Safely Reach Out And Touch Someone if You Can (and Suggestions if You Can’t)

With Valentine’s Day falling smack in its center like a succulent cherry, February traditionally marks the month of love and affection. For many, the celebration of February 14th might include not only wine, roses, and a gourmet dinner, but also hugs, kisses, and possibly some sex. 

This year, however, February 2021 also marks the first anniversary of the United States’ public battle with COVID-19. In spite of 2020’s precautions and protocols (not to mention the current rollout of vaccines), the number of confirmed cases (and deaths) still increases daily. Nearly a year ago, Dr. Anthony Fauci suggested we may never shake hands with each other again, and the “air kiss” greeting has certainly been retired until further notice. Today, masks, social distancing, and sanitization remain vital requirements. 

So what does that mean for the Month of Love? Has our need and desire for physical affection become obsolete?

Touched by the Hand of Science

The answer is a resounding no. In fact, a scientific study in the Western Journal of Communication supports that positive physical touch is not only good for your mood and your spirit, but also for your heart — and then some. Another article in The Journals of Gerontology indicates that hugging and embracing, receiving a pat on the back, getting a supportive neck massage — or experiencing any other close physical contact — can lower heart rate, improve sleep and respiratory rates, and yield higher oxytocin levels.

Moreover, as reported in Research on Aging, high physical touch can be protective against high blood pressure. A study of 59 women (reported in Penn Medicine) has also demonstrated that women who more frequently hug their partners often have a lower resting blood pressure than those who rarely engage in physical touch. 

What’s Oxytocin Got to Do with It?

While lower blood pressure and heart rates seem to be obvious health benefits (especially during American Heart Month) why are higher oxytocin levels something worth our attention? Known commonly as “the Love Hormone,” oxytocin is generally linked to the mother-child bond and/or skin-to-skin contact. But higher levels of oxytocin help us all feel more peaceful and satisfied. 

For example, elevated levels of oxytocin have been linked to improved sleep, as well as the ability to tell our brain we’re full and don’t need that second helping of macaroni and cheese. As also summarized in Frontiers in Psychology, when our oxytocin levels are higher, it’s possible we’ll sleep better, eat more sensibly, and feel more relaxed — therefore avoiding the myriad health complications of lack of sleep and overeating. 

Oxytocin also has the ability to undo the potential negative effects of cortisol — a stress hormone — in our bodies. When at work, cortisol prioritizes the systems required for short-term survival, rather than those that sustain long-term health. Higher levels of cortisol can contribute to a weakened immune system, suppression of the digestive system and reproductive systems, and as the Mayo Clinic reported, in general, create a greater chance of getting sick.  

“Oxytocin is part of a complex system of neurohormones, but when it’s released by physical touch it can have many benefits, including laying the foundation for cognitive, social and emotional well-being.” Paula S. Barry, MD, physician at Penn Family and Internal Medicine Longwood

But What If You’re Not Romantically Involved?

A careful read of all these studies indicates that the most direct way to increase oxytocin levels is through mutually welcomed, positive, enjoyable physical contact — preferably with someone you love. But this kind of connection with a domestic or romantic partner isn’t the only type we benefit from. The Journals of Gerontology reports that even positive touch from associates or others outside our closest circles may also have benefits including improved sleep, lower blood pressure, improved respiratory rate, and decreased experience of pain. 

But we aren’t limited to contact with just people, either. Affection with our furry friends can also provide similar health benefits as that with another person. Many sources, including Johns Hopkins medicine, the NIH, and the CDC encourage interactions with animals to decrease cortisol, triglyceride and cholesterol levels, plus increase oxytocin, and reduce risks of cardiovascular disease. Even simply spending time outdoors in a natural environment with birds, plants, and other wildlife (according to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health) is shown to improve immune functions, prevent illnesses, and reduce stress.

Hands Up for Hands-Free Positivity 

For all of us, the new landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic means safe physical connection of any kind can only happen between a few select other humans (or animals), if at all. Even Time magazine has speculated about the negative effects of this contact-deficient world.

Fortunately, there are still ways the most independent (and germ-conscious) individual can substitute the benefits of physical contact, and keep their physiology thrumming.  

  • Jump Around
    • You don’t need the CDC or Harvard to tell you physical activity of nearly any kind has myriad positive effects on the body, including improving brain and cardiovascular health, strengthening bones and muscles, reducing your risk of type-2 diabetes, and even preventing some cancers. Whether walking, running, doing yoga or resistance exercises, or dancing around your apartment, 30 minutes of exercise five times a week will provide a boost like almost nothing else. 

Whatever you’re doing to love yourself through February, we’re here for you. If you’re not already monitoring your heart and cardiovascular health, if your stress levels appear to be increasing, if you’re concerned about a lack of physical contact — or anything else regarding your well-being — please reach out. As always, there’s a lot we can do to support your whole health, even without touch. Contact us any time to schedule an appointment

What Can You Do to Alleviate Sciatica Pain?

Sciatica pain is extremely common, with as much as 40% of the population suffering from it at some point in their lives. Despite this, there are still many misconceptions that circulate about the condition. People sometimes mistakenly refer to any type of lower back or radiating leg pain as sciatica. The condition is more specific than that, involving pain originating in the sciatic nerve. Here’s what you should know if you think you could be experiencing sciatica pain.

What Is Sciatica?

The sciatica nerve is roughly two centimeters in diameter. It’s the longest nerve in the body, extending from the lower back through the hips, buttocks, and down each leg. The nerve supports motor function in the lower body, including the hamstrings, calf muscles, and some parts of the foot. When the nerve becomes irritated or compressed, it causes radiating pain known as sciatica.

What Causes Sciatica?

Sciatica has two main causes: inflammation which irritates the nerve, or compression of the nerve. The latter often leads to more severe motor dysfunction. The nerve can become compressed by a herniated or bulging spinal disc. Spinal bone spurs may also compress the nerve. More rarely, it can be caused by a tumor or nerve damage in conditions such as diabetes. Additionally, osteoarthritis can cause the opening through which the nerve flows to become narrowed, leading to nerve injury and sciatica symptoms. 

One inflammatory cause of sciatica is piriformis syndrome. In this condition, the piriformis muscle in the buttock spasms and puts pressure on the sciatic nerve. It can be caused by overuse of the muscle from activities such as walking or running.

Sciatica Symptoms

Sciatica symptoms can vary widely, and no two cases are exactly alike. Most patients report pain radiating from the lower back to the leg, typically only on one side of the body. The discomfort can range from a mild ache to excruciating, debilitating pain. It may also manifest as a burning sensation, a jolt, or a feeling like an electric shock. Some people find the pain worsens with movements such as sneezes or coughs, and that prolonged sitting can further aggravate symptoms. It’s also possible to feel numbness and tingling, or a combination of all these sensations.

What Can You Do to Relieve Sciatica Pain?

In many cases, sciatica is temporary and may resolve itself within days or even just a few hours. In some instances, however, persistent pain will call for professional treatment. First, you can try to alleviate pain with the following home remedies:

  • Hot or cold therapy to reduce pain and inflammation
  • Avoiding any activities that could have contributed to the condition, such as heavy lifting
  • Practicing proper posture

There are also several stretches you can try at home to externally rotate the hip, sometimes bringing relief: 

  • Try a seated spinal stretch. Sit on the ground with your legs extended straight in front of you, keeping the feet flexed. Bend your right leg and place the foot on the outside of the left knee. Position your left elbow so it’s on the outside of the bent knee, gently stretching the back. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
  • Lay flat on your back and bring one leg in, hugging the knee. Pull it across the body, bringing it towards the opposite shoulder. Only go as far as is comfortable. The goal is to feel relief in the back. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
  • Practice pigeon pose, in which the right leg is bent in front of you with the outer side pressed flat against the ground, and your other leg is stretched out behind you. Keep your weight in your legs, sitting up straight and keeping your arms on either side of your front leg. Take a deep breath and gradually lean forward while exhaling, shifting your weight into your arms. Repeat on the other side. 

If the self-care approaches above don’t bring relief, an interventional pain management specialist can help you find relief. The proper therapy for sciatica will depend on its underlying cause. If the pain is caused by a herniated disc, you may need surgical intervention, but your pain management specialist will likely try non-invasive measures first.

Anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants often help. Your doctor might also recommend steroid injections, which can minimize inflammation around the nerve.

Physical therapy may help you correct any issues with your posture which could be contributing to the pain. Through targeted exercises, you can also increase flexibility and strengthen supporting muscle groups to control symptoms and prevent sciatica from recurring. 

Sciatica Pain Prevention

Once your sciatica pain has diminished, you’ll want to do what you can to prevent future attacks. While many people worry that certain exercises may have triggered the pain in the first place, the best thing you can do to avoid a subsequent occurrence is to stay active. In addition to the stretches listed above, low-impact exercise, such as stationary cycling, yoga, and water aerobics are good choices. 

Of course, you must first address any pain you’re experiencing before you feel well enough to get moving again. The specialists from United Physician Group Pain Management can get you started with an individualized approach to sciatica relief. Schedule an appointment at one of our locations to start your journey towards pain relief today.

How Can You Reduce Your Risk of Cervical Cancer?

According to the CDC, cervical cancer was once “the leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States.” Fortunately, 40 years of medical advances have significantly decreased the number of cases and given us much more effective treatments. It remains, however, a serious cancer. Prevention and early detection are key to reducing your risk.

What Is Cervical Health Awareness Month? 

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, designated by the United States Congress to raise awareness for cervical cancer. According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC), the disease still affects more than 13,000 women annually and can often be prevented with proper vaccination and screenings. 

What Is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer occurs when healthy cells mutate in the cervix, the lower area of the uterus which connects to the vagina. Symptoms may include vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain.

Most forms of cervical cancer are caused by strains of human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection (STI). HPV can also cause cancers of the vulva and vagina, the penis in men, and the back of the throat and anus. While there are screenings available for cervical cancer, the other types of cancer that HPV contributes to are often not detected until the disease presents symptoms. 

Can Cervical Cancer Be Prevented?

The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) reports that more than 90% of all cancers caused by HPV can be prevented with the HPV vaccination. More specifically, the CDC notes that up to 93% of cervical cancers can be prevented through both HPV vaccination and screenings. 

How Does the HPV Vaccine Prevent Cervical Cancer?

The NFID recommends clinicians take the evidence-based approach of recommending the HPV vaccine for preteens aged 11 to 12. This is the optimal age for the strongest immune response, but men and women up to the age of 45 can still get the vaccine. Preteens up to age 15 require only two doses, but anyone 15 or older will need a full three-dose series.

The vaccine works by producing antibodies which will bind to the virus should they ever encounter it in the future. This effectively prevents HPV from infecting cells within the body, significantly reducing the risk of cervical cancer and other cancers caused by HPV. 

