Alternative Treatments for Secondary Conditions of Wheelchair Use

alternative medicines wheelchairMost Americans know the basics of good health whether we apply them or not — eat right, take vitamins, exercise, maintain a healthy weight, etc. But what about secondary effects of wheelchair use — worn-out shoulders, arthritis, urinary tract infections, pressure sores, poor circulation, susceptibility to diabetes? In addition to well-known traditional treatments, many of which have bothersome side effects, are there safe natural methods that can lessen the severity of these syndromes?

Everything cited in the following list of alternative treatments can be purchased in your local compounding pharmacy or herb store. This information is based primarily on personal experience, health books, naturopathic and medical consultations and Internet searches. It is not intended to be comprehensive. My purpose is to share a few safe, helpful alternatives that you might want to investigate further.

Worn-Out Shoulders
I first read about prolotherapy on the front page of the sports section in an article about injured NFL athletes who opt for this alternative treatment so they can get back in the game sooner and stronger than if they had surgery. I never thought it would apply to me, the “superwoman” who kept wheeling, transferring, carting groceries and lifting children for 49 years post-injury. But I noticed I was beginning to move a lot slower and was unable to go up even a slight incline. Transferring became increasingly difficult and precarious. Was it just age?

One morning two years ago I reached for my deodorant and heard an ominous clunk. My arm had detached from its socket. Suddenly I could no longer raise a glass of water or fork to my mouth, much less wheel, transfer or dress myself. My husband had to do literally everything for me. Life came to a standstill.

The first orthopedic surgeon said my insistent overuse had finally ground the shoulder socket flat. It was no longer able to cup the ball of the humerus, the upper arm bone. Further, my bones were too osteoporotic to sustain the hardware that would be inserted during a shoulder replacement. The second surgeon said he could do a “reverse contained shoulder replacement,” which might allow fairly good forward movement but still no ability to reach behind — or be strong enough for transferring. As grim as the odds were, it seemed to be the only option.

Then my new physical therapist suggested I see her husband, Dr. David Harris, a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician (physiatrist). In talking to him I learned that prolotherapy — short for proliferative therapy, also known as nonsurgical ligament reconstruction — is a series of dextrose (sugar water) injections into a ligament or tendon where it attaches to a bone. The sugar water actually stimulates a localized inflammatory process with the goal of increasing the blood supply and flow of nutrients and regenerating white tissue, which supports and stabilizes the joint during movement. White tissue is the non-contractile connective tissue such as ligaments, tendons and cartilage.

Harris joked, “The ingredients cost 10 cents. Knowing exactly where to inject it — $150 to $300.” Harris also sometimes adds glucosamine, ozone and platelet-rich plasma to the injections, although other doctors may stay strictly with the standard dextrose. After five sessions over six months, I have nearly full range of motion once again and am back to cooking, lifting, dressing, shampooing and driving. I still can’t transfer, but that may be due to ever-advancing scoliosis.

Several close friends of mine have now had prolotherapy (on knees, ankles and back) and have become pain-free and canceled their scheduled surgeries.

The needle used is only one gauge larger than an insulin needle. It hurts slightly but is less painful than other joint shots and far less traumatic than joint replacement surgery. There is no down time. You can immediately resume any activities you wish. The results seem to be permanent and actually get better in the weeks that follow the session as the white tissue continues to regenerate. There are usually several shots per session, and it usually requires four to six sessions a few weeks apart to get the maximum results.

Since the process works with the body’s natural inflammation process as it proliferates new strong cells, you shouldn’t take any anti-inflammatories for a week after the injections. Medicare and other providers have different billing codes and payment structures for prolotherapy treatments depending on the region of the country you live in.

Prolotherapy in its current form has been around since Dr. George S. Hackett began using it in the 1940s. Some historians even trace a crude form off it back to Hippocrates’ treatment of soldiers’ injured joints with a hot poker. A wealth of information is available online, including detailed explanations of how it works and names of doctors who offer it.

There are no known side effects to prolotherapy, and it could prevent total breakdown of shoulders and replacement surgery. If you decide to try it, thoroughly research the topic first and find a doctor with a lot of experience. Clinical trials have yielded conflicting results, and most insurance companies do not cover prolotherapy. If you fall into the very small percentage of people who do not get relief, you haven’t burned any bridges. You can easily return to traditional options.

Arthritis

When should you try alternative treatments? If it’s safe, well researched and has a history of success, it’s worth a fair try. Always use common sense, and be careful to not try unproven experimental treatments that could be harmful. Certainly do not stop crucial medications without oversight from your doctor. If what your doctor has prescribed isn’t effective for you, ask to be monitored as you try some proven alternatives that might achieve your doctor’s goals for you. It’s your body and ultimately your decision. When it comes to vitamins and supplements, bargain prices rarely yield anticipated results. Labels can be deceptive. Some advertised brands are diluted with fillers, made from low grade or impure ingredients and don’t assimilate well. It is advisable to buy potent, standardized, pharmaceutical grade vitamins to achieve desired results. You can often get professional advice tailored to your body’s needs from board certified doctors of naturopathic medicine, holistic leaning medical doctors and doctors of osteopathy, compounding pharmacists and reputable herbalists.

When should you try alternative treatments? If it’s safe, well researched and has a history of success, it’s worth a fair try. Always use common sense, and be careful to not try unproven experimental treatments that could be harmful. Certainly do not stop crucial medications without oversight from your doctor. If what your doctor has prescribed isn’t effective for you, ask to be monitored as you try some proven alternatives that might achieve your doctor’s goals for you. It’s your body and ultimately your decision.
When it comes to vitamins and supplements, bargain prices rarely yield anticipated results. Labels can be deceptive. Some advertised brands are diluted with fillers, made from low grade or impure ingredients and don’t assimilate well. It is advisable to buy potent, standardized, pharmaceutical grade vitamins to achieve desired results. You can often get professional advice tailored to your body’s needs from board certified doctors of naturopathic medicine, holistic leaning medical doctors and doctors of osteopathy, compounding pharmacists and reputable herbalists. Photo by Jean Dobbs.

Almost everyone gets some degree of arthritis with aging. People with disabilities often get it earlier because the joints in non-paralyzed parts of the body are carrying the load that should be shared by the whole body. Lack of exercise and stretching, as well as genetics and poor diet, also set us up for early onset. There are several well-advertised prescription meds for arthritis that work for many. But for those wanting to avoid the cost and side effects, there are several inexpensive natural and/or alternative remedies worth trying.

My favorite, which I found on peoplesrx.com, always makes people snicker — until they try it: gin and raisins. The well-known recipe is fun, cheap, tasty and really works, but you need to follow the recipe. Empty a box of golden raisins (not dark ones) into a glass jar (not plastic or crystal.) Pour gin over the raisins until just covered. Stir every day or two. Leave jar uncovered for 10 days until gin evaporates. Eat nine raisins a day for relief. The original directions say “just nine, no more, no less,” although I don’t know why a few more would matter. One mixture lasts several months and keeps me pain-free.

For years I kept my arthritis under control with apple cider vinegar, not white vinegar. I poured a blip-blip into every glass of water I drank. After a short adjustment, regular water tasted boring. Apple cider vinegar with “the mother” (cloudiness) is more potent than regular. Braggs Organic Apple Cider Vinegar with the mother has been the subject of many studies, which show just one or two tablespoons a day may help regulate insulin levels, control hunger, alkalize the body and provide many other health benefits. Braggs or other brands can be found in many grocery or health food stores.

Additionally, many combinations of glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) are available over the counter. MSM is a necessary building block for proteins, especially those found in the hair, muscles and connective tissue of the joints and skin. MSM proponents claim it lubricates joints and reduces pain. Judging by the high volumes sold daily, apparently millions of people agree. MSM has been the subject of many clinical studies, most notably by Dr. Stanley Jacobs of Oregon Health Sciences University, who treated over 18,000 people with it. He concluded that it functions as an analgesic, relieving pain, reducing inflammation and increasing blood flow. Dr. Jacobs also claims that topical applications of MSM help stop muscle spasms and have been verified by electromyography readings of spastic muscles before and after application. MSM is recommended by mainstream publications such as Arthritis Today.

Since arthritis, like other inflammatory diseases, is thought by many to be an acidic condition, you may be able to strike at the root of it by alkalizing your body through changing your diet. Cutting back on acidic foods such as beef, pork and shellfish in favor of venison and cold water fish is a beginning. Eating more fruits and vegetables like asparagus, onions, garlic, raw spinach and broccoli is essential, although a few vegetables and fruits such as potatoes, beans (pinto, navy, lima and soy) are in the high acid category. Coffee, beer and soft drinks are also aggravating to arthritis. Details can be found in several books, including The Arthritis Cure, by Theodosakis, Adderly and Fox.

Urinary Tract Infections
As if we don’t have enough to deal with, many of us have recurring problems with UTIs. Whether it’s due to catheters introducing bacteria and causing irritation, not being able to stand up for kidneys and bladder to drain totally, or a compromised immune system, UTIs can knock the props out from under you at the most inopportune times. They are painful and dangerous. In extreme cases, UTIs can even result in death if the infection becomes septic (enters your blood stream and infects the whole body.)

When infections do happen, antibiotics are usually the first line of defense. But my doctor told me, “You’ve got to find a way to stop taking so many antibiotics. You’re setting yourself up for the ‘Super Bug’ and permanently compromising your immune system.” So the next time I felt the all-too-familiar symptoms suddenly strike, I called a respected herbalist.
“Quick,” she said, “buy a watermelon, preferably one with seeds. Eat as much as you can. Also eat the seeds — that’s where the potency is. And pick up AZO Standard from the pharmacy and take as often as the directions permit.” AZO gets its name from the three middle letters of the active ingredient, Phenazopyridine Hydrochloride. It turns your urine orange, but greatly helps with pain.

Then she added, “Immediately start taking these herbs three to four times a day: four capsules of cranberry with buchu (a Chinese herb); two acidophilus capsules (800 + mg); two olive leaf extract (1000 + mg); two golden seal (1000 mg); and two capsules of JP-X kidney detox formula.” Granted, that’s about 12 capsules three or four times a day and not cheap, but it didn’t fail me. I felt better within 11 hours and completely well after 48 hours and had no side effects.

