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.

Walking

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.

Yoga

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.

Swimming

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.

Cycling

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.

Temperature

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.

Keeping You Safe While Getting You the Care You Need

Note: Please refer to 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.

The spread of COVID-19 around the world has rightly focused a lot of attention on preventing and treating this dangerous viral infection. But while COVID-19 is a serious public health emergency, it’s also important that you and your family continue to receive the other preventative and therapeutic care you need for your health and wellness.

That’s why we’ve enhanced our already strict procedures to prevent the spread of germs and diseases, including but not limited to COVID-19. And it’s why we’re offering telehealth virtual visits and remote patient monitoring, where appropriate, so you can receive personalized care from the safety and convenience of your home.

Keeping You Safe

Even in ordinary times, all United Physician Group practices follow rigorous best practices to protect our patients and healthcare providers from the spread of infection and disease. During the COVID-19 crisis, we’re doing more than ever to keep everyone safe.

Disinfecting

In order to keep every United Physician Group facility sanitized and safe, we are:

  • Using disinfectant cleaning solutions recommended by the CDC to wipe down all surfaces.
  • Disinfecting every exam room thoroughly after every patient.
  • Disinfecting all chairs, exam tables, and high touch areas such as door knobs multiple times per day.

Screening

As usual, we’re making reminder calls 48 hours prior to each patient’s appointment. During those calls, we’re now:

  • Asking patients screening questions to assess any symptoms of or exposure to COVID-19 and converting all affected patients to telehealth virtual visits. 
  • Making sure anyone who has an elevated risk of carrying the virus gets appropriate care and monitoring, and…
  • Either rescheduling their original appointment or converting it to a telehealth virtual visit.

When patients arrive for their appointments — and before they enter the building to check in — we’re:

  • Taking their temperatures.
  • Asking them the same screening questions.

Distancing and Limiting Contact

We’re taking several measures to prevent patients from coming into close contact with one another:

  • Scheduling fewer appointments so that fewer patients are in our facilities at any one time.
  • Re-arranging our waiting rooms to keep everyone at least six feet apart.
  • Quickly bringing patients back to private exam rooms.

We’re also offering parking lot visits, where appropriate. Your doctor and nurse will come out to your car and stay six feet away from you, so you never have to enter the facility.

Telehealth Virtual Visits and Remote Patient Monitoring

We’ve also expanded our telehealth services, including virtual visits and remote patient monitoring. Using video conferences, remote testing and monitoring, and our patient portal, we’re able to:

  • Make initial assessments of patient health and healthcare needs.
  • Conduct many routine follow-up visits.
  • Manage and monitor chronic disease testing and care.
  • Refill and monitor prescriptions. 

Telehealth isn’t appropriate for all conditions and concerns, and we’re still asking all new patients to come in for their first visits. However, in many cases telehealth allows us to provide good care remotely while protecting you from any potential exposure to disease.

Whether you’re at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 or just not comfortable coming into the office, telehealth is one more way that we’re working every day to give you the best in personalized care.

If you’re interested in a telehealth visit, please contact your United Physician Group provider for more information.

The Care You Need

These are difficult times we’re all going through, but we’ll get through this together with proper precautions, a little technological assistance, and the expertise of your neighborhood United Physician Group doctors.

Don’t let fear of COVID-19 keep you from receiving the personalized care that will help you stay healthy and well. Whether you’re feeling sick, experiencing chronic pain, or due for a check-up or screening, get the care you need by scheduling an appointment. Contact your United Physician Group provider today.

Does Stress Make Chronic Pain Worse?

In these uncertain times, it’s natural that many of us are feeling more stress and anxiety. Even if you and your family are healthy and safe at home, fear of the unknown and the troubles of others can weigh heavily on all our hearts and minds.

If you or someone you love experiences chronic pain, you may wonder whether all this stress can make that pain worse. Or maybe you’re already experiencing more severe pain and wondering whether stress is to blame.

The Cycle of Stress and Pain

Let’s first acknowledge the obvious. Chronic pain can be a source of stress. It may make it harder for you to work or care for your family. It may interfere with your rest and sleep. And hurting all the time is inherently stressful. Your body is always looking for a way to relieve or escape the pain.