HPV is the most common STI, affecting 79 million Americans in their late teens and early 20s. Oftentimes, the virus goes away on its own and doesn’t cause any adverse health issues. It may also never present any symptoms, though it can still spread from one person to another through sexual activity even when someone is asymptomatic. In addition to cervical cancer, HPV can also lead to genital warts. While it’s typically not dangerous in itself, its potential to cause cancer over time (coupled with its prevalence) makes HPV a condition that calls for prevention. 

How Do Pap Tests Help Fight Cervical Cancer?

The Papanicolaou (Pap) test is another important tool that aids in cervical cancer prevention. This screening can be completed right in your primary care physician’s office. It tests for abnormal cells which could develop into cervical cancer. Early detection of both pre-cancerous cells and cervical cancer lead to a greater chance of a cure. That’s why most doctors advise pap tests for women at a minimum of three-year intervals starting at the age of 21.

Your doctor can also give you an HPV test, which screens for the presence of HPV. Your doctor can discuss with you factors such as age and health history to determine whether the HPV test, pap test, or both are recommended for you. They may also review with you risk factors for cervical cancer, which can include smoking and having other STIs.

Raising Cervical Cancer Awareness this January

Although there are powerful strategies in place to almost completely prevent cervical cancer, many women aren’t leveraging them to their fullest potential. As of 2012, 10% of women reported that they hadn’t been screened for cervical cancer within the previous five years. 

Additionally, the NFID found that only half of adolescent boys and girls had received the HPV vaccine as of 2017, leaving a large population vulnerable to HPV and the cancers it could cause in the future. The vaccine is simple to receive and can be administered during the same appointment when other vaccines are given. 

During Cervical Health Awareness Month, organizations such as the NCCC spread the word about cervical cancer and the strategies available to prevent it. If you’re a parent of an adolescent child, now is a good time to talk to their doctor about the HPV vaccination. Or, if you’re a woman over the age of 21, you can schedule a pap test if you haven’t had one within the past three years. You can also discuss your individual risk and whether or not you should consider additional testing, such as the HPV test.

If you’re due for a pap test, would like to discuss the HPV vaccine, or want to know more about HPV and cervical cancer, turn to the doctors at United Physician Group Family Medicine. Offering targeted health care for patients of all ages, this team offers preventive care to help you and your family members stay healthy. Schedule your exam or appointment at a location near you today.

5 Tips for a Healthier Holiday Season (And Only One is About COVID-19)

2020 has been, to say the least, a difficult year, with much of what brings fullness to our lives temporarily on hold. The holiday season is upon us, and we’re all understandably feeling overdue for some rest, celebration, and connection with our family, neighbors, and friends.

Unfortunately, despite some recent encouraging news on the vaccine front, COVID-19 infection rates remain very high. It’s still not safe to celebrate the holidays in all the same ways we would in more normal times. At United Physician Group, we want and plan to celebrate the holidays. However, when this pandemic is finally behind us, we also want to celebrate that you and your family are healthy and well.

So we’ve compiled some tips to help you stay healthy as you adapt your holiday traditions to the current limitations and maybe create some new traditions. We hope you’re finding ways to feel close to your family and friends, even when physically far away.

Party Safely During a Pandemic

Let’s deliver the most disappointing news first: It’s simply not safe to host or attend large, indoor family gatherings or holiday parties this year. The safest plan for the holidays is to gather in person only with those people who already live in your household. The more you come together with people from outside your home — even if they’re close family or your very best friends — the greater your risks will be.

We know that’s hard advice to accept, but the medical science is clear. Gathering closely for more than a few minutes with people from outside your household puts everyone at greater risk of catching COVID-19.

The best idea: Celebrate in person only with the people who already live with you, and include anyone else virtually, by phone or video call.

The next best idea: Plan or attend parties in ways that reduce (but won’t eliminate) the risk.

The CDC has published some advice on how to do this. We recommend you read the full article, but some highlights include:

  • Keep gatherings small, with plenty of room for people to stay at least six feet apart from one another at all times.
  • Ask that everyone wear masks except when actively eating or drinking.
  • Weather permitting, open windows and doors to increase fresh air ventilation.
  • If at all possible, hold your party outdoors.


It’s all a lot, we know, but it’s what we have to do this holiday season to protect the people we care about.

Maybe consider:

  • Have a virtual cookie-making party via video conference, with everyone joining from their own kitchens.
  • Deliver prepared foods to nearby friends and family in a contact-free manner. (Foods do not appear to pose a significant infection risk.)
  • Try a drive-by party, where guests drive up to your house to pick up a gift or a bag of goodies without getting out of their cars.
  • Plan an outdoor holiday gathering that follows all CDC guidelines.

Get Your Flu Shot

If you haven’t already done so, it’s not too late to get your flu shot. In fact, December 6-12 is National Influenza Vaccination Week. Flu shots are a good idea every year, especially for children, pregnant women, adults over 65, and anyone with a chronic health condition. Even if you’re not in a high-risk group, the flu shot can help protect you and everyone you come in contact with.

Avoiding a serious case of the flu is even more important right now. Many hospitals are overcrowded with COVID-19 patients. There’s also the risk of catching both influenza and COVID-19 at the same time, putting you at greater risk of serious complications and hospitalization.

The good news? Getting the shot only takes a few minutes. Flu shots are safe and effective, and most people experience only very mild side effects that go away within a few days.