The herbalist also told me to continue taking this combination several days after all symptoms disappeared to make sure all bacteria were totally dead. It’s also important to drink lots of water and abstain from coffee, tea, carbonated drinks, sugar and red meat until you’re totally recovered.

Cranberry extract capsules are more concentrated and potent than cranberry juice. Also, the sugar in cranberry juice may actually feed the offending bacteria. Theoretically, cranberry provides a slick coating on the bladder wall, making it difficult for bacteria to adhere and multiply. The acidophilus provides good bacteria needed to fight the infection. The olive leaf and golden seal serve, among other things, as natural antibiotics. The JP-X kidney detox formula (from distributors of Nature’s Sunshine Products) is a proprietary blend of juniper and parsley plus five other herbs to nutritionally support the kidneys and bladder. Even though I can’t explain it, it has worked for me every time for the past five years.

Eighty percent of UTIs are caused by E. coli bacteria, most often from unseen bowel cross-contamination. A safe, simple sugar sold in capsules or powder known as D-mannose can be amazingly effective. The E. coli cling to the swirls of D-mannose in the bladder until they are flushed out with urination. Because the D-mannose flushes through your bladder so rapidly (with the E. coli attached,) relief is often very quick.

Several brands of D-mannose, as well as cranberry extracts, can be found online, at most compounding pharmacies, herb stores or sold by classified advertisers in New Mobility. Concepts in Confidence owner, Mike Ginsberg, says he takes Mannose Magic every day to flush out E. coli. He also takes Cran Magic daily so the other brands of bacteria have a hard time colonizing on the bladder wall.

If you do decide to give natural UTI preventives or remedies a try, it’s crucial to exercise good judgment and call your doctor if you feel you’re getting worse. Serious infections require prompt treatment by a urologist or experienced primary care physician.

Pressure Sores
Pressure sores are an ongoing problem for many of us, especially if you lack sensation in at-risk areas of your body. If a pressure sore becomes infected, it is critical to go to a qualified doctor or wound care clinic as soon as possible. But when a sore is not infected, it is also helpful to know there are well-proven natural alternatives that pose no risk. My medical consultant, Dr. John Young, says wound beds by their very nature are acidic, so treatments that alkalize on contact can reverse the pH, oxidize the cells, and jump start the healing process.

Additionally, there are nutritional ways to speed healing of pressure sores. Vascular surgeon Dr. William Duncan, of Portland, Ore., has prescribed a vitamin protocol — in addition to debriding and traditional treatment — for many years that speeds wound closure with impressive results. He recommends daily supplementation with vitamin C (500 mg twice a day); vitamin A (10,000 units daily); vitamin D (500 mg); vitamin E (400 units twice a day); zinc (50 to 250 mg daily);  L-arginine (2,000 mg daily); and B-complex. Again, that is a lot of pills to swallow, but you don’t take them forever — only until your wound is closed.

On a cautionary note, Dr. Earl Mindell, author of The Vitamin Bible, says taking more than 150 mg of zinc daily for extended periods can impair the immune system. L-arginine should not be taken by growing children and should be used cautiously by persons with schizophrenic conditions, herpes, or anyone taking ACE inhibitors (certain high blood pressure medications). Also L-arginine can affect treatment dosages of hypertensive and nitrate medications such as nitroglycerin, so monitor yourself closely as you achieve wound closure.

Impaired Circulation
Inadequate blood flow keeps pressure sores from healing and also makes for cold hands and feet. Both ginger and cayenne pepper are known to increase circulation and can be added in cooking or bought in capsules to get adequate amounts (and avoid the spiciness). Cayenne is also sold as capsicum or capsaicin. Start with just one capsule, always with a meal to avoid heartburn. Then work up to two capsules as your body adjusts. Since cayenne also serves as a blood thinner, persons taking blood thinners such as Coumadin or warfarin should have their clotting factors carefully monitored until correct amounts are determined. Historically, in some regions people who suffered from cold feet or were going to be out in freezing weather sprinkled cayenne pepper into their shoes for warmer feet. It could be worth a try for those who have sensation in their feet.

Blood Sugar Regulation
The epidemic of type 2 diabetes is frightening, especially for sedentary people. Anything you can do to avoid it is worth the effort. In addition to all the well-known admonitions to lose weight, exercise, avoid trans fats, starches, sugars and carbonated beverages, there is at least one enjoyable spice to help regulate blood sugar — cinnamon. Sprinkle it generously on oatmeal, cereal, fruit salad, yogurt, toast, coffee, spiced tea, etc. For more beneficial amounts, shop your local independent pharmacy for CinnDromeX (by Xymogen) or Cinnulin (available online from several sources). Cinnamon supplements also seem to help curb the appetite and lower blood pressure, as well as help regulate blood sugar.

Sharon Gardner has written numerous articles for New Mobility. She has a wealth of experience with alternative treatments and natural medicine. Recently she acquired half-interest in an herb store, but wants readers to know that she also considers traditional medicine an important part of staying healthy.

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