So pain can absolutely cause stress. But can stress also make the pain worse?

While the answer is less clear, there is a growing consensus among researchers and pain management specialists that it can. This is not to suggest that the pain isn’t “real.” It’s very real. But stress may be making it worse.

According to an article published by the Institute for Chronic Pain (reporting on a manuscript in the Journal of Pain), stress can activate the immune system and cause increased inflammation. And inflammation can aggravate many causes of chronic pain.

A 2015 meta-study published in the Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences found that stress can cause both analgesia and hyperalgesia: reduced or increased sensations of pain. While the results were complex, increased pain seemed more common in cases of chronic stress than with occasional, isolated stress. Negative emotions also heightened the impact of stress on pain. (A stressful but enjoyable experience, such as competing in a sport, may be less likely to increase pain.)

And in a 2017 manuscript published by the Department of Health and Human Services, the authors suggest that chronic pain and chronic stress are two parts of the same underlying neurobiological system, interrelated in subtle and intricate ways.

Research in this area continues, and we don’t yet fully understand how pain and stress are related. However, if you’re experiencing chronic stress, it may very well be making your chronic pain worse.

What Can You Do to Ease Anxiety?

If stress is making your chronic pain worse, there’s a lot you can try to ease that stress and possibly ease your pain too. Your United Physician Group family medicine doctor or pain management specialist can help guide you to effective stress relief and pain management.

Your options may include:

Lifestyle Changes

  • Regular exercise: If your chronic pain doesn’t prevent it and your doctor approves, exercise can help you manage stress.
  • Quality sleep: Chronic pain and stress can make it harder to sleep, but, if you can develop good sleep habits, the rest may ease your stress.
  • Good nutrition: A healthy diet keeps your body in balance and better able to handle each day’s challenges. Also consider moderating or eliminating caffeine and alcohol, which can make stress worse.
  • Complementary treatment: Yoga, massage, meditation, guided breathing, and other supportive treatments may help ease your stress.

Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help you develop skills to better manage stress.

Medicine

Some prescription medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and antidepressants, may treat chronic pain and chronic stress simultaneously.

You Don’t Have to Figure This Out Alone

If you’re hurting and under stress, the most important thing you can do is to reach out for help. You don’t have to have all the answers. Reach out to your pain management specialist, and let us know what you’re going through. We’ll help you figure it out.

Do I Have Allergies or COVID-19?

Note: As a new and emerging virus, Novel Coronavirus 2019 COVID-19 is not yet fully understood. Information about the disease is changing every day. The information presented below may change as we learn more. Refer to the CDC website for the latest information.

Spring pollen is suffusing the air across the Southeast at the same time that cases of the COVID-19 pandemic are peaking. If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you may wonder whether your symptoms are caused by everyday allergens or the Novel Coronavirus. Distinguishing between the two may mean the difference between taking an antihistamine or quarantining yourself under a doctor’s care.

Fortunately, although there is some overlap between the symptoms of allergies and COVID-19, many symptoms of each are distinct. Below, we’ll go over the differences. However, you’re always welcome to call your United Physician Group doctor if you’re unsure. We understand how worrying it can be to wonder if you have COVID-19, and we’ll be glad to put your mind at ease.

Having Trouble Breathing? Seek Help Immediately

First a word of warning: If you’re suddenly and severely short of breath, or also experiencing chest pain, call 911 immediately.

If your shortness of breath is less severe but frequent, occurs even when you are sitting or lying down, or is accompanied by wheezing or a feeling of tightness in the throat, call your doctor promptly for further evaluation.

In cases such as these, it doesn’t matter whether your difficulty breathing is caused by allergy-induced asthma, COVID-19, or something else. Whatever the cause, it’s a serious medical concern, and you need a doctor’s attention.

Symptoms of Allergies

Allergic rhinitis, sometimes called hay fever, is caused by airborne allergens such as pollen, dust, mold, and pet danders. (You can also be allergic to foods, medicines, insect stings, and material such as latex, but these allergies are less likely to be confused with COVID-19.)

