By Curtis Turchin, MA, DC and Paula Tanksley, PT
For chronic pain sufferers, their pain is bad enough without feeling as though they have no control over it.
But pain patients don’t have to simply “pop a pill” and wait—or wait for an appointment for therapy, chiropractic or other treatments. Many treatments available in a clinic setting are now widely available—and very affordable—for patients to use at home.
When introduced by therapists, chiropractors and other health care practitioners in-clinic, these at-home pain management products can help calm patients’ anxiety and feelings of loss of control, and provide welcome pain relief when they need it without additional medications.
Anyone who’s watched the Olympics or is a football fan has seen athletes sporting multiple patterns and colors of tape on their bodies.
It’s not just a fashion statement. Taping is used commonly to help stabilize joints and improve circulation for patients with pain due to an acute or chronic injury—and help protect patients from further injury while they stay active.
While there are specific ways that tape should be used, it’s fairly easy for therapists to teach patients how to apply the tape in specific directions depending on the type of injury.
Patients can find tape at most sporting good retailers or online, at costs ranging from $5 up to $25 a roll.
Omni Cervical Relief Pillow
Ask any therapist where patients most commonly complain about experiencing pain, and the neck is often most therapists’ number-one answer.
Blame our society’s love of the smartphone and other mobile devices, which can lead to joint compression in the neck, reducing range of motion, causing irritation and inflammation and leading to headaches, neck pain and stiffness.
Within a medical practice, clinicians use devices like the iTrac extension therapy system or DOC decompression table to provide cervical traction and return the neck to a neutral position. But at home, patients can complement their therapy with the Omni Cervical Relief Pillow ($36.99).
The pillow has molded contours to cradle the head and neck and offer gentle passive positioning in cervical lordosis, helping to restore lordosis to a cervical spine with a reverse curve. For cervical traction, the patient should lie with the knees up and slowly pull the heels towards his or her tailbone until a pleasant traction force is felt in the neck. Patients with vestibular issues, facet syndrome and disc pathology might also benefit but health care practitioners should observe patients carefully in the clinic using the pillow before releasing them to a home program.
Patients can use the pillow daily for about five to 30 minutes for the first week, then every other day until they experience relief.
Pressure Positive Self-Care Tools
Also known as massage tools, self-care tools ($7.95-$34.95) are a great way for patients to gently perform muscle release to relieve tightness from poor ergonomics or due to chronic pain.
These tools are crafted of metal, rubber, plastic or wood and are ergonomically designed for patients to use on themselves or for therapists to use in practice.
Patients with chronic pain may be timid about using these tools for fear of causing more pain, so it’s important for you to demonstrate these tools in clinic. With practice, patients can learn what feels best for their own bodies, avoid overuse but also learn how to use the tools long enough for trigger point release.
Self-care tools can be used every day for up to three to four times a day to treat tight muscles. If patients are experiencing soreness or bruising, they should stop and make sure they use the tools less frequently.
Apollo Class IV Cold Laser Therapy System
Cold laser therapy is an investment ($3,995 for a handheld system), but the research over the last 40 years has demonstrated that cold laser therapy not only effectively manages pain, but also stimulates healing in all kinds of tissues including bone, cartilage, spinal discs and muscles.
Cold laser also compares favorably against other electrotherapy modalities such as e-stim or ultrasound. While these treatments have value and are also analgesic, research has demonstrated that laser has a superior ability in stimulating tissue healing.
The therapy is also very easy for patients to use since it offers few side effects and it would be very difficult for patients to overtreat themselves (compared to e-stim or ultrasound, which can sometimes cause shocks and burns).
Patients who visit a therapist two or three times a week for treatment can incorporate laser into home care up to two or three times a day. Patients do not have to apply a contact gel as they would with ultrasound, or worry about placing pads in the correct area—they simply point the laser probe at the affected area for one to five minutes.
Providing patients with the tools and techniques to manage their pain at home can be a very effective adjunct to in-office treatment. It’s important to note that for greatest efficacy, clinicians should demonstrate these techniques with their patients and practice with them until they are comfortable. It can also be helpful for your practice to have these tools available for purchase right in your clinic, which will help patients further comply with these therapies.