Managing pain without pills
Orland Bragg has made a living working on automobiles. Until recently he had his own shop, Bragg Automotive, in Marietta.
Cars, however, have played a darker role in his life. In the decade from 1986 to 1996, he was the victim of four major rear-end collisions.
“The vehicle was totally destroyed in each one of them,” the 64-year-old said in an interview this week. The injuries to his back, neck and extremities collectively put him in an escalating state of continuous pain.
“I was under the care of a total of 28 doctors, including neurologists and neurosurgeons. I got rehabilitation work, physiotherapy, injections, occupational therapy, Oxycodone, muscle relaxers, lots of Tylenol,” he said. “They all provided short-term relief. I would get four hours of sleep a night, if I was lucky.”
He reached a point in 2011 when spinal injections would give him only10 days of a reprieve, and his doctor told him nothing further could be done except a regular course of narcotics, probably for life.
Unwilling to consider that option, Bragg – who by that time also was suffering from fibromyalgia, bursitis, spinal stenosis, bone spurs, a herniated disk, arthritis and degenerative disk disease – began doing his own research.
He discovered magnets.
A friend one day in 2012 gave him a book by Dr. Gary Null on the therapeutic effects of magnets. Being a mechanic, Bragg knew that auto electrical parts include magnets, and he salvaged some from his garage and sewed them into a Velcro cuff and began wearing the device on his wrist. The same year, he noticed a public promotion for magnetic mattress pads. He bought one and began sleeping on a magnetic field.
The therapy required patience. At the same time, he began watching his diet and taking supplements he’d researched.
“Within three months, I could tell the difference. In six months I was off narcotics, and a year later I was off all the medications except an anti-inflammatory for the arthritis,” he said.
The crippling pain had dominated every minute of his life, he said.
“Every movement you make involves a calculation of the pain before you move,” he said.
He had to give up hunting and fishing, sports and other activities. Now, he moves easily and smoothly but still has to be wary of even slight injuries. He has a variety of wearable magnetic devices that can be applied to his neck, wrist and waist, such as the Velco cuff he was wearing Thursday.
Bragg said he controls his diet carefully through a trial-and-error process, having found, for example, that red meat is irritating but chicken and fish don’t have adverse effects.
Chronic non-cancerous pain is an individual matter that occurs in myriad varieties for reasons that often aren’t clear, and remedies, if there are any, have to be tailored to the individual patient. The use of magnets to alleviate chronic pain is controversial and, according to most conventional medical sources, not supported by research. However, small scale studies have shown some effectiveness. An informal study reported more than a decade ago in Britain carried enough weight for the national health system to add a limited number of magnetic devices to its approval list. In order to work, the magnets have to be fairly powerful, several steps beyond the average fridge magnet, to generate enough field strength to reach under the skin to affected tissue where, proponents say, the magnetism facilitates healing at the cellular level.
Scattered small studies have shown some benefit over the past several decades, but larger clinically-regulated trials have shown no proof that magnets work for pain relief.
Bragg, however, notes that there is little incentive to examine the remedy in great detail.
“There’s no money to be made off this,” he said. “You just sell it once, and that’s it.”
For people whose lives are adversely affected by chronic pain, non-drug alternatives are available, but like drugs, for many they become part of a new life regimen rather than a way back to the time before pain. Acupuncture, physical therapy, chiropracty and diet supplements all require an ongoing commitment rather than a one-time treatment, although some patients show improvement over time.
Acupuncturist Renate Jans-Wentzel runs a clinic out of a house on Glendale Road. She’s been practicing the ancient medical art in Marietta for about eight years.
Most of her patients come for pain relief, she said.
“The majority of people come in with pain, like migraines or headaches, neck and lower back pain. I’d say lower back pain is almost 70 percent of my practice,” she said. “I do a consultation, usually about 30 to 60 minutes, find out about the medications they take, prior surgeries if there are any, other treatments they’ve had. People usually come to me as a last resort before they have to have surgery.”
Jans-Wentzel she is sometime amazed by the volume of drugs her patients are taking.
“I sometimes see a whole page of medications listed,” she said.
Acupuncture involves the application of tiny, specially designed needles to specific parts of the body. Jans-Wentzel said that in conventional medical terms, the needles have the effect of releasing endorphins, chemicals that have an analgesic and euphoric effect on the body. For that reason, the needles aren’t all applied to specific pain sites but rather to areas that trigger the release of endorphines.
“A person could have 30 to 40 needles, for example, in their lower back and also behind their knees and ankles,” she said. The needles are less than the diameter of a human hair and the treatment involves no pain, at most a slight pinch sometimes, she said.
The treatment and its frequency depends on the individual patient, she said. People come in showing a variety of symptoms and physical conditions, each needing a different approach.
“Some people are in good physical condition, but others are overweight, aren’t mobile, can’t even exercise,” she said.
She normally recommends two to three treatments a week apart, then one a month.
“It can help significantly,” she said, and once they start feeling better it’s not uncommon for patients to neglect the follow-up visits.
“Human nature,” she said.
Jans-Wentzel said she also supports use of appropriate supplements, which could include turmeric, which is shown to modulate pain, magnesium and other herbs and minerals.
David Norris recently set up a practice in chiropracty at the Epicenter on Lancaster Street, returning to Marietta to be closer to his family after practicing out of town for 10 years.
Norris said chiropracty can modulate nerve fibers to reduce pain stimulation and decrease inflammation. He starts by taking a thorough history of the patient, including any accidents or trauma, and evaluates the patient’s range of motion and administers or prescribes tests that could include orthopedic, neurological. He orders x-rays, MRIs and other procedures as needed, and determines a course of chiropractic treatment.
Norris said he also has a masters degree in nutrition, and is emphatic about the importance of diet. Omega-3, a type of fatty acid, has been proven to fight inflammation and modulate pain receptors, he said, and can become an important part of treatment for pain patients.
“They show significant improvement,” he said.
Norris said he also works alongside other professionals, such as acupuncturists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists, and he also depending on the patient might recommend aromatherapy and therapeutic massage.
He said the goal is always for the patient to improve.
“I want them to get better, and I rarely see anyone who won’t get better, isn’t at least on the road to improvement,” he said.
Education is part of his practice, he said, and he has already offered one public presentation at the Epicenter and plans on more.
Bragg retired two years ago, and since then has dedicated much of his time to helping others in ways that include driving those who need it to medical appointments.
“I have been blessed, and I want to give back,” he said. “You need positive things to counteract the negative. I was wounded in spirit but not broken. We all have our scars.”
Select alternative pain management methods
¯Acupuncture – Releases endorphines.
¯Chiropracty – Corrects skeletal and joint alignment problems.
¯Nutrition – Some herbal supplements have analgesic properties, and adjusting diet can avoid foods that aggravate pain.
¯Massage therapy – Therapeutic massage can provide temporary relief from some forms of pain.
¯Physical therapy – Exercises and manipulation of some body parts can relieve pain.