The Problem of Pain
At the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, there is a slogan—one of many—painted on the wall inside the receiving hall: Pain is weakness leaving your body.
The idea that pain is ennobling and that enduring it is a required rite of passage has held sway for generations, but recent advances in medical research are changing attitudes toward what pain is and how it’s properly treated.
Like the Marine Corps, athletics has also had a long and unhealthy relationship with pain. There’s nothing more clichéd than a coach telling players to “gut it out” and trade pain for gain, and because of that, athletes have been particularly susceptible to addiction to pain-killing medication. The 2014 lawsuit brought by eight retired NFL players is just the latest example of how mis-managed pain can become a damaging and very expensive situation.
Pain is costly. A study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University put the annual cost of pain treatment at over $630 billion in the US, more than the treatment costs for cancer, heart disease and diabetes combined. In that light, the search for more effective pain treatments that work with the body’s healing systems is more than just good medicine, its good health policy.
The old thinking was that pain was an inconvenient byproduct, a distraction from the “real” problem of trauma, