Pain Archive


Acupuncture relieves common types of chronic pain

Acupuncture helps relieve chronic pain in the back, neck, and shoulders, as well as pain from osteoarthritis and headaches, according to a new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

To compare acupuncture with conventional pain therapy, researchers pooled the findings of 29 past studies involving nearly 18,000 people. The study revealed that some, but not all, of the pain relief was due to the placebo effect, in which people experience benefits from treatments that may not have a documented effect.

With back pain, getting out of bed can help

If you have back pain, bed rest can be useful, especially if you are in severe pain while sitting and standing. But it's best to limit bed rest during the day to a few hours at a time, for no more than a couple of days. That's because too much time in bed can do more harm than good.

If you need to be horizontal, lie down on a bed or sofa, in any comfortable position. To ease the strain on your back, try putting pillows under your head and between your knees when lying on your side, under your knees when lying on your back, or under your hips when lying on your stomach. These positions reduce the forces that sitting or standing impose on the back — especially on the disks, ligaments, and muscles.

Prevent pain from computer use

Your neck angle makes all the difference.

If you're spending hours reading e-books or exchanging email on a tablet computer such as an iPad, you're also running the risk of neck and shoulder pain. But simply adjusting your viewing angle provides relief, according to a study from the Harvard School of Public Health, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and Microsoft. "Looking at a tablet for long periods of time affects your neck, head, and shoulders. The farther down it is, the more you have to bend your neck to get down to it," says Dr. Jack Dennerlein, principal investigator of the study and adjunct professor of ergonomics and safety at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Tablet problems and solutions

Your neck houses the top of your spine, which is a stack of small bones called cervical vertebrae. Researchers determined that holding a tablet computer too low in your lap can force these vertebrae and the muscles in your neck to bend forward too much, causing strain and even injuries to muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, and spinal discs. However, when study subjects viewed a tablet that was on a table, propped at a steep angle in a tablet case, they reduced their neck strain and potential pain.

Ask the doctor: Calf pain may signal nerve and circulatory problems.

Q. Why does my calf start hurting a few minutes after I start walking?

A. The most benign possibility, particularly if this problem started recently, is simply a strain in the calf muscle. Such a strain should cause symptoms pretty much whenever you use the muscle—like immediately after you start walking. However, there are two more possibilities that are not benign.

When headaches won't go away

Women are three times more likely than men to get migraine headaches, in part because of the hormone estrogen. A number of different medications are available to prevent migraine and stop them when they first start.

Easier way to help your hip?

Choose wisely when considering surgical options.

When it's time to do something about the unbearable arthritis pain in your hip, you'll likely hear about an alternative to total hip replacement called hip resurfacing. The two procedures appear to have similar short-term results with regard to function and activity level, according to a new study in the journal BMJ. But be careful. "The long-term benefits haven't been shown at all," says Dr. Donald Reilly, assistant clinical professor of orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School.

Hip Resurfacing

Hip Replacement

Replacement vs. resurfacing

The hip is a ball-and-socket joint, where the thigh bone (femur) meets the pelvis bone. The ball is at the top of the femur, known as the femoral head, below which is the neck of the femur. The socket is the acetabulum, part of the pelvis bone. In a total hip replacement, the surgeon removes the damaged surface of the socket, the femoral head, and the neck of the femur, then replaces them with prosthetic components. In a hip resurfacing, the surgeon places a prosthetic cap on the femoral head, preserving the neck, and replaces the acetabulum. Resurfacing preserves the femur, which may make future hip surgeries easier. Insurance pays for both procedures and recovery time is the same: three days in the hospital, followed by 4–6 weeks of physical therapy.

Stop migraines before they start

Take advantage of proven therapies.

If you are a migraine sufferer, then you undoubtedly long for something, anything, to keep these painful episodes from recurring. Migraines affect about 15% of the adult population, but only a relatively small percentage of those people take advantage of preventive medications.

Migraine prevention guidelines released earlier this year by the American Academy of Neurology and the American Headache Society note that about 38% of people who have migraines could benefit from preventive medications, but less than a third of those people actually utilize these treatments. Dr. Lee Schwamm, vice chairman of the Department of Neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital, suggests that one explanation may be that these drugs must be taken every day to be effective, even though migraines might only be "an intermittent problem."

Drop pounds to relieve back pain

Strengthening your core muscles can also help.

You may worry about your heart or diabetes if you're packing on a few extra pounds. But a new study finds that extra weight also contributes to disc degeneration in your spine, particularly in the lumbar region.

In the study, published in Arthritis & Rheumatism, researchers studied more than 2,500 adults and found that disc degeneration tended to be more common, more severe, and more extensive among overweight or obese participants.

Free Healthbeat Signup

Get the latest in health news delivered to your inbox!

Sign Up
Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Thanks for visiting. Don't miss your FREE gift.

The Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness, is yours absolutely FREE when you sign up to receive Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Sign up to get tips for living a healthy lifestyle, with ways to fight inflammation and improve cognitive health, plus the latest advances in preventative medicine, diet and exercise, pain relief, blood pressure and cholesterol management, and more.

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Get helpful tips and guidance for everything from fighting inflammation to finding the best diets for weight loss...from exercises to build a stronger core to advice on treating cataracts. PLUS, the latest news on medical advances and breakthroughs from Harvard Medical School experts.

BONUS! Sign up now and
get a FREE copy of the
Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Stay on top of latest health news from Harvard Medical School.

Plus, get a FREE copy of the Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness.