Posts

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.

Dr. Daryl Sherrod from UPG Received Top Doctors Honors in Atlanta

Primary care provider Dr. Daryl Sherrod of United Physician Group, an acclaimed network of Southeastern physicians, ranks among metro Atlanta’s Top Doctors in Atlanta magazine’s July issue. Dr. Sherrod practices at United Physician Group Family Medicine of Decatur and Lithonia.

Dr. Sherrod specializes in hypertension and diabetes. He received his medical degree from Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University. Dr. Sherrod is a member of the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the Georgia Academy of Family Physicians.

“Receiving an accolade such as this is most certainly an honor,” says Dr. Sherrod. “Medicine, however, is a team effort, and I’m grateful to work with such a dedicated and talented staff.”

Atlanta magazine uses a database of top doctors compiled by Castle Connolly Medical Ltd., an established healthcare research company based in New York, to assist in its annual effort. Doctors are nominated for consideration through both a nationwide survey and a peer nomination process. Castle Connolly’s physician-led team of researchers then select the Top Doctors through a rigorous screening process that includes an evaluation of educational and professional experience. This year the publication honors 1,002 of these physicians representing the following counties: Fulton, Cobb, Dekalb, Gwinnett, Hall, Forsyth, Cherokee, and Rockdale.

United Physician Group is a network of acclaimed healthcare providers practicing in communities across Georgia and South Carolina. United Physician Group’s doctors come from prestigious university hospitals, Level I Trauma Center ERs, and neighborhood practices with deep connections to their communities. Practice locations currently offer primary and family care, and interventional pain management.

Dr. Sherrod is now accepting appointments at United Physician Group Family Medicine of Decatur and United Physician Group Family Medicine of Lithonia. Schedule a visit today.

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 certificationmatters.org 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.

Are You What You Eat When it Comes to Chronic Pain?

The month of March marks a time of change: There’s the coming of spring, the start of daylight saving time, and even a chance to change your luck on St. Patrick’s Day. But March is also National Nutrition Month® — which presents an opportunity to change your eating habits, too. 

Turns out, paying attention to what you’re putting into your body isn’t simply good for your general health and well-being. Studies suggest that our diets can also help with chronic pain.

“A lot of chronic pain is the result of chronic inflammation,” says Dr. Fred Tabung, in a 2018 article from Harvard Health Publishing, “and the evidence is quite strong that your diet can contribute to increased systemic inflammation. But your diet is also one of the best ways to reduce it.”

Extinguishing the Flame of Inflammation 

Several sources can help point you in the right direction when it comes to identifying foods that either promote or prevent inflammation. The Fit Institute of Chicago, for example, recommends avoiding red meat, refined carbohydrates (in most cases: products made with processed white flour), soda, and fried foods to aid in inflammation reduction. Harvard Women’s Health Watch agrees, and adds margarine to the mix. 

Margarine (rather than butter) is on that list for a reason, as excessive consumption of omega-6 fatty acids (not to be confused with their cousins, omega-3 fatty acids), may also contribute to inflammation, according to The Arthritis Foundation. This means check the ingredients on your salad dressings, and moderate your intake of safflower, corn, grapeseed, peanut, sunflower, and vegetable oil. Mayonnaise may be a place where omega-6 fatty acids lurk, as well. 

“To reduce levels of inflammation, aim for an overall healthy diet,” Harvard Health Publishing recommends. Several studies suggest the Mediterranean Diet, with its focus on plant-based foods and whole grains, but the Mayo Clinic also breaks down their advice fairly simply when they suggest “eat more plants” and “cut the processed stuff,” among their five “simple rules of thumb for anti-inflammatory eating.”

Anti-inflammatory eating doesn’t just help with chronic and arthritic pain, either. Several sources, including The Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy and The Neuropathic Therapy Center at Loma Linda University Health suggest it can benefit those suffering from peripheral neuropathy, too.

Can What’s in Your Stomach Also Go to Your Head?

Following the Mediterranean Diet and keeping omega-6 fatty acids low could also help with migraine headaches a 2020 study in Nutrients suggests, though the authors also encourage a willingness to experiment with solutions. Because of the more complex causes and contributing factors of migraines, one single diet plan may not be a fix-all. An elimination diet to identify more specific food triggers is recommended. Researchers also find ketogenic, modified Atkins, or an epigenetic diet may provide relief.

More reason to be flexible, and willing to experiment? The American Migraine Foundation says a variety of different foods may trigger migraine, including alcohol (especially red wine and beer), chocolate, aged cheese, cured meats, smoked fish, yeast extract, and artificial sweeteners. But even making sure you’re eating regularly is something the Foundation suggests may relieve this specific kind of pain. 

Pain in a Bottle

While alcohol shows up as a specific potential trigger for migraine, it has a variety of dangers for those in chronic pain. 

It may be tempting, for instance, to numb chronic pain with a cocktail or glass of wine, but the National Institute of Health warns that mixing alcohol with pain medications could cause dangerous problems. They also note that, as tolerance to alcohol’s effects develops, more alcohol is needed to reach the same analgesic effect. This can create alcohol dependence, and the consequential string of health risks associated with it, as listed by the CDC, including stroke, heart disease, and the risk of several cancers.

Keep in mind, whether you’re in chronic pain or not, alcohol is a well-established cancer-causing agent (among other health problems), and moderating your alcohol consumption is good practice for anyone concerned about their longevity.

Cup of Caffeine Instead?

Alcohol may be a clear thing to avoid, but advice about caffeine is a little less consistent. Though the American Migraine Foundation suggests limited caffeine might help treat migraine headaches (and acknowledges that caffeine is a common ingredient in many over-the-counter headache medicines), The Global Pain Initiative recommends caution with it:  “Caffeine actively causes pain by decreasing the pain threshold and making the nervous system more alert to pain.”

Tracking your consumption of and sensitivity to caffeine (as well as other specific foods) in a food diary may be the best way to help you narrow down the cause of (or solution to) the pain that ails you in this regard.

Find a Friend for This Relationship

Navigating the effects of chronic pain is complicated enough, without also having to sort out the best way to stock your fridge and pantry at the same time. Even when the relationship between what we eat and how we feel seems clear, the exact solutions aren’t always so easy to find. It’s why we recommend reaching out to a pain specialist for help crafting an individualized plan to address the whole experience of your chronic pain. Contact us any time to schedule an appointment and craft a comprehensive strategy (including what you eat) just for you. 

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

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.

Prevention

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.

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

Why Should You Know Your Family Medical History?

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

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

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

How Do I Ask My Family About Their Medical History?

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

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

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

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

What Should I Do With My Family Health History?

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

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

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

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

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

Will Exercise Help or Hurt Your Chronic Pain?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking Down the Barriers

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

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

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

Which Exercises Are Best for Chronic Pain?

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

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

Range-of-Motion Exercises

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

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.