Got Chronic Pain? Don’t Stress About It

Chronic pain and stress are often intertwined. When you experience persistent discomfort, it’s natural to feel stressed about it. Unfortunately, this stress often exacerbates the pain, resulting in a frustrating cycle that can leave you feeling worse both physically and mentally. 

Fortunately, there are ways to break the stress/pain cycle. Here’s what you should know about the relationship between the two. 

How Does Stress Affect the Body?

According to the American Psychological Association, stress affects every system of the body, including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, nervous, and gastrointestinal systems. One of the most pronounced ways it can cause pain is through the tension it triggers in the body. Tensing of the muscles is the body’s natural response to stressors— a protective measure to guard against injury and pain. Under persistent stress, however, this continual muscle tension can lead to issues like tension headaches and musculoskeletal pain.

Stress also impacts the body on a chemical level. The body releases stress hormones that can have a cumulative, damaging effect over the long term. Moreover, research shows that persistent stress creates an altered chemical response that can actually intensify pain. For people with preexisting chronic pain, such as joint pain from arthritis, the cycle may feel impossible to break.

How to Cope With Stress to Control Pain?

It would be easy to fix stress-related pain if stress could simply be avoided altogether. Unfortunately, stressors are often a part of everyday life. While we may not be able to steer clear of them entirely, we can change the way we respond to them.

Finding healthy stress outlets is an important step to managing both your mental health and your chronic pain. While each person will have their own preferred stress management technique, here are a few options to try:

  •       Get some exercise. It may seem counterintuitive to exercise when you’re in pain, but even a brief walk could provide benefits. For instance, walks can help reduce joint stiffness in people with arthritis while also delivering a mood boost.
  •       Focus on sleep hygiene. If your mind is racing at night due to stress, your body isn’t getting the sleep it needs to repair itself. Promote restful sleep by avoiding electronics at least 30 minutes before bed, as the blue light from devices can disrupt your body’s circadian rhythms.
  •       Manage your responsibilities. Chronic stress can come from taking on too much. While not all stressors are avoidable, there may be ways to lighten your workload and feel less overwhelmed. Find out if you can delegate tasks at work or home, and consider turning down social activities if you don’t have the bandwidth for them.
  •       Connect with loved ones. Spending time with friends has been shown to release the feel-good hormone oxytocin, which can provide a mood boost and help you beat stress.
  •       Discover an alternate stress outlet. For some people, going for a drive while listening to music might be an effective way to decompress. For others, quiet activities like yoga, journaling, or meditation may help. Experiment with different methods to find which works for you. 

If you’re facing stress that could be causing or contributing to your pain, talk to your United Physician Group provider. Our compassionate pain management specialists are here to help find relief from all aspects of pain, including the mental toll it can take. Connect with us online or by calling (833) 523-0906. 

How to Beat the Heat with Chronic Pain

Does this situation from The Mighty sound familiar? “[W]hen it gets really warm, my body completely shuts down. All I can think of then is lying in bed and doing nothing. With heat, everything you do takes 10 times the amount of energy that it normally already does, which makes small chores even harder.”

Though summertime brings luxuriously longer evenings, and potential vacation from work and school, it can also mean an increase in suffering for those with chronic pain. 

In an effort to support your complete wellness this summer, here’s some information about why hot weather might affect your pain, and how to work around it.

Environmental Impacts

Many people who have chronic pain also have trouble regulating their internal systems when temperature and humidity change. Temperature extremes in either direction (hot to cold or cold to hot) might stress your body, and make it harder to moderate your pain. If possible, stay indoors with climate control during the hottest part of the day to avoid pain flare-ups. 

Pollution can also increase inflammation and cell-level injury, according to the American Lung Association. The Air Quality Index (AQI) can help you monitor air conditions that might influence your pain. 

Benefits of Nutrition and Hydration

A hydrated, nourished body can handle the heat better than one that is starved for what it needs. During National Nutrition Month in March, we made some recommendations regarding diet and how it can alleviate your pain, and want to remind you now that what you eat can reduce inflammation and help you feel better. 

But the main key for combatting summer pain may rest in keeping your body hydrated.

Ample hydration fights inflammation by flushing out toxins and keeping joints well-lubricated. Arthritis pain is also often exacerbated during the summer months because changes in outdoor temperatures can influence the level of fluid in your joints. Increasing your water intake may help across the board. Eating fruits and vegetables saturated with water (like melon, cucumber, and berries — all popular summer crops) can also elevate your hydration levels and (deliciously) ease your pain.

Another popular summer herb, mint, offers a natural cooling sensation. Mint teas, lotions, and soaps might provide cooling relief and lessen your pain.

Other Options for Relief

Even if it feels too warm to cuddle up, don’t forget that physical touch can help relieve both physical pain and the mental stress it causes. A hug, a massage, or a snuggle session with your favorite pet might help when the heat makes pain seem unbearable.  

A dip in the pool (or ocean, or lake) may also help. “Pools are one of the few places where we can both be more active while also actually feeling safer,” PainScience reminds us. The gravitational relief provided by floating in the water — even if only once this summer — may help your body in more ways than one.

Whether it’s through physical therapy, nutritional planning, medicinal pain moderation, or a unique combination of all and others, at United Physicians Group, we aim to treat each patient’s pain effectively. To learn more about methods to reduce pain or how hot weather affects pain, make an appointment online or reach out by phone at 833-523-0906.