If you and your family haven’t already had your flu shot this season, talk with your doctor about getting it now. It might save you from a miserably sick holiday.

Choose Safe Toys and Gifts

According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (PDF), in 2018 there were an estimated 226,100 toy-related injuries that resulted in emergency treatments at hospitals in the U.S. That’s why December is National Safe Toys and Gifts Month, a month dedicated to protecting children from injury by unsafe toys.

Prevent Blindness, the sponsor of National Safe Toys and Gifts Month, encourages you to:

  • Only buy toys rated as appropriate for each child’s age.
  • Teach children how to use their toys safely.
  • Monitor children while they play.

They also suggest several ways to verify that a toy will be safe for the child receiving it. Review their list to make safe choices for the children in your life.

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry… in Moderation

Actually, no need to moderate the merriment, but be mindful of what you eat and drink. Some holiday indulgences are fine. Just don’t overdo it, and consider healthier alternatives where you can. If you’re diabetic, continue to monitor and maintain your blood sugar levels. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation, and please don’t drink and drive.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has some good suggestions for healthier holidays. Some of our favorites are:

  • Include plenty of lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your holiday feasts.
  • When baking, replace butter with applesauce or mashed, ripe bananas. Experiment with cutting back on the sugar called for in recipes.
  • Talk, play games, and otherwise focus on the people more than the food.
  • Make exercise part of the holiday plan, perhaps with a backyard game or a walk after a meal.

Focus on Connecting Creatively

Close connections with people we care about can help prevent or ease depression while helping us live fuller, happier lives. Those connections are even more important during the holidays, when isolation can hit us hard.

This year, connecting safely with the ones you love may be more complicated because of the pandemic. Get creative and find a way to do so anyway.

Some ideas include:

  • Make time for long phone calls or video chats with the people you care about who live outside your household.
  • Have meaningful conversations and activities with the people who live with you.
  • Schedule well distanced and masked outdoor visits with friends and family who live nearby.
  • Reach back into tradition and send handwritten letters to the people who you care about.

There’s still so much to celebrate, even in the midst of this difficult year. All of us at United Physician Group celebrate the gift of you. Here’s to a happier, healthier new year.


Have you scheduled your annual wellness visit? If not, resolve to do so before the end of the year. It’s an important foundation for healthy living in 2021 and beyond. Schedule your next check-up today.

How Do You Stop Migraines?

Anyone who has experienced a migraine understands that they are much more than “just a bad headache.” In addition to a throbbing headache, migraines often include nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Bright lights, loud noises, and activity can all make migraines worse. Migraines can be debilitating both during and for some time after each episode.

About 15% of adult Americans experienced a migraine in the past three months, and as many as 20% will experience migraines at some point in their life. Migraines are three times more common in women than in men.

The causes of migraines are still not well understood, although some common triggers have been identified, including stress, hormonal changes, lack of sleep, and dietary changes. People who suffer from migraines often try to limit these triggers to reduce the frequency of their migraines.

There is no cure yet, although chronic migraines sometimes become less frequent or severe with time, age, or menopause and may eventually cease altogether. Many people suffer with them for years.

However, modern, migraine-specific medicines, combined with a better understanding of the condition, can do a lot to manage the symptoms of migraines and reduce their frequency.

Emergency Treatment for Acute Migraines

The pain of migraines can be severe enough to bring people into the ER. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, “Every 10 seconds, someone in the U.S. goes to the emergency room complaining of head pain, and approximately 1.2 million visits are for acute migraine attacks.”

It’s not unusual for emergency room doctors to use opioids to treat the pain, however mounting evidence suggests that opioids can actually increase the likelihood that they will become chronic. (This is all in addition to the general risks of opioid addiction and abuse.)

Opioids are also typically less effective than two other kinds of pain relievers called triptans and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, although pregnant women and the elderly are sometimes advised to avoid such medications.

In 2019, two new non-opioid, non-narcotic medications were approved for treating acute migraines: lasmiditan and ubrogepant. Both have been shown to be effective at rapidly treating acute migraine symptoms.

If you have recurring acute migraines, you can discuss with your pain management specialist whether one of these medicines is right for you.


While no treatment has yet been found to prevent all migraine episodes, there’s a lot that pain management specialists can do to reduce their frequency and severity.

Migraine-Prevention Medicines

Botox has long been used to prevent chronic migraines, and in 2018 the FDA approved a new self-injected drug, erenumab, that reduces the frequency of migraines for many patients.

According to the NIH, several drugs “originally developed for epilepsy, depression, or high blood pressure … have been shown to be extremely effective in treating migraine.”

Again, these are all options you can discuss with your pain management specialist.

Address Risk Factors and Triggers

Stress, anxiety, depression, obesity, and asthma have all been linked to a higher risk of experiencing migraines. Treating these risk factors may help lower the frequency and severity of migraines.

Many other factors can trigger migraines. These vary from person to person, but they often include bright (especially flashing) lights, loud noises, missing meals, consuming too much caffeine, not getting enough sleep, and eating foods with nitrates or aspartame in them.

Not all triggers affect all migraine sufferers, so it’s important to pay attention to potential triggers and discuss them with a doctor.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Many people who suffer from migraines are able to better manage their symptoms and reduce the frequency of migraines through cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques. CBT strategies can help migraine sufferers relax, reduce stress, manage triggers, and better pace their activities to avoid overdoing it and triggering a migraine episode.


While we don’t yet know what causes migraines and can’t cure the condition, pain management science has come a long way in the pursuit of better treatment and prevention. If you’re experiencing migraines or serious headaches for any other reason, contact United Physician Group Pain Management to schedule an appointment with one of our pain management specialists.

Why Is it Important to Know Your Family’s Health History?

Thanksgiving has long been a time for families to come together. Since 2004, by declaration of U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, it has also been National Family History Day, a day for families to talk about their health histories so that everyone can better understand and manage their personal health risks.

It can be difficult enough to remember all the details of our own personal medical histories. If you’ve ever struggled to fill in your family medical history on a doctor’s intake form, you know how little many of us know about the medical histories of our parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and other close blood relatives. Sometimes all it takes is a question to discover that a close relative had a health problem of which you were completely unaware.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still keeping many families apart this year, your extended family may not be crowding around the dinner table for a shared feast. Many families will find other ways to connect, whether through video conferencing or well distanced outdoor gatherings. However you come together, consider taking a little time this Thanksgiving to ask about your family’s medical history.

Why Should You Know Your Family Medical History?

According the book Understanding Genetics, “your family history might be one of the strongest influences on your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes, or cancer.” Family history may also increase your risk of developing osteoporosis, depression, asthma, Alzheimer’s, and many other conditions. Certain less common but serious genetic conditions, such as sickle cell anemia, can be almost entirely dependent on genetic inheritance from our ancestors.

Healthy lifestyle choices still matter. Regardless of your family history, you’re more likely to stay healthy if you eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, stop or never start smoking, drink alcohol only in moderation or not at all, and get regular check-ups and screenings as recommended by your doctor.

However, your family medical history may alert you and your doctor to areas where you have a higher risk than the general population. While you can’t change your family history, you can make lifestyle changes that are well informed by your higher risks. Your doctor may also recommend that you get screened for common diseases at an earlier age or more frequently. (These may include mammograms, colorectal cancer screenings, blood-sugar tests, and more.) In some cases, your doctor may recommend preemptive treatments, such as calcium and vitamin D supplements for those with a higher risk of osteoporosis.

How Do I Ask My Family About Their Medical History?

Depending on your family dynamics, it may feel a little awkward at first to ask your family members about their personal medical histories, and, sure, you probably don’t want to ask your dad to “pass the potatoes and tell me about your prostate.” Framed right, however, this can be a very loving conversation that highlights the deep connections in your family and shows your kind concern for everyone’s health.

The Surgeon General created National Family History Day in part to help start those conversations. Over Thanksgiving, you can tell your family that it’s National Family History Day, talk about the importance of knowing your family medical history, then make it a family activity to gather that history. Because a comprehensive family medical history includes information about ethnicity — some diseases are more common in certain ethnic and racial groups than others — you may even learn something new about your family ancestry.

November is American Diabetes Awareness Month, which gives you an excuse to ask about a family history of diabetes. It’s “Movember,” a month to focus on men’s health issues such as prostate and testicular cancer, and men’s mental health issues. And last month was National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so it’s certainly not too late to use that as a conversation opener.

The CDC and the NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute have also created printable and online tools to help you collect all the relevant family health information. The National Human Genome Research Institute’s Families SHARES program provides printable worksheets for children and adults to fill out, assessing their risks of breast and colorectal cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. The CDC’s My Family Health Portrait is an online tool that guides you through gathering your complete family health history in a downloadable and printable file to share with your family and doctor. (While the tool is online, no personal data is shared or stored with the CDC.)

What Should I Do With My Family Health History?

In short: save it securely, and share it with your family and doctors.

Whether you collect your family history in digital or paper form, save it somewhere secure so you’ll have it available whenever you need to update or reference it.

Consider sending copies to your close relatives. Just as their medical history can help you assess your health risks, your history can help them do the same.

Most importantly, share your complete history with your doctors. Together, you can discuss what risks are revealed in your family history. Your doctor may then recommend any lifestyle changes, screenings, or preemptive measures that will lower your risks and help you and your family live healthier.

Would you like help collecting your family health history? Or would you like to discuss your family history with a doctor? Make an appointment with a United Physician Group Family Medicine doctor.

Will Exercise Help or Hurt Your Chronic Pain?

If you’re experiencing chronic pain, you’re not alone. Persistent pain or discomfort is one of the most common reasons adults seek medical care. For some people, it’s a mild nuisance. For others, chronic pain can overwhelm your resilience and overpower your life.

Wherever you are on the spectrum of pain, exercise probably isn’t the solution that first comes to mind, yet lack of exercise could actually make your pain get even worse.

Exercise and Chronic Pain: Do They Have to Be at Odds?

Lacing up to go for a run probably doesn’t sound comforting when your knees or hips ache just getting out of bed. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up exercising altogether. In fact, regular physical activity can have many health benefits for people experiencing chronic pain, including:

  • Weight loss or maintenance, which can minimize stress on your joints
  • Improved muscle strength to help stabilize your joints
  • Increased flexibility to improve joint function and reduce your risk of falls

Beyond these physical benefits, experts say exercise can actually activate areas of the brain that make pain more tolerable. According to neuroscientist Benedict Kolber from Duquesne University, physical activity engages the body’s natural opioid system. Exercise activates areas of the brain that create a sense of euphoria sometimes referred to as a “runner’s high.” In other words, exercise can trigger the same effects as prescription painkillers, but without the side effects or risk of addiction. Exercise also often reduces stress, which can otherwise increase your sensitivity to chronic pain.