Common symptoms of allergic rhinitis include:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Itchy eyes, nose, throat, or ears
  • Redness or watering of the eyes

You may also experience a sore throat or cough, both caused by postnasal drip, but these symptoms are less useful in distinguishing between allergies and COVID-19.

Symptoms of COVID-19

COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus that infects cells in the upper respiratory system. In some people, it can lead to pneumonia and other serious health threats. As has been reported widely, many people seem to be asymptomatic: they do not experience any symptoms while infected, or their symptoms are so mild that they don’t realize they are sick.

For people who do experience symptoms of COVID-19, the most common are:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry cough

(A “dry cough” is one that does not produce any mucus or phlegm.)

Less common symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Body aches
  • Loss of taste or smell

According to the WHO, some people with COVID-19 also experience a runny/stuffy nose or a sore throat, but these symptoms are hard to distinguish from allergies. 

This list is not all-inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.

How to Tell the Difference

Comparing the most common symptoms of allergies and COVID-19, if you don’t have a fever and your symptoms include itchiness in your nose, eyes, throat, or ears, it’s unlikely you have COVID-19. If you do have a fever accompanied by dry cough and fatigue, you may have COVID-19 and should call your doctor.

But, as always, if you’re unsure, please contact your doctor and ask. We’re here for you, and your United Physician Group doctor wants to know what’s going on. If you’re concerned about your health, we want to help.

How to Treat Allergies

If your allergies are new or have become worse, or if you have never asked a doctor about your allergies, you may not be aware of the wide range of treatment alternatives available to you today. Your United Physician Group family medicine doctor can discuss your options with you.

Antihistamines and corticosteroids may control your symptoms. Many are available both over the counter and, through your doctor, at prescription strengths.

Immunotherapy, such as allergy shots, may bring more lasting relief. Some immunotherapy treatments can even be given in your primary care doctor’s office. Your family medicine doctor can discuss these options with you.

You can also take measures to limit your exposure to the allergens that trigger your symptoms. Monitor your area’s daily pollen and mold counts, posted on many websites, and avoid outdoor activities on days with high counts. Keep your home and car windows closed during high-allergen days. Shower and change your clothes after returning inside from extended outdoor activities. Lastly, avoid exposure to any animals that trigger symptoms for you.

What to Do If You Suspect You Have COVID-19

Many people who become infected with COVID-19 are able to stay at home while the virus runs its course. Some develop more serious symptoms or complications that require hospitalization. Anyone with COVID-19 risks transmitting it to other people they come in contact with.

If you suspect you have COVID-19, call your doctor, report your symptoms, and ask for guidance. (If you have severe shortness of breath, call 911.)

Refer to the advice in our previous post, “What Your Doctor Wants You to Know about Coronavirus (COVID-19).”

And if you have any further questions or concerns, contact your United Physician Group doctor. We’re here and ready to help.

Is It a Pinched Nerve or Something Else?

What’s causing the pain?

Is that pain in your back, buttocks, or limbs a pinched nerve? A herniated disc? A pulled muscle? Or something else?

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “pinched nerve” is not a medically precise term, but doctors and patients often use it to encompass a wide variety of conditions that may cause you pain. The underlying conditions can include:

  • Herniated disc
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Direct injury to the nerve
  • Obesity
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Bone spurs
  • Repetitive stress

In all cases, these conditions cause pain through “compression, constriction, or stretching” of nerves.

Symptoms of pinched nerves may include:

  • Numbness or a feeling that a hand, foot, or other area of your body is “falling asleep.”
  • Muscle weakness in one area of your body.
  • Tingling or a feeling of “pins and needles” in the affected area.
  • Sharp pain that radiates out. (In contrast, a pulled muscle will usually cause dull pain that’s focused in one spot.)
  • A burning sensation in the affected area that feels like it’s located in your deep tissues.

Treatment for pinched nerves.

In most cases, pinched nerves are temporary. You may need only rest and conservative treatment. But sometimes pinched nerves are a sign of something more serious that could cause lasting damage. So it’s important to pay attention and seek help early if your symptoms are serious or don’t improve.

If your pinched nerve pain is mild and recent, you can try:

  • Rest the area that’s hurting.
  • Take an over-the-counter NSAID such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
  • Alternate heat and ice to relax muscles and reduce swelling.

But if the pain is more serious or doesn’t respond to home treatment, talk with your primary care doctor or pain management specialist. They may recommend:

  • Exercise, stretching, or physical therapy
  • A splint, collar, or other devices to isolate the affected area while you heal
  • A steroid injection
  • Surgery

Don’t ignore the pain.

If you have a pinched nerve, there’s no need to suffer in silence. There’s a lot you and your doctor can do to ease the pain. Also, ignoring a pinched nerve puts you at greater risk of permanent nerve damage.

So if the pain is mild, try rest and home care right away. If the pain is moderate to severe or doesn’t respond to rest and home care, don’t delay. Contact your primary care doctor or a pain management specialist right away.

Make an appointment with a pain management specialist. We’d like to help.

Why is My Pain Worse When it Rains?

Is the pain during rain all in your brain?

Can you feel the rain coming in your joints? It’s an idea that goes back at least to Hippocrates, nearly 2500 years ago: the weather may affect some chronic health conditions. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you may already have direct experience with “arthritis weather,” and some people with other chronic pain conditions report that their pain gets worse when it rains.

There’s a plausible hypothesis for this perceived correlation. Rain typically comes with a drop in barometric pressure: the low pressure system you may have heard your local weather person forecast. Lower pressure outside your body may cause tissues inside your body to swell and irritate sensitive nerves. However, this explanation has not been proven, and some scientists point out that the changes in air pressure are about the same as riding in an elevator to the top of a tall building.

Other scientists speculate that high humidity may be to blame. Or a drop in temperature. Or the psychology of gray, dreary days. Whatever the underlying mechanism may be, the lived experience for many patients is clear: rain days are pain days.

Science has long attempted to study this anecdotal wisdom, but the results have been mixed. Some studies have found no correlation between pain and weather. Others have found evidence to support a connection between pain and low barometric pressure or high humidity. Both high and low temperatures have also had a correlation to pain in some studies.

So what can you do for rainy day pain?

While we don’t know for sure that rainy weather makes pain worse, you know when you’re hurting. Always follow your pain management doctor’s usual instructions. But here are a few things you might try to ease the pain on rainy days:

  • Run a dehumidifier. When it’s wet outside, use a dehumidifier to keep your indoor air at 40-60% relative humidity for comfort and health.
  • Wear compression socks, cuffs, and gloves. Rheumatoid arthritis and some other causes of chronic pain get worse with swelling and inflammation. Whether it’s caused by a low pressure system or something else, compression garments over the affected joints can bring down swelling and promote good circulation.
  • Adjust your thermostat. While the correlations between temperature and pain are not at all clear, keeping your home at a comfortable temperature may help.
  • Get some easy exercise. If you’re able and if your doctor approves it, light exercise may help loosen up your joints and bring down swelling. It can also lift your rainy day mood.
  • Be good to yourself. This is important every day, but those rainy day blues can heighten pain. Serious depression or anxiety can make pain even worse. Treat yourself well. If you’re experiencing something deeper or longer-lasting than an unhappy day, reach out for support. Caring for your emotional health can help ease the pain.

Here for you in all kinds of weather.

If you’re not already getting help managing your chronic pain, or if your pain is getting worse, we hope you’ll reach out. No matter what the weather forecast, there’s a lot we can do to ease your pain.

Make an appointment with a pain management specialist. We’d like to help.

 

What Your Doctor Wants You to Know about Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Note: As a new and emerging virus, Novel Coronavirus 2019 COVID-19 is not yet fully understood. Information about the disease is changing every day. The information presented below may change as we learn more and you should refer to the CDC website for the latest information.

COVID-19 currently spreading around the world is raising questions and concerns for many families. Please call your United Physician Group doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms that you think may be COVID-19 (more on that below). Additionally, if you or your family have other health conditions that may make you more vulnerable to the disease, call your doctor for advice on how to prepare and limit your risk.

We’re learning more every day about COVID-19 and how to treat it. We’re here for you and ready to help.

Here are answers to some of the questions you may have, as provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How can I protect myself and my family from COVID-19?

