Category Archives: Wellness

Man rubbing his lower back.

Neurosurgeons Got Your Back

Your back hurts. Obviously, it’s something wrong with the bones in your spine, right? Actually, the culprit is more likely to be a nerve within your spinal column. So consider putting your back pain in the right hands… a neurosurgeon’s hands.

Why does it hurt? “Generally people end up in pain because a nerve is being compressed or pinched by some mechanical aspect of the body, like a disc or piece of bone,” explains Charles H. Clark, III, MD, with Neurosurgical Associates in Birmingham. Fortunately, neurosurgeons specifically train for years on the entire nervous system, including how to relieve the pain created in the spine.

My back! My back!
About 75% of most neurosurgeons’ patients are dealing with back pain. “Usually for us, the most common procedures are to treat lumbar and cervical problems, such as herniated discs,” says Dr. Clark.

You’re home the same day. People often think back surgeries will keep them hospitalized and down for days. “But more than half of the spinal procedures we do, like routine cervical disc or lumbar work, are outpatient procedures now,” says Dr. Clark.

Did you know smoking hurts your back? “It can accelerate back and neck problems, because it constricts blood vessels, and the spine is alive with tiny blood vessels,” says Dr. Clark. “Less blood flow from constricted vessels has been shown to increase your chances of having back problems.”

Is surgery the only way? The body, says Dr. Clark who’s been practicing neurosurgery for 31 years, is a remarkable healing machine. “People can get well without surgery, and sometimes doctors are too quick to do surgery,” he says. So at Neurosurgical Associates, both surgical and non-surgical physicians provide you with numerous options for treating back pain.

Seven more years. The reason you’ll never waste time seeing a neurosurgeon for your back pain, or any nerve-oriented pain, is because they spend as many years learning about the nervous system and its various treatment options as you did going through middle school AND high school combined. That’s seven focused years after medical school just on their specialty.

So remember that when it comes to back pain, “the symptom is coming from that nerve,” says Dr. Clark. “And neurosurgeons know how to manipulate nerves and the structures that are pinching that nerve. It’s what we’ve spent years learning to do for you.”

by Jane Ehrhardt

To read more about Dr. Charles Clark, click here.
For more on Neurosurgical Associates, click here.

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Knee Pain Got You Down?

Knee Pain Got You Down?

You’re not alone. Knee pain is the most common joint affliction among us all. But there’s no need to continue suffering. Orthopedic surgeons say options abound for relieving and deterring knee pain.

You step off the curb, and, BANG, you get a shot of pain from your knee. Or you start that trendy new exercise program and, POP, your knee twinges and spasms. Maybe you don’t think anymore about that initial knee pain. But should you?

RICE to the rescue. As soon as you know you’ve hurt your knee, follow the RICE rule: Rest, Ice, Compression (wrap it), and Elevation. “But if you’re unable to bear any weight on the knee, if it feels unstable, or you’re unable to move it, then seek medical attention,” says James V. Worthen, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with St. Vincent’s Orthopedics in Birmingham.

Before you change your routine.
Knee pain usually pops up when people start some new activity, especially in those over 50. “Especially if there’s a preexisting injury to your knee, it’s important to understand the injury, so you don’t aggravate it,” says Dr. Worthen. Get a professional opinion before trying any new dance moves, exercise routines, or hobbies. Even gardening creates potential risks to the knee. Professional knowledge is your best armor.

One pound equals three. The best thing you can do for your knees is stay trim. “Keep the weight off and keep moving,” says Dr. Worthen. “Just with walking, each pound of body weight means about three to five pounds gets transmitted through your knee with every step.”

Age is your enemy.
Not a surprising statement, perhaps, but worth mentioning because those over 50 have a less flexible meniscus — the cartilage padding between the end of your thigh and the shin bone. “That tears with lesser energy now, so even rising up from bending over while twisting during yard work can damage it,” says Dr. Worthen. Just be aware, he says, and that’s your best prevention.

What’s the cure? Most knee pain can be helped with time, therapy or medication from your physician. But many can require a specialist’s touch from an orthopedic surgeon. “Generally, in an orthopedic practice, knee pain is the number one thing we see,” says Dr. Worthen. But even then, only about 10% end up requiring knee surgery as the first option.

“There’s no magic bullet as far as prevention of knee pain,” says Dr. Worthen. But there’s no need to suffer with it when a visit to your physician or a knee specialist, like an orthopedic surgeon, could repair it or at least relieve it. “That’s what we’re here for,” he says.

by Jane Ehrhardt

To read more about Dr. James V. Worthen, click here.
For more on St. Vincent’s Orthopedics, click here.

