40-70 year olds used something in the past month. Are they addicted? Well, some are. And the 18-15 year olds are the most active, around 20%. Methamphetamines, cocaine, crack, crank, heroin, eeee-yuk.

Prescription drugs: “More than half of new illicit drug users begin with marijuana. Next most common are prescription pain relievers, followed by inhalants (which is most common among younger teens).” So let’s see, what percentage of the population is on prescribed opioids, benzodiazepines and barbituates? Ooooo, 1/3 of the US population has been prescribed opioids (2). Chronic opioids are prescribed to 3-4% of the US population, but of course, that is the prescribed chronic pain ones, not the illicit ones. Now, those can have a withdrawal. Alcohol and benzodiazepine withdrawal are the most dangerous for the patient, but in opioid withdrawal the pain receptors go absolutely crazy, like a volcano blowing up. And the tweakers withdrawing from methamphetamines. The sleep medicines like sonata and ambien avoid the issue of whether they are addictive by saying they are for “short term use” — 6 weeks for the former and 2 weeks for the latter, but some people have been on them for years. And marijuana daily, I have seen great difficulty with anxiety and sleep when people are trying to quit.

Marijuana: 7.5% of the population over age 12. How many of those are addicted? I see varying numbers, ranging from 10% to 50%. If you use marijuana regularly, check. Stop it for a week. See if there is a problem. I’d try it before a disaster, because it would add to the stress during….

Caffeine: Ok, I would withdraw from caffeine. 90% of US people are addicted to caffeine. I get a massive headache for 24 hours and then I am ok. I have gone off it more than once….

With ADHD medicines for children, a “drug holiday” is sometimes recommended. If you are regularly using any potentially addictive substance, try a “drug holiday” of your own.

And I think it’s the best motivator ever to quit smoking. Friday I had a couple of dedicated smokers and when I talked about flooded cigarretes, they blanched. Quit now, before you quit in circumstances…

And prayers for everyone in the disaster areas.

1. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/nationwide-trends
2. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/more-than-one-third-americans-prescribed-opioids-in-2015/
3. https://www.cnbc.com/2016/04/27/americans-consume-almost-all-of-the-global-opioid-supply.html  Hey, 80% of the world opioid supply is eaten by the US population! Why are US citizens in so much pain? Or are we under the impression that we shouldn’t have to feel pain and by gosh, we can afford the drugs….
4. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra1507771#t=article Opioid Abuse in Chronic Pain — Misconceptions and Mitigation Strategies.

So WHY doesn’t the news talk about this? Because the cigarette and alcohol and prescription drug companies would yank the advertising?

Vital signs II

Pain is not a vital sign anymore, as I described in yesterday’s post. I wrote this poem in 2006, about pain  being the fifth vital sign. I disagreed.

Vital signs II

Is now a vital sign
On a scale of 1:10
What is your pain?
The nurses document
Every shift

Why isn’t joy
a vital sign?

In the hospital
we do see joy

and pain

I want feeling cared for
to be a vital sign

My initial thought
is that it isn’t
because we can’t treat it

But that isn’t true

I have been brainwashed

We can’t treat it
with drugs

We measure pain
and are told to treat it
helpful pamphlets
sponsored by the pharmaceutical companies
have articles
from experts

Pain is under treated
by primary care
in the hospital
and there are all
these helpful medicines

I find
in my practice
that much of the pain
I see
cannot be treated
with narcotics
and responds better
to my ear

To have someone
really listen
and be curious
and be present
when the person

If feeling cared for
were a vital sign

Some people
I think
have almost never felt cared for
in their lives

They might say
I feel cared for 2 on a scale of 10

And what could the nurses do?

No pills to fix the problem

But perhaps
if that question
were followed by another

Is there anything we can do
to make you feel more cared for?

I wonder
if asking the question
is all we need

first draft 5/20/06

I took the photograph Friday afternoon from the beach: two fronts were meeting. What is that like in the sky? Do they fight or welcome each other?

Pain as a vital sign

A recent article in the Family Practice News says that a survey of 225 physicians reveals that 33% of them think that the opioid crisis in the US is caused by over prescribing opioids. 24% said aggressive patient drug seeking and 18% said it is due to drug dealers. How quickly things change.

In 1996 pain was declared the fifth vital sign, after temperature,  pulse (heart rate), respiration rate and blood pressure. I disagreed with it because it focused on pain, by telling the nurses in the hospital and the outpatient providers to always to ask about pain. I thought it would be better to focus on level of comfort than pain. I thought we were using opioids far too freely and I thought that patients were getting addicted. The pain specialists said that we had to treat pain, and we were given very few tools other than opioids. Primary care providers were told that they could be sued for too much or too little pain medicine.

I also disagreed with it because pain is NOT a vital sign. That is, the level of pain does not correlate with illness. If a person has a high fever of 104 I am sure they are sick, a fast or very slow heart rate, a blood pressure too high or two low, they are breathing too fast: these are vital signs. They often correlate to illness and help us decide if this is outpatient, urgent or emergent. But pain does not. A chronic pain patient may have a pain level of 8/10 and yet not be an emergency or in a life-threatening state at all. That does not mean that they are lying or that we don’t wish to help with pain.

In June, 2016, the American Medical Association recommended dropping pain as a vital sign. https://www.painnewsnetwork.org/stories/2016/6/16/ama-drops-pain-as-vital-sign. The Joint Commission for Hospital Accreditation dropped pain as a vital sign in August, 2016. https://www.jointcommission.org/joint_commission_statement_on_pain_management/

Why? Not only were people getting addicted to opiates, but they were and are dying of unintentional overdoses: sedation from opiates with alcohol, with anxiety medicines such as benzodiazepines, with soma, with sleep medicines such as ambien and zolpidem. If the person is sedated enough, they stop breathing and die. The CDC declared an epidemic of unintentional overdoses in 2012: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6101a3.htm and said that more US citizens were dying of prescription medicines taken as instructed then from motor vehicle accidents and guns and illegal drugs.

So the poem below and a second poem I will post tomorrow reflect how I thought about pain as a vital sign. It is not a vital sign, because a high pain level does not tell me if the person is critically ill and may die. It does not correlate. Pain matters and we want to treat it, but the first responsibility is “do not harm”. Letting people get addicted and killing some is harm.

Also, opioids have limited effectiveness and high risk for chronic pain. I have worked with  The University of Washington Pain and Addiction Clinic since 2010 via telemedicine. They say that average improvement of chronic pain with opioids is about 30%. Higher and higher doses do not help and increase the risk of overdose and death. And the risk of addiction.

I think of pain as information. Studies of fibromyalgia patients with functional MRI of the brain show that they are not lying about their pain. In a study normal and fibromyalgia patients were given the same pain stimulus on the hand. The normal patients said that they felt 3-4/10 pain. The fibromyalgia patients felt 7-8/10 pain with the same stimulus and the pain centers lit up correspondingly more in their brains. So they are not lying.

Why would opioids only lower chronic pain about 30% even with higher doses? The brain considers pain important information. We need to snatch our finger away from a flame, stop if we smash our toe, deal with a broken bone. I think of opioids like noise cancelling headphones. Say you are listening to music. You put on headphones/take round the clock opioids. Your brain automatically turns up the gain: the music volume or the pain sensors. Now it hurts again. You take more. The brain turns up the gain. Now: take the noise cancelling headphones off. The music/pain is too loud and it hurts! With music we can turn it down, but the brain cannot adjust the gain for pain quickly.

We do not understand the shift from acute pain to chronic pain, yet. The shift is in the brain. I think that we are too quick to mask and block pain rather than use the information. Now the recommendations for opioids are to only use them for 3-5 days for acute pain and injury. For years I have said with any opioid prescription: try not to take them around the clock and try to decrease the use as soon as possible. Some people get addicted. Be careful.

If we don’t hand people a pill for pain, what can we do? There are more and more therapies. Jon Kabot Zinn’s 30 years of studying mindfulness meditation is very important. His chronic pain classes reduce pain by an average of 50%: better than opiates. Pain and stress hormones drop by 50% in a study of a one hour massage. Massage, physical therapy, chiropracty and acupuncture: different people respond to different modalities. Above all, reassuring people that the level of pain in chronic pain does not correlate to the level of illness or ongoing damage. And pain is composed of at least three parts: the sharp nocioceptive pain, nerve pain (neuropathic) and emotional pain. We must address the emotional part too. We have no tool at this time to sort the pain into the three categories. My rule is that I always address all three. That does not mean every person needs a counselor or psychiatrist. It means that we must have time to discuss stress and discuss life events and check in about coping.

In the survey of 225 providers, 50% estimated that they prescribe opioids to fewer than 10% of their patients. 38% said less than half. 12% estimated that they prescribe opioids to more than half their patients. The survey included US primary care, emergency department and pain management physicians.

Handing people a pill is quicker. But we can do better and primary care must have the time to really help people with pain.

Vital Signs I

In the hospital now
I am told we have a new
Vital sign
Like blood pressure and pulse
We are to measure
And always treat it

Sometimes I wonder

Mr. X is in the ICU
I tell his family
He may die

On a scale of one to ten
What is his wife’s pain?
His daughter’s
We are not treating them
Only Mr. X

We try to suppress pain
Signals from our nerves
Physical pain is easier

I think of our great forests
We suppressed fire

And that was wrong
If fire is suppressed
Undergrowth builds up
Fuel levels rise
Fire comes
Rages out of control
All is destroyed

If fires burn
More naturally
More regularly
What is left?

At first it looks desolate
The tall trees are burnt
Around their bases
But they live
Adapted to the fire
Majestic pines
Would our values were as clear

Some pines
Will only germinate
In fire
When the undergrowth
Is cleared
Conditions are right
For new growth

Perhaps pain is our fire
Grief is our fire

If we block pain
Where does it go?
Does the fuel build?

I wonder if the tall pines
Fear fire
Would they avoid it
If they could

Perhaps suppression
Is not the answer

Perhaps we can change
Remain present
Acknowledge pain
As normal
As joy

Perhaps if I
Step into the fire
I can remain
For you

And you will be
Less alone
Less afraid

I open my doors

Let the fire burn

poem written before 2009

CDC guidelines for treating chronic pain: https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/pdf/guidelines_factsheet-a.pdf


This is for the Daily Prompt: discover.

I see people out with ear buds in place, walking or running. I also see people outside face down towards their phones.

I am sending people outdoors from my clinic, without ear buds, with cell phone off or silenced.

We need the sensory input from forests, from the outdoors, from fields, from beaches. We need the unpredictable and to USE all our senses. Smell, sound, proprioception… Proprioception is your feet telling you whether you are on a flat surface or little stones or a dirt path or that there is a rock there. My daughter and I walked on the beach last night, without a flashlight. I stumbled more than her. We discussed night vision and clearly hers is better than mine. We could see the light of Seattle reflecting from the clouds and onto the water of the Salish Sea. Mostly clouds, a few stars, no streetlights. We could see the windows of houses along the beach. The tide was out and the waves were very quiet, and we walked into a flock of sandpipers who called.

When my son was 18 months old, we took him to family land in Ontario, Canada, with old cabins on a lake. The paths are dirt. I ran those paths in the dark as a child for years, and every year the rocks and sticks were different. My son was used to floors and sidewalks and a grassy yard. For the first few days he stumbled on the paths, which are not even. By the time we left, he was running the paths with ease.

We need that sensory input and proprioception and to use all of our senses. When we get new complex sensory input, chronic pain sensors are turned down, as the brain is engaged to evaluate new information. We need outdoors, we need sensory input, we need uneven paths and beaches and rocks, we need to practice balance or else we lose the skills….

Turn off your phone. Take off your headphones. I exchange calls with birds often. I hear eagles and can imitate their call. I am good enough that sometimes the eagles that I cannot even see when I call, will drop down from the sky to see where the sound came from….Am I some sort of weird eagle insulting them?

Happy solstice and joy to you and yours.





Update on marijuana 2016

I attended the Swedish Hospital Update on Chronic Pain in Seattle two weeks ago on the stormy Friday. The power went out and we were without slides from about noon on.

The first two hours and three lectures were about marijuana. Including medical marijuana and one speaker for and one against. So here are some of my notes.

In 1960 and 1970, the marijuana had about 4% THC. Now some strains have 30% THC, so long term there is no data about what 30% THC will do to a person rather than 4%. THC in strains ranges from 0% to 30% and CBD from 0 to 3.5%. However, those two are not the only active ingredients, so to speak. 537 constituents have been identified that work at the cannabinoid receptor…. that is impressive. I think it might take a while to sort out what they do.

At any rate, we don’t know what smoking 30% THC will do, because it’s new. 4% had pretty minimal psychotropic effects. 30% has a lot more. The average now is 12%. Hashish is closer to 66% and hash oil 81% THC. A patient recently told me that she fainted within the last year. She got butter from the fridge at a friend’s and buttered her toast. Turned out it was THC infused butter and she was taken by surprise on a walk 30-60 minutes later. Luckily someone was with her and she was not hurt.

Recent data is showing that there is not much tolerance smoking 12% THC regularly. However, higher doses show tolerance in about 2 weeks in a study of HIV patients with dronabinol, which is 40% THC. Another study of multiple sclerosis patients with 15/15% CBD:THC reduced pain, reduced spasticity and did not show tolerance.

There is anecdotal evidence about seizures, but no study yet. There is some evidence that CBD reduces THC induced paranoia and/or hallucinations. THC side effects from dronabinol include drowsiness, unsteady gait, delusions, hallucinations, mood change and confusion.

The growers are being very creative in names and marketing. This is re recreational pot.
There are hundreds of names and hundreds of varieties and they make interesting claims as to effects. For example:

AK47 with 36.6% THC and 0.3% CBD ….. creative, euphoric and hungry
sage with 27.5% THC and 0.7% CBD ….. attentive
flow with 23.2 % THC and 0.6% CBD ….. happy, relaxed, alert
Super Sour Diesel 22.7 % THC and 0.8% CBD ….. attentive, giggly, hungry
707 Headband with 22.1% THC and 0.7% CBD ….. euphoric, lazy, inspired

How amazing the difference less than a percent of THC makes… oh, wait. There aren’t clinical trials on this, hon, this is MARKETING.

Onset for oral is 30-90 minutes
peak in 2-4 hours
half life 8-12 hours but sometimes 20 hours

sublingual tincture
onset 30-45 minutes
peak 60 minutes
half life 3-5 hours

Smoked onset quicker and I did not get those numbers.

The emergency rooms in Colorado saw lots of people who were “trying it” but if they had only tried smoking marijuana in the 1970s, a strain with a much higher percentage made many people sick or hallucinate or frightened. The gummi bears look just like the ones for kids, so kids got sick. More sick people with edibles, as some eat too much.

People using THC before age 25 who have risk factors for schizophrenia are more likely to develop it. Family history, other hallucinatory drugs, mental health problems. The age 21 limit should be taken very seriously.

In Arizona re medical marijuana, 90% of the prescriptions were from only 24 physicians. In Colorado, 94% of the patients applying for medical marijuana did so for “severe pain”. Two of my friends in their early 20s  got medical marijuana permits in California for “back pain”, um, ok, hooey. Some people DO have severe chronic pain….

The history of medical marijuana is that Eli Lilly produced a medical version from 1850-1940 for pain. It was removed in 1942. In 1970 it became a schedule one, that is, illegal, drug. There are a few randomized clinical trials for pain, the best ones with high CBD/low THC treatments. Marijuana smoke alone has not been proven to cause lung cancer, but combined with tobacco or other smoke, the evidence is that it is synergistic and makes things worse faster. Dependence can occur, an increase in antisocial personality disorders and there is a withdrawal syndrome for dependent folks. For the small number of people I have had working hard to stop, sleep is the most difficult issue. Anxiety as well.

If people state that they use pot a small amount a couple of times a week, their urine sample should clear after a week. If it’s not clear they 1. couldn’t stop and/or 2. were using quite a bit more.

As far as Washington state law, it was described as a mess. Physicians can’t prescribe, they can only “attest” that the person has a problem treatable by medical marijuana. To attest, the physician has to sign a document saying that they are sure that not only has the patient READ the law chapter 69.51A RCW but also “understands the requirements of being a patient”. There are 24 sections. The physician doing this part of the talk said that he would only prescribe to non-driving MS patients in wheelchairs. Because he finds it hard to read the law himself, so the signing that the patient has read and understood it…. well, the driving legality issue is huge. And the provider, including NDs (naturopaths) and ODs (Doctor of Optometry) in Washington can attest. They are then immune in Washington but not at the federal level.

Every marijuana store is legally obliged to have a medical marijuana consultant present at all times that they are open. The medical marijuana consultant has 20 hours of training to get certified. Patients that are certified with an attestation can grow 6 to 15 plants but ONLY after they have been entered into a database which includes the person who signed the attestation and a photo of the patient. If they grow without being entered, they are breaking the law.

Use of THC long term, the risk of addiction is 25-50%. 17% of the addicted folks started during adolescence. Addiction is currently estimated at 9% of people who have tried it overall. About 30% of users have “problem use” and starting before age 18 increases the problem use 4-7 times. The DSM-V has diagnostic criteria for “marijuana overuse syndrome”, including not being able to stop even though the person wants to. Risk factors for addiction and problem use include early use, family history, PTSD (especially sexual abuse), bipolar diagnosis, ADHD, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder. Mediating factors include parental disapproval, parental supervision, academic competence, higher perceived risk and availability.

And am I attesting? No. My MS patients get the attestation from the neurologist if they want it….

Medical marijuana consultant training: http://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/Marijuana/MedicalMarijuana/RulesinProgress/MedicalMarijuanaConsultantCertification
Washington State Medical Marijuana attestation form: http://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/Pubs/630123.pdf
WA law: http://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=69.51A
And pain clinics getting closed down: http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/health/pain-patients-scramble-for-care-after-clinic-crackdown/

The tree trunk is a bonsai from the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland. I like the thorns…..

Does back pain mean a disc?

Does back pain mean a disc?

Does sciatica, pain down the sciatic nerve, all the way down the leg, mean a lumbar disc is out of position and you need back surgery?

Ninety nine times out of one hundred: No.

No? What? Really? Doesn’t back pain and sciatic pain mean a disc is pressing on the nerve?


Sciatica means that the nerve is annoyed. It is sending pain signals. It can be irritated and inflamed anywhere along the entire path of the nerve. When the nerve is inflammed or there is surrounding inflamation, the nerve sends pain signals.

But… if it is not a disc, WHAT IS IT?

Muscles that are injured, inflamed, irritated, contracted or torn, that in turn put pressure on or inflame the nerve.

The sciatic nerve is made up of multiple nerve roots coming from the spinal cord: L3, L4, L5, S1, S2, S3. And then variants. The nerve roots bundle together and then dive through a group of muscles and go down the back of the leg: deep in the muscles. Why deep? To protect this very big, very important, bundle of nerves. Branches veer off and innervate muscles and bone and tendon and fascia, all the way down to the toes. There is not a spinal column in the leg, to protect this nerve.

It dives in between the superior gemellus and the piriformes muscle, deep in the buttock. Under the gluteus maximus and the gluteus minimus. Then it goes down the leg, under the semitendonosus muscle and the biceps femoris muuscle, the big hamstrings.

Now, let’s go back up to the low back. Why does it hurt? With or without sciatica? There are six layers of muscles in the back, all way smaller than those hamstrings. The top is the latissimus dorsi, down 5 more layers to the small longus and brevis rotares muscles, which connect each vertebral bone and allow subtle and complex movements of the spine.

What happens when a muscle is torn or injured? People look blank in clinic when I ask. I say, “Think of a piece of steak, what happens when you cut it?” They still look blank. “It BLEEDS, right?” When a muscle is torn or injured and bleeds, it and the surrounding muscles cramp up as much as they can, to try to prevent further bleeding and tearing. If it is an extremity, ace wrap, elevate and ice, as soon as possible, to slow the swelling and bleeding and pain. If it is the lower back muscles, ice as soon as possible and applying pressure won’t hurt. No heat for 48 hours since muscle bleeding and swelling and inflammation usually peak at 48 hours. After 48 hours apply heat, then gently stretch, then ice after stretching.

Think of the muscle fibers as torn. They take about 6 to 8 weeks to fully heal. You want to stretch them and rehabilitate them without tearing them in that 6-8 weeks. You want every muscle to be fully functional, to be the right length, to not heal shortened or scarred. Get those fibers working again…


But doctor, my back has been hurting for FIVE YEARS!

Then it will take longer than 6 to 8 weeks to rehabilitate, retrain the muscles, gently break down the scar tissue, get it all functioning. Your muscles are doing their best. They told you they were hurt and you need to listen to them.

Covering it up with ibuprofen or alcohol or any number of substances or trying to ignore what your muscles are trying to tell you is a bit counter productive, don’t you think? Pain is information. An advil can help with the pain, but it does NOT fix the problem. “Drug me so that I can go on ignoring it.”…. uh, no. That is not ethical and it also doesn’t work.

And just think, if those back muscles continue tighter and tighter… they are constricting and pulling on the spinal bones.  They pull on those bones and then a disc might be thinned or crushed and might protrude and then press on a nerve. And then for surgery, what do they do to get to the disc? Cut through the six layers of muscle….