Scientists are working on potential vaccines for COVID-19, but currently, the only prevention is to avoid exposure to the virus.

To lower your risk, you and your family should:

  • Wash your hands frequently and well.
  • Avoid touching your face after touching other surfaces. (We know it’s hard.)
  • Avoid close contact (less than six feet away) with people who are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched. (e.g. doorknobs, kitchen and bathroom counters, toilets, appliances)
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze or cough.
  • If you have symptoms that could be COVID-19, consider wearing a facemask to avoid spreading the disease. Refer to the CDC for guidelines on wearing facemasks if you are NOT experiencing symptoms. 
  • Stay home if you feel sick unless you require medical assistance.

If you or someone in your family develops symptoms that may be COVID-19, call your doctor immediately.

What are the symptoms?

Some people experience no symptoms at all, but the most common symptoms are fever, shortness of breath, and coughing. Other symptoms may resemble a bad cold or the flu. According to the WHO, these may include “aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea.” Serious cases can lead to pneumonia and difficulty breathing.

If you or someone in your family is having difficulty breathing, call your doctor or 911 immediately.

Who is most vulnerable to the disease?

Our best information so far says that the people most vulnerable to COVID-19 are elderly people and people with underlying health conditions that compromise their immune system. Young and otherwise healthy people do catch COVID-19 and, as a result, should also exercise the same level of caution to avoid contracting the virus.

Every COVID-19 case should be taken seriously, for your own health and for the health of those around you. 

If I develop symptoms that may be COVID-19, what should I do?

If you’re experiencing symptoms that may be COVID-19, the first and most important thing to do is call your doctor. Tell them what you’re experiencing, the concerns you have, and ask for instructions and advice.

If your symptoms are severe or life-threatening, such as serious difficulty breathing, call 911.

While we don’t yet know enough about COVID-19 to say precisely how many people develop serious symptoms, we do know that the majority of people do not. If your symptoms do not require hospitalization, your doctor will likely advise you to stay at home while you recover. The CDC recommends that you:

  • Stay at home except when needed to get medical care. Avoid public areas and public transportation so that you do not further spread the disease.
  • Wash your hands frequently and well.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze or cough.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces every day. (e.g. doorknobs, kitchen and bathroom counters, sink fixtures, appliances)
  • Limit contact with others in your home. If possible, use a separate bathroom and avoid contact with common area surfaces, such as the kitchen.
  • Monitor your symptoms and seek help if they worsen, especially if you have difficulty breathing.
  • Call ahead to your doctor before coming in, and let them know that you are experiencing symptoms that may be COVID-19.
  • Follow both your doctor and the CDC’s guidelines to determine when to end home isolation

Are the United Physician Group offices open? 

Currently, all United Physician offices are still operating to service all of our valued patients that depend on the care and service we provide. In the event that you are sick, unable to come in or simply are uncomfortable with visiting the office in person, please contact your closest location for options on TeleVisits. 

What is the United Physician Group doing to protect my health if I have to visit the office? 

There is no higher priority for us than the health and safety of our patients, staff and their families.

United Physician Group clinical staff is following the Environmental Cleaning and Disinfection Recommendations provided by the CDC. This includes 

  • Disinfecting each exam room or patient area after each patient is seen 
  • Disinfecting common areas and surfaces multiple times throughout the day
  • Initiating an extensive deep clean and disinfection to be performed nightly at all locations, and 
  • Implementing additional infection control and prevention measures for clinical staff

To protect the health of our staff and patients and ensure the continuation and a smooth transition of your healthcare, United Physician Group will be converting all previously scheduled and future sick visits to TeleVisits. We are also screening all patients prior to arrival in the office for any symptoms consistent with those of COVID-19 and asking affected patients to remain home.  

Any patient in the office that is exhibiting fever, cough or shortness of breath will be provided appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and isolated from the patient population.

We’re here for you.

Because COVID-19 is still new and not entirely understood, we know that it can cause some anxiety and concern. Paying attention to the disease is smart, but there’s plenty we can do together to prepare. Call your United Physician Group doctor with your concerns. We’re here for you.