Breaking Down the Barriers

Of course, it’s understandable if you’re hesitant to get moving more when you’re suffering chronic pain. Pain sends a powerful warning signal that something’s not right, and it’s only natural to respond to that warning by moving less. The fear that working out will make your pain worse is a powerful barrier to regular exercise.

Our ideas about exercise can get in the way too. Physical fitness is so often portrayed in the media as people in peak health who are flawless and pain-free. It’s also largely promoted as a means of achieving some quantifiable goal, such as beating a marathon personal record or losing a certain amount of weight. For people with chronic pain, however, fitness can be both less and so much more than all that. Combined with appropriate treatment by a pain management specialist, exercise can help you get your life back.

You can reduce any risks, quiet your fears, and reframe your expectations of fitness by getting good advice from your pain management doctor and recognizing that you’re in complete control of your exercise. You can stop immediately any time something doesn’t feel right. You get to decide what your fitness looks like, then establish an exercise routine that works best for you.

Which Exercises Are Best for Chronic Pain?

It’s very important that you first talk with a pain management specialist — who may also refer you to a physical therapist — before you start a new exercise program. They can guide you to the exercises that will keep any risks low while doing the most to help you manage your chronic pain.

Here are some exercises they may recommend and that you may find helpful, depending on the cause and severity of your chronic pain.

Range-of-Motion Exercises

Gentle, rolling exercises are particularly well-suited for people with arthritis and other types of joint pain. These movements ease stiffness and improve joint mobility. Try neck rolls, raising your arms slowly up and down, and shoulder rolls for the upper body. Do gentle standing hip and knee circles to loosen up your lower body.


Moderate aerobic exercise increases stamina, giving you more energy to get through the day. Walking is a perfect choice: it’s convenient and can be done virtually anywhere. Consider starting off with ten-minute walks and gradually increasing the length if your joints tolerate it well.


Pictures and video clips of yoga often feature experienced yogis in advanced poses. But yoga doesn’t need to be nearly that complicated. In fact, one of its most powerful benefits is that it’s rooted in deep breathing. Taking deep, cleansing breaths can help you manage stress and ensure your body gets the oxygen it needs to perform its best.

Once you’ve developed that foundation of deep breathing, you can begin trying simple, therapeutic poses. Gentle or restorative yoga classes, either online or in a studio, are ideal for people with chronic pain. If you have chronic back pain, stretches such as seated twists may help ease tension in your back muscles.

Modified Strength Exercises

Cable machines and free weights at the gym can be daunting for people with chronic pain. Fortunately, you can bypass them altogether, or choose to work your way up to them. You already have everything you need to get a low-impact strength workout at home. Limit the intensity and range of motion with modified exercises such as wall push-ups, standing planks, and chair squats to strengthen the muscles that support your joints.


The water’s buoyancy supports your body weight and minimizes the stress on your joints and spine. It’s often ideal for anyone with chronic back pain. To keep it low-intensity, consider gentle water aerobics or a slow, steady swimming style, such as the breaststroke. Even “pool walking,” in which you walk from one side of the pool to the other, can give you a great workout. The resistance of the water will challenge your muscles in new ways without putting excess strain on your joints.


Whether on the road or on a stationary bike, cycling provides an aerobic workout that adapts well to your current fitness level. You can dial the intensity up or down, modifying factors like speed and resistance to suit how your body is feeling. Like swimming, cycling is an excellent low-impact aerobic workout.

Finding Your Balance

Chronic pain calls for an individualized approach. The pain management specialists at United Physician Group Pain Management can develop a comprehensive pain management plan to help control your symptoms. Schedule an appointment at one of our locations to begin tackling your pain today.

How Can You Keep Your Family Active When Team Sports Are On Hold?

We’ll surely return one day to the courts, fields, rinks, and gyms, but for now the future of youth team sports is uncertain. Social distancing restrictions have been lifted in some areas but only recently imposed or reimposed in others, so it may be some time before school locker rooms are filled with kids again. Yet, while your children’s school and sports clubs may be on hold for now, there are still plenty of ways to keep your family active.

Why Exercise Matters

Sports give your children an outlet for using up their extra energy, and there are several important health benefits of regular physical activity for kids and teens. The CDC reports that for children, routine exercise:

  • Boosts cardiorespiratory wellness
  • Supports strong bones and muscles
  • Helps to maintain a healthy weight
  • Controls symptoms of depression and anxiety

Staying fit can also minimize the risk of many serious conditions, including heart disease, certain types of cancer, obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. The benefits may even extend into other areas of a child’s life. For example, teens who engage in sports may be less likely to smoke, drink, or do drugs. Exercise can also improve a child’s self-esteem and improve their ability to focus, which could help them do better in school.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), routine exercise should begin in children as young as infants. Babies can get 30 minutes or more of “tummy time” each day, while children ages three to five should have at least three hours of physical activity per day. Children who are six or older should get an hour’s worth of exercise most days of the week, including vigorous exercise at least three days a week.

Unfortunately, even before COVID-19 restricted our options, we’d all become less active. Smartphones have captured the attention of all generations, and young children and teens are no exception. Screen time is replacing what would normally be playtime. Now, with most team sports on hold during the pandemic, children may become even more sedentary if parents don’t intervene.

