Pain Management

Shining a light on migraine relief

Michaela Kane
Michaela Kane, Contributor

Migraine headaches affect millions of people, and one of the most common symptoms is sensitivity to light. A study tested the reactions of migraine sufferers to different colors of light, and found that some people said one specific color eased their pain somewhat.

Saving lives by prescribing naloxone with opioid painkillers

Sarah Wakeman, MD, FASAM, Medical Director, Massachusetts General Hospital Substance Use Disorder Initiative

Unintentional opioid overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. These drugs are prescribed to patients to help relieve pain, but overdoses happen because opioids can also depress breathing, sometimes stopping it altogether. But naloxone, also called Narcan, can help reverse the effects of an overdose. If doctors prescribe naloxone at the same time as opioids, overdose deaths may decrease.

Knee replacement: Life changing or a disappointment?

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Osteoarthritis, the “wear and tear” form of arthritis, can cause pain and restricted movement in the joints. Joint replacement surgery (typically for knees and hips) can restore mobility and reduce pain. However, these procedures involve risk, recovery and rehabilitation time, and the joint may still not feel completely normal. However, for some, surgery may improve quality of life and be better than the alternatives.

Marijuana: Health effects of recreational and medical use

Wynne Armand, MD
Wynne Armand, MD, Contributing Editor

Regardless of whether or not marijuana is legal, using it can have long-term health effects, especially in those who are heavy users. Marijuana shows promise for treating certain medical conditions and symptoms, and further potential benefits are still being studied.

Words matter: The language of addiction and life-saving treatments

Sarah Wakeman, MD, FASAM, Medical Director, Massachusetts General Hospital Substance Use Disorder Initiative

The challenges of drug addiction are compounded by stigmatizing language and incorrect perceptions about the medications used in addiction treatment. Viewing addiction as a disease and likening it to other chronic diseases can help remove the negative connotations from the illness.

Fentanyl: The dangers of this potent “man-made” opioid

Sarah Wakeman, MD, FASAM, Medical Director, Massachusetts General Hospital Substance Use Disorder Initiative

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid. It is far more potent — and potentially more dangerous — than heroin and morphine. Overdose deaths related to fentanyl are on the rise. The drug is cheaper than heroin and recently is being used to dilute heroin or substitute for it. Users may be unaware that they are taking this potent drug, or may even seek its intense high. People at risk from using fentanyl can be treated successfully with therapies used for other opioid use disorders, but taking steps to prevent overdose are critical until a person is ready to seek care.

Beating osteoarthritis knee pain: Beyond special shoes

Heidi Godman
Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

For people suffering from knee osteoarthritis, one long-standing solution to knee pain was the use of “unloading” shoes. These shoes use stiffer soles and slightly tilted insoles that help to reposition the foot and ‘unload,’ or decrease, the pain on the knee. But a new study revealed that these shoes might not be any better than good walking shoes at relieving pain from knee osteoarthritis.

A placebo can work even when you know it’s a placebo

Mallika Marshall, MD
Mallika Marshall, MD, Contributing Editor

You may have heard of the “placebo effect,” in which people taking an inactive drug as part of a study actually experience an improvement in their symptoms. As it turns out, the placebo effect still exists if you tell people they’re taking a placebo. This “open-label placebo” strategy doesn’t work for every condition, of course, but it’s a promising way to relieve many common symptoms without medication.

Opiates no solution to back pain

Steven J. Atlas, MD, MPH

As the treatment for chronic pain morphs into more opiate prescriptions, the rate of addiction and its consequences continues to climb. This doesn’t mean we should stop treating pain or that everyone prescribed opiates will become addicted. But it should give us pause and make us realize that just taking a pill doesn’t fix chronic pain – and doing so cause harm us in the long run.

Tai chi may be as good as physical therapy for arthritis-related knee pain

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Treatment options for osteoarthritis of the knee are limited, and many people turn to surgery as a last resort — so there’s a lot of interest in non-invasive treatments for this common condition. Researchers have just completed a head-to-head trial of standard physical therapy versus the traditional Chinese practice of tai chi, and they’ve found the latter is just as good as the former. If it’s something you’d like to try, go for it!