As he did so often in life, Prince is once again offering us
the opportunity to heal a problem that desperately needs
to be fixed. It is suspected that he is one of the 15,000
Americans who die each year from an overdose of prescribed
narcotics. Having severe hip pain, which did not go away with
hip replacement surgery, he required the narcotic Percocet for
pain relief. Although it helped, it did not do so enough. He was
simply one of the 33 percent of Americans who suffer needlessly
with pain. Why do I say needlessly? Because despite modern
medicine having many incredible strengths, it is horrible at
treating pain. As physicians, we are taught how to treat the
kind of emergencies that come to hospitals. This occurs,
simply, because this is where we are trained. Heart attacks? Hot
appendix? We're right on top of it.
But except for using a few medications to mask the pain,
or narcotics for cancer pain, as physicians our training in pain
management is woefully inadequate. I discovered this first hand
when I came down with fibromyalgia in medical school. It forced
me to drop out of school and left me homeless for almost a
year. It also forced me to learn the basics of pain management
on my own, while experiencing what it was like to be on the
other side of the white coat.
Nowadays, people with pain, and the physicians who treat
them, face a Sophie's choice: suffer with pain or use potentially
addictive narcotics. Sadly, the new government "war" is
pressuring pharmacists and doctors to treat people in pain as
if they were drug addicts, while threatening doctors with being
arrested if they even appropriately prescribe the needed pain
medications. Fortunately, there is a "door number three" to
Unlike infections, pain is not an outside enemy. Rather,
like the oil light on our car's dashboard, it is part of our body's
monitoring system that tells us when something needs attention.
Different kinds of pain tell us different things. To extend the
analogy, medicine treats the flashing oil light by either putting a
Band-Aid over it, or by trying to disable the flashing red light. We
never even think about simply putting oil in the car. Which is the
safest and best way to make the annoying flashing light go out.
Looking at Prince's case, it was likely that the hip
replacement did not work because it did not address the real
underlying problem. Studies and clinical experience have shown
that what we see on the x-rays very often have little to do with
what is actually causing the pain. For example, many marathon
runners, with absolutely no pain at all, will have hip x-rays that
likely looked worse than Prince's.
Often, the actual cause of the hip pain comes from the
muscles and ligaments surrounding the hip. By simply treating
these, the pain could've gone away: without the need for surgery
or narcotics. Sadly, most physicians are simply not trained in
doing an exam for muscle (or myofascial) pain. Despite causing
the majority of pain in this country, muscle pain does not even
cross their mind in most cases.
My experience with fibromyalgia, which begins as widespread
muscle pain before morphing into other kinds of pain, helped
me learn how to diagnose and treat tight muscles. Muscles are
like a spring. They take more energy to relax than to contract.
This is why after a hard workout you come home and say,
"Honey, my muscles are so tight," instead of complaining how
loose and limp they are.
The brilliant work by the late Prof. Janet Travell, the
godmother of pain management and the White House physician
for presidents Kennedy and Johnson, taught us the importance
of treating the underlying causes of our muscle's energy crisis.
This included treating the structural issues by releasing the
tight muscles, as is done in many forms of bodywork including
chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation. In addition, it
is necessary to treat the underlying biochemistry to restore
adequate energy in the muscles. Our published research
showed that by treating with what we call the "SHINE Protocol,"
optimizing Sleep, Hormones, Infections, Nutrition, and Exercise
as able, 91 percent of people with fibromyalgia pain improve,
usually dramatically. Dr. Travell found that treating these same
issues often helped dramatically with muscle pain in general.
Similarly, research has shown that treating the root causes
can also be very effective for migraines, arthritis, and a host of
other chronic pains.
A problem? These treatments are generally very inexpensive,
so that the research done on them does not get much attention.
But they do offer the possibility of treating chronic pain very
effectively and safely.
Prince's death is a tragic loss. Yet, it also provides us
with a powerful opportunity. A fitting tribute to Prince? It's
time to apply the extensive but ignored research on treating
the root causes of pain. This can prevent tens of thousands
of needless deaths, and eliminate the unnecessary suffering