Posts Tagged ‘pain’

Your Brain on Exercise, and with Meditation

I’ve got exercise on the brain as I try to get in shape for the upcoming golf season, and two new studies caught me eye, one about the effects of exercise on the brain and the other about how meditation reduces pain-related activation of the brain.

Exercise increases the growth of brain cells and improves brain function, says Terry Eckmann, Ph.D, professor in the teacher education and performance department at Minot State University in Minot, ND.

“Exercise balances brain chemicals, hormones, and system functions,” says Eckmann.

“Research suggests that every system of the body functions more efficiently with regular exercise. Exercise is medicine and can make a difference in disease prevention and management.”

A protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is “like Miracle-Gro for the brain,” she told the American College of Sports Medicine’s 15th-annual Health & Fitness Summit & Exposition in Anaheim, CA, on April 14, 2011. The protein helps to grow new neurons in the hippocampus area of the brain, which plays important roles in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory and spatial navigation. The protein also aids transmission of information across the synapses of neurons.

Recent studies show that students with higher fitness levels score higher on academic tests and show an improved ability to focus.

Scientists have also documented the ability of exercise to help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain to suffer damage in Alzheimer’s disease.

The second study reported in the April 6 issue of the The Journal of Neuroscience shows that a little more than an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation.

In this small study, 18 healthy volunteers who were new to meditation were taught a meditation technique known as focused attention, which involves paying close attention to breathing patterns while acknowledging and letting go of distracting thoughts, says first author Fadel Zeidan, PhD, who is a postdoctoral fellow at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

The volunteers were subjected to heat on the skin of their thigh to induce pain during brain imaging, both before and after they had practiced meditation.

The imaging showed that, after just 4 20-minute sessions of meditation, pain intensity ratings were reduced by an average of 40%, and the pain unpleasantness rating was reduced by 57%.

Meditation engages multiple brain mechanisms to reduce activity in key pain-processing regions of the brain, concluded the researchers.

These studies have emboldened me to ride my bike and speed walk more often and continue my Tai Chi classes (which is like meditation in motion). It should make me feel better, if not smarter, and maybe I’ll feel less pain the next time I knock a golf ball into the woods.

Use the Right Painkillers to Kill Pain

Here are the highlights of this month’s (actually January’s) feature from the Sports Injury Handbook website:

Use the Right Painkillers to Kill Pain

Early, aggressive use of simple over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers can allow you to rehabilitate sports injuries without the risk of addiction to prescription painkillers, such as Vicodin.

OTC painkillers usually are enough to calm the aches and pains of most sports injuries. Three types of painkillers are the most valuable: aspirin, acetaminophen, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents.

Aspirin is the oldest drug. It not only kills pain but also reduces inflammation. The major side effects of aspirin are stomach upset and even bleeding from the lining of the stomach. If you have problems with regular aspirin, use buffered or enteric coated aspirin instead. Aspirin also interferes with blood clotting and should not be used in large doses during contact sports.

Acetaminophen pills, such as Tylenol, have the same painkilling effects as aspirin in most people but do not have as much of an anti-inflammatory effect. They are less irritating to the stomach and have no anti-clotting effect.

Ibuprofen is the active ingredient in non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents. The various OTC preparations are half-strength versions of the prescription medication Motrin. They all have a very strong anti-inflammatory effect and also have pain-relieving properties.

Choose whichever painkiller you like the best. Most often you know from previous experience which drug works well for you. One caveat: do not take aspirin along with anti-inflammatory agents. Since these two are chemically similar, adding one to the other could lead to a toxic reaction. So, for example, if you are taking ibuprofen for sore muscles and you get a headache, take acetaminophen instead of aspirin.

Also, anyone with a history of gastrointestinal problems should not take anti-inflammatory agents, including those sold in drug stores, except under a doctor’s direction. The doctor may prescribe accompanying medication to ameliorate the side effects.

NFL Players Continue to Take Pain Meds After They Retire

You may have seen the recent headlines or watched ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” report on the misuse of painkillers among retired National Football League (NFL) players. Not surprising, the new research conducted by investigators at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that brutal collisions and bone-jarring injuries associated with professional football often cause long-term pain, and that former NFL players continue to use painkilling medications.

The study of 644 former NFL players was commissioned and supported by a grant from ESPN, with additional funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health. Among the key findings are:

– 7% of the former players were currently using painkilling opioid drugs, more than 4 times the rate of opioid use in the general population.

– More than half (52%) say they used prescription painkillers during their careers, and nearly three-quarters (71%) of that group say that they abused the drugs, with 15% admitting to misusing the drugs over the last 30 days.

– About two-thirds (63%) of former players who misused the drugs during their playing days got their medication from a non-medical source, including a teammate, coach, friend, or the Internet.

The study reminded me of conversations I’ve had with Allan Levy MD, New York Giants team physician emeritus and my co-author of Sports Injury Handbook. Pro football is a grueling, physically demanding game, he said, and the players are expected to endure pain and continue playing. Basically, they get paid to play in pain. To maintain their performance, players often need to take pain medications.

It makes sense that NFL players use painkillers more often than Average Joes because they’ve been exposed to them. Addiction research shows once you’re exposed to painkillers, you’re more likely to continue to use them.

There’s no doubt NFL players, current and retired, are taking painkillers, and abuse happens. Maybe most famously, quarterback Brett Favre missed 45 days of the 1996 season due to a Vicodin addiction.

For the rest of us, early, aggressive use of simple over-the-counter painkillers can allow you to rehabilitate sports injuries.