Your Physical Fitness Matters Too

Encouraging your children to get active even when they can’t get to practices or games can help them build a habit of physical fitness that stays with them through adulthood. But what about your fitness? Parents need exercise too, for many of the same reasons children do. According to the CDC, adults who exercise regularly have better brain health and weight management, along with stronger muscles and bones. Exercise also reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. Working out can even deliver mood-boosting benefits by releasing endorphins. During stressful times, supporting your mental health is more important than ever.

Ideally, adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. This breaks down to 30 minutes of physical activity, five days a week.

Creative Ways to Get Exercise

Even though we may not see a typical sports season for a while longer, you can still help your children burn through their excess energy and maintain their fitness year-round. Here are a few ways you all can stay active:

  • Create a backyard “obstacle course.” Set up child-friendly obstacles like a crawl tunnel, hopscotch, balance beam, and ball toss. (You can even adapt this to a large room if you don’t have access to a yard. Just mind the breakables!) Time your little ones and encourage them to beat their own records.
  • Have a family game night. Let children take turns deciding which game you’ll play together. Frisbee, capture the flag, driveway basketball, and backyard kickball are all good ways to use up some energy.
  • Take to the trails. Hiking can be an excellent cardiovascular activity, but it also appeals to children’s curiosity. Grab a trail map and head to a new spot in the woods to immerse the family in nature while discovering new sights.
  • Go for a family bike ride. Whether it’s through the streets of your neighborhood or at a park nearby, you can get a cardio session in by pedaling your way around. (Make sure you’re all wearing helmets and minding any cars, of course.)
  • Take an after-dinner walk. The one upside of sports cancellations is that everyone is more likely to be home for family meals. Take advantage of the time the kids are spending at home by going for a stroll after dinner.
  • Head to the lake (or beach). The busy tourist season tends to slow down by early fall, but the weather is still plenty warm in many places for your favorite water-based activities. Paddle boarding and swimming are both excellent full-body activities that will get the blood flowing.
  • Have a family yard work day. Many hands make yard work easier, and it’s good exercise too. Challenge your children to pick up as many sticks as they can on lawn cleanup day.
  • Bring fitness into daily routines. Throughout your day, consider other creative ways to get active as a family. Watch your favorite show together, but do jumping jacks during commercial breaks. Or if you’re headed to the grocery store together, park at the back of the lot and count the steps it takes to get to the door.

Keep Your Family Active & Healthy

Regular physical activity is an important way to keep your family healthy, but it’s only one piece of the wellness puzzle. Your children should still have their annual physicals, even if youth sports are on hold. You can schedule physical exams for your family with your neighborhood doctor at United Physician Group Family Medicine. (Strict COVID-19 prevention protocols are in place to keep you safe.) Your doctor can also guide you on well-rounded practices for your family’s good health both now and for a lifetime. Make an appointment today.

Does Diabetes Make COVID-19 More Dangerous? (And What Can I Do About It?)

Note: Please see our post “What Your Doctor Wants You to Know About Coronavirus (COVID-19)” for more information about COVID-19 prevention and symptoms, and for guidance on what you should do if you think you may have the virus.

Risks of Catching COVID-19 vs. Risks of Complications

As far as we currently know, anyone can contract COVID-19 and anyone can have its most severe and life-threatening symptoms. However, some groups of people do seem to be more susceptible, such as older adults and people with compromised immune symptoms. If you or someone you love is diabetic, you may have heard that diabetes puts people at greater risk, and you’re probably wondering what you can do to lower that risk. You might only be wondering does diabetes make COVID-19 more dangerous?

COVID-19 is still a very new virus, and we’re learning more about it every day. However, the best research we have available today suggests that people with diabetes are not more likely to contract COVID-19, but they are more likely to experience the disease’s more serious symptoms and life-threatening complications.

Managing Your Risks

Whether you are diabtetic or not, the most important thing you can do is take proper precautions to avoid exposing yourself to the virus. Disciplined social distancing and quality personal protective equipment can greatly reduce your risk of exposure, but they won’t completely eliminate the possibility that you will catch COVID-19.

Fortunately, a recent preliminary study in the journal Cell Metabolism found that you can lower your risk of severe complications by managing your blood sugar levels well. The study looked at hospitalized patients in China who had type 2 diabetes and a positive test for COVID-19. Those whose blood glucose levels were well controlled during their hospitalization were significantly less likely to develop life-threatening complications. Most strikingly, 11.0% of those with poorly managed blood sugar died while in the hospital, compared to 1.1% of those with well managed blood sugar.

As the authors acknowledge, there are several limitations to this study. It looked only at type 2 diabetes patients, and only at COVID-19 patients who had to be hospitalized. We don’t know how well they managed their blood sugar before or after being hospitalized. We don’t know their long-term health outcomes. And of course, if you are hospitalized, much of the responsibility for managing your blood sugar will be taken on by the hospital.

But we do know that hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) can harm your immune system, making you more susceptible to all kinds of infections. It also increases your risk of heart attacks, stroke, and other serious health problems.

If you contract COVID-19, there’s good reason to believe that carefully monitoring and managing your blood sugar could help save your life. You or the hospital will have to monitor it more frequently than normal, because the disease may put your body under unusual levels of stress. The disease may also put you at greater risk of diabetes complications, such as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).

Even if you don’t catch the virus, good blood sugar monitoring is more important than ever for continued good health. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to manage your blood sugar well.

What You Can Do

Now is a good time to reassess how you currently manage your blood sugar and take steps to improve. Hopefully, much of the advice below is already part of your practice, but take a good look and examine how you can do better. Also consider asking your doctor for advice, especially if you’re struggling to manage your blood sugar effectively.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDKD) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the following practices will help you manage your blood sugar and live a healthy life with diabetes:

  • Check your blood sugar levels regularly — with a blood glucose meter or continuous glucose monitor — as directed by your doctor.
  • Take diabetes medications and insulin as prescribed and directed by your doctor.
  • Have your A1C tested regularly to assess your average long-term blood sugar levels.
  • Check your blood pressure regularly and talk with your doctor if it’s high.
  • Have your cholesterol levels tested regularly, and talk with your doctor if your numbers are outside the healthy range.
  • Quit smoking (or don’t ever start).
  • If you are overweight, ask your doctor how you can work safely toward a healthier weight.
  • Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
  • Exercise regularly and try to live a more active lifestyle.
  • See your primary care doctor at least twice a year, and more frequently if you’re having trouble managing your diabetes.

Better Health Beyond the Crisis

While we don’t know for certain that managing your blood sugar well will lower your risks with COVID-19, we have good reason to believe that it might. And we know that these practices will help you live a healthier life, now and long after the current health crisis has passed. So whether you do it to protect yourself from COVID-19’s worst complications or to work toward a better long-term quality of life, we hope you’ll consider how you can live well with diabetes.

Call your primary care doctor or any United Physician Group Family Medicine practice if you’d like some help or want more information on does diabetes make COVID-19 more dangerous.

Why is My Nerve Pain Worse at Night? (And How Can I Sleep Better?)

If you suffer from nerve pain caused by diabetic neuropathy, physical trauma, sciatica, lupus, arthritis, or other causes, you may find that your pain gets worse at night. While not everyone experiences this, it is quite common for people with nerve pain to report greater pain later at night or whenever they get in bed.

The pain may make it harder for you to get quality sleep, and that may in turn make your pain and overall health and wellbeing even worse. It’s a vicious cycle.

Let’s look first at why your nerve pain may be worse at night, then we’ll look at some ways you may be able to get better rest.

Why Nerve Pain is Worse at Night

Just as chronic pain can have many causes, so too can increased pain at night. Not all causes are fully understood, but here are some possible reasons you may be hurting more at night.

Body Position

When you lay down, the weight of your body may put pressure on your nerves in ways that it doesn’t when you’re upright. This is particularly common with sciatica and other chronic pain caused by pinched or compressed nerves.


Cooler temperatures help many people sleep better. However, cold can also make arthritis pain worse. Neuropathy may make you more sensitive to cold and more likely to experience it as pain.

Attention and Distraction

You may simply be more aware of your pain at night when there is less to distract you from it. This doesn’t mean the pain isn’t real — it is — only that you may be noticing it more at night than you do when you have other things to occupy your mind.

Hormone Levels

As your body prepares itself for sleep, your hormone levels, metabolism, and many other biochemical processes adjust. Some of these changes may heighten your pain. Cortisol, for example, has anti-inflammatory effects. However, your cortisol levels drop through the first half of your sleep cycle to let you rest, potentially making pain from rheumatoid arthritis worse.

Medication Timing and Dosage

The medications that control your pain well during the day may be wearing off too soon at night. Or your nighttime biochemistry and symptoms may require a different dosage or medicine.

How to Sleep Better with Chronic Pain

You and your pain management specialist may have to take an experimental approach to sleeping better. What works well for one kind of chronic pain may not work well for another, and your body will respond in its own unique way. Here are some strategies that may help you reduce your nighttime pain and get better sleep.

Try Sleeping in Different Positions

If your chronic pain is caused by pinched or compressed nerves, adjusting your sleep position may relieve some of the pressure. For example, people with sciatica who prefer to sleep on their side often find it helpful to sleep with their affected leg on top. People with hip or knee pain may find relief by sleeping with a pillow between their legs.

Adjust the Temperature

Experiment with different room temperatures when you sleep. It may take some time to find the best temperature for you: cool enough to help you sleep, not cold enough to make your pain worse. Consider keeping a journal of each night’s room temperature, sleep quality, and pain, then see what patterns you notice over time.

Get Appropriate Exercise During the Day

Exercise during the day can help reduce some kinds of chronic pain, and it may help you rest better too. Talk with your pain management doctor about what kinds of exercise are appropriate and safe for you.

Practice Good Sleep Habits

While the day’s stimulations may distract you from your pain, they won’t help you sleep. Develop a sleep routine that helps prepare your body for rest. This might include turning off the TV and other screens 1-2 hours before bedtime, reading a book, or taking a warm bath. Anything that helps you relax and unwind before you head to sleep.

Prepare Your Mind for Rest

The stress of chronic pain can make it even harder to rest. Try meditation or deep breathing exercises to lower your stress and help reduce your perception of pain. They also give you something else to focus on instead of your pain.

Talk With Your Doctor About Your Medications

If the medications you’re taking to manage your pain are wearing off or not working as well at night, tell your doctor and discuss your options. For example, if you have rheumatoid arthritis, your doctor may recommend modified-release corticosteroids to prevent nighttime inflammation.

Good Sleep for Better Health

Whatever you do, don’t suffer sleeplessly in silence. Chronic poor sleep will only make your chronic pain worse, and it robs you of a better quality of life. Less nighttime pain and better sleep will help you feel better all day long.

If you’d like some help managing your pain for better rest and health, you can make an appointment with any United Physician Group Pain Management practice. We offer effective treatments that bring lasting relief. We’ll help you rest well and get your life back.