How to Find the Right Family Doctor for You

In a world where telemedicine has become common, and information is digitally available at a click, what’s the need for a personal family doctor? Why go through the inconvenience of researching MDs when there’s a walk-in clinic around the corner?

The answer is that your primary physician is an important member of your whole-health team. They will be an engaged, collaborative participant at every step of your physical wellness. A long-term relationship with a family doctor can be as beneficial as any other measures you take for your longevity.

At United Physicians Group, our primary care physicians keep your best interests at the center of focus. Here are some guidelines to assist you in this important choice. 

Start with the Red Tape

To maximize insurance benefits, you’ll likely need a doctor who is within your healthcare insurance plan’s network. Start by using the insurer’s directory, and then call the individual doctor’s office to confirm they do accept your plan.

While you’re confirming, ask whether or not the doctor has hospital admitting privileges. The doctor you choose may determine which hospital you are referred to if it becomes necessary.

Consumer Reports also recommends visiting to verify board certification. Searching for malpractice claims is another part of their advice. While a lawsuit is something that can happen to any doctor, no matter their level of excellence, finding more than one or two may prompt you to look elsewhere. 

Consider Location & Hours

A family doctor whose office requires a tiresome commute for you is unlikely to be a good fit. If it’s challenging to attend your annual physical, you may be much less likely to go in for other appointments, even when you need them. 

Don’t forget to consider your schedule, too. Appointment hours that don’t align well with your routine may complicate getting care. Are walk-ins available? How far out do you have to schedule an appointment? Similarly, ask whether the office provides a platform for secure email queries, an electronic portal for accessing records, or “after-hours” consultations.

Above all, pay attention to whether you feel your doctor can take the time to give you and the members of your family quality care and attention. 

Research Available Services

Equally important are your doctor’s services and areas of expertise. Beyond annual wellness or back-to-school visits, can they provide immunizations and in-office lab tests? Are they versed in current research around cancer prevention, diabetes, reproductive, or cardiovascular health? What about mental wellness, nutritional and exercise planning, or addiction cessation?

Remember that there are many factors that contribute to your long-term wellbeing, so it’s wise to screen potential family doctors for multiple areas of knowledge, skill, and concern. 

Consider the Personal Touch

“How well you and your doctor talk to each other is one of the most important steps to getting good health care,” reminds the National Institute on Aging. Be honest with yourself about personality qualities that may be of importance to you, including:

  • Gender (Woman, Man, Trans, Gender Fluid)
  • Age
  • Language fluency
  • Communication approach (Soothing and Gentle, No-nonsense and Direct)

Doctors are professionals who understand that they won’t be right for every patient. They want you to find a good fit, too. 

When you’re ready to begin, schedule an appointment so you both can get to know each other and discuss your health history and current needs. Though it may take a few attempts, the investment in this relationship is an investment in your long-term health! 

To make an appointment with a primary care physician with United Health Group, or to learn more about our services, contact us online at your convenience. 

How to Incorporate Exercise When You Have Chronic Pain

It doesn’t take much research to uncover the benefits of exercise. Most of us already know that physical activity helps us maintain a healthy body weight, strengthens muscular and skeletal systems, can combat chronic diseases, improves sleep, and alleviates stress.

All of these exercise advantages are especially helpful for those dealing with chronic pain on a regular basis. A 2016 study published by the U.S. Association for the Study of Pain furthermore suggests that “high volume, low intensity [physical activity] may have beneficial effects on pain modulatory function in healthy older adults.” In layman’s terms this means — the right kind of exercise might actually help with your pain.

But managing exercise simultaneously with chronic pain can be a challenge. The experts at United Physicians Group understand these nuances, and we’re here to help you navigate that landscape.

Get a Solid Start

Before you begin, Healthline experts recommend consulting your healthcare provider in an initial physical examination. Talking with your doctor prior to or in the early stages of an exercise regimen can help identify any potential hazards or concerns, such as instability or dizziness, or other conditions that may determine what form of exercise will keep you active but also prevent further pain or injury.

You and your health provider can also establish a baseline for your current pain. Then you can track any increases or decreases in your pain levels as you start your exercise program.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

To reduce the risk of making your pain worse, take exercise slow. Rely on low-impact and low-intensity exercises at first, such as swimming, walking, or light resistance training. As you gain strength, flexibility, and endurance, you can increase both weight load and intensity.

Lightly warm up muscles and blood vessels before your workout, and leave time to cool down with stretches afterward. Over time, stretching will increase your flexibility and improve your range of motion. According to David Nolan, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, stretching can prevent exercise from putting too much strain on the muscle itself — another way to avoid more pain.

“Exercising releases feel-good endorphins,” says Wendye Robbins, MD, in an interview with Prevention, “which can help ease the pain all over. Start with simple exercises that target the less painful parts of your body.”

Pump Those Fluids

Staying hydrated is important for all of us, especially during a workout, but most especially for those with chronic pain. According to an interview in Spine Universe with Dana Cohen, MD, keeping well-hydrated is “the single most important thing we can do to treat and prevent chronic illness.”

Drinking water regularly (especially before, during, and after exercise) can also help lubricate joints, ease muscle cramping, and possibly improve muscle strength. Coping with chronic pain is complicated enough, without also having to worry over a new
exercise regimen. As your pain management specialists, we are here to help craft a plan that works for you. For a pre-exercise analysis, and advice on optimal workout routines, contact us online any time to schedule an appointment.

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.