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Every Step You Take Need Not Hurt

Are your tootsies giving you twinges of pain? Don’t suffer. Podiatrists know how to pinpoint that foot pain and offer you sweet relief.

The sexes finally rule equally in something. Unfortunately, that something is foot pain. Women do tend to suffer more, because they put fashion before comfort. But the most common causes of foot pain, like plantar fasciitis, bunions, and high arches, assault both sexes equally.

It’s on the bottom.
The most common cause of foot pain — well, it’s on your heel actually — is from plantar fasciitis. It hits you underneath or just behind your heel where the Achilles tendon attaches to the heel bone.

But I’m so young. “People in their mid 30s and 40s are still very active. But that’s when you begin to lose elasticity in the Achilles tendon. That tightness means you’re susceptible to plantar fasciitis,” says Todd Falls, DPM, with Montclair Podiatry in Birmingham.

You may never know.
“You can also injure your foot and not realize you’ve done it, like a slight slip as you’re walking or you step off the curb incorrectly. You can be suffering from things that aren’t obvious, like stress fractures, enlarged nerve of foot, gout or tendinitis,” says Dr. Falls.

It’s time!
“If you have any kind of foot or heel pain that lasts longer than five days and is not relieved by rest or taking anti-inflammatories, then it could be something more serious,” says Dr. Falls. So call your podiatrist. You don’t need to hurt.

Comfort is actually a preventative. “If people would think about using the truly appropriate shoe for their activity and not worry about the style so much, there’d be much less pain out there,” says Dr. Falls.

Try switching shoes throughout the day.
Not that you have to give up your look to keep your feet healthy, but maybe choose to wear walking shoes to and from meetings, the office and even inside your office. Then slip on those dressy, less supportive shoes only when hit a meeting, show a house, or enter the courthouse.

You can’t blame high heels. “Wearing high heels does not cause any condition,” says Dr. Falls. “But they don’t help. If you have foot or heel problems, than higher heels can cause more symptoms.”

The job doesn’t help.
“Policemen, hairstylists, delivery men, real estate agents, even paralegals lugging boxes to and from courtrooms. Any professional on their feet for most of the day, if you’re hurting, see a podiatrist,” says Dr. Falls. “Custom foot supports for your shoes or simple stretching exercises can treat a lot of different foot pains. We can help.”

by Jane Ehrhardt

To read more about Dr. Falls, click here.
For more on Montclair Podiatry, click here.

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Moles: Beauty Marks or Time Bombs?

Moles are unpredictable. Some lay like glorified exclamation points on the creamy skin of models and others grow into grotesque mini-mounds of tissue better suited to an ogre. But do you know which ones are dangerous?

Yes, Cindy Crawford and Marilyn Monroe made moles into beauty marks. But looks can be deceiving. Since most all moles grow, can you tell which ones just look like they’re trying to kill you and which ones mean you’re facing a real health danger?

What is that thing? Moles are pigment cells, called melanocytes, that grew in a cluster instead of spreading out. “These types of cells continue to grow,” says Retna Billano, MD, a dermatologist at Montclair Dermatology & Aesthetic Center in Birmingham. Most moles appear by the time you hit 20, with the average person having 10 to 40 moles by adulthood. Some grow slowly, some fast, some change color, many get lighter, and some may even disappear.

It all means something. And those changes can tell you, or more importantly, a dermatologist, if or when to do something about them. “The growing mole is not a concern unless it changes in character, like shape or texture or darkens in color,” says Dr. Billano. “Growing larger, but the same, is fine.” Otherwise, go see your dermatologist.

The sun, it burns!
“Nothing can inhibit the growth of a mole, but changes can be triggered by sunlight or some hormones, such as during pregnancy,” says Dr. Billano.

You can even get moles there. “The scalp and the bottom of the feet are places people don’t think to look for moles,” says Dr. Billano. Moles on the sole of your foot are most likely melanoma (skin cancer), so head right to your dermatologist.

Get it off me! If your dermatologist suspects the mole is cancerous, they will likely numb the area and cut the whole thing out, leaving you with some stitches. If they think it’s precancerous or it’s a mole that’s simply irritating to you, such as rubbing against your clothing, they will use a scalpel to “shave” it down to skin depth or freeze it off.

Young women are the worst. Because moles are so unpredictable, get a full body check of your moles every year. Start as early as 20 years old, because melanoma is the most common cancer in women ages 25-29. “Catch it early,” emphasizes Dr. Billano. “It’s curable if you catch it early.”

Remember that if you’re looking for certainty, look to your dermatologist. They can always tell whether that mole you’ve got is a burgeoning beauty mark or a little time bomb that needs defusing.

by Jane Ehrhardt

To read more about Dr. Billano, click here.
For more on Montclair Dermatology & Aesthetic Center, click here.

This article written and brought to you by

Acute pain in a neck at the young women

Ouch! Hey, There’s a Doctor for That.

The treatment of pain has become a specialty in medicine, like neurosurgery and podiatry.

You’re hurting. You’ve been hurting for a bit. So why not see a pain doctor. “Aren’t all doctors ‘pain doctors’?,” you ask. Actually, no. The treatment of pain has become its own specialty.

“Seeing a pain physician comes after seeing your primary care physician and usually before seeing a surgeon as a way to treat pain. And often after having surgery too,” says Kenneth Varley, MD, an interventional pain physician with Southern Pain Specialists in Birmingham.

When pain becomes the disease. “When the primary cause of your pain is as good as it’s going to get, then now the pain is the disease,” says Dr. Varley. That’s chronic pain, and that’s what pain doctors excel at treating. He says 70% of his patients come to him suffering from back pain.

Interventional what?
Interventional pain physicians (IPP) focus on treatments that don’t rely solely on narcotics, including psychological and behavioral methods, along with medical approaches.

Where does it hurt?
”Our primary function is diagnosis. That seems obvious, right?,” says Dr. Varley, a diplomate of the American Board of Pain Medicine. But IPPs focus on discovering the exact source of the pain, such as a nerve or disk tissue. “Then to prove our diagnosis, we inject an anesthetic into that nerve or area,” he says. “If we’re right, the pain goes away.” If not, they keep looking.

Make it go away.
“The first line of pain treatment is usually an injection of steroids, because 80% of pain is caused by inflammation,” says Dr. Varley. He also uses radio frequency to stop nerves from sending pain signals, prescribes medications, and utilizes techniques ranging from intradiscal electrothermal therapy (IDET) to laser discectomies.

Isn’t there a pill for that? Possibly. And some types of pain physicians focus on narcotics as their treatment. “But our ideal is to get patients off narcotics,” says Dr. Varley. “Even better is to let us see you before you start on a downward spiral of more and more pain medications.”

Time is not your friend.
“A lot of chronic pain is from a failure to treat it early,” stresses Dr. Varley. He says 50% to 60% of the patients he sees could have prevented their chronic pain with early intervention.

So now you know these medical experts exist who focus only on pain relief, find yourself one. Patience is not a virtue when it comes to chronic pain.

by Jane Ehrhardt

To read more about Dr. Varley, click here.
For more on Southern Pain Specialists, click here.

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It Takes More than Heart

It Takes More than Heart

Where your heart health is concerned, coronary artery disease Is actually the big threat.

Oh sure, the heart gets all the publicity. People say, “What a big heart!” and “She’s so strong-hearted.” And it was, after all, the Grinch’s heart growing three sizes that day that saved Christmas.

But it’s the tiny coronary arteries that keep that all-important pump filled with oxygen-rich blood. So if something goes wrong with those tiny vessels, then your one-and-only heart truly suffers.

But they’re just little tubes. Coronary artery disease (CAD), also called coronary heart disease, is the leading cause of death in the U.S. in both men and women. Unfortunately, these delicate vessels easily fall prey to blockages from plaque build-up that narrows their width. “But fortunately, you’re born with a heart that pumps more blood than you need. You have reserves,” says Clifton Lewis, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon with Cardio-Thoracic Surgeons in Birmingham.

Surely I’ll know when there’s trouble. “Some people need only a little blockage in one area to disable them with symptoms, while another person has almost everything closed off, and their first symptom is a heart attack. It’s all variable,” says Dr. Lewis, who’s been a board certified cardiothoracic surgeon for 22 years.

The two symptoms people ignore. “Fatigue and shortness of breath, particularly in women,” says Dr. Lewis. “Their energy and breath consistently give out quickly when they’re exerting themselves. In diabetics, they’re usually just tired.”

Oil your arteries. “Most people stumble into poor health,” says Dr. Lewis. “But if you’re eating fish, you may be stumbling into good health.” Some cold-water fish, like salmon, tuna, and mackerel, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, known to help reduce the build-up of plaque in arteries.

There’s no cure, so pay attention. “Coronary artery disease is a chronic, progressive, incurable disease. We don’t cure it; we make people live longer and relieve the disease,” says Dr. Lewis. “It’s a big unpleasant experience to get a bypass, so your goal is to not ever need me.”

He adds that to increase your odds of avoiding CAD, lead a healthy lifestyle: no smoking (even smokeless tobacco), stay lean, make exercise a religious endeavor, and eat a healthy diet. Otherwise, you may find yourself literally “broken-hearted”.

by Jane Ehrhardt

To read more about Dr. Lewis, click here.
For more on Cardio-Thoracic Surgeons PC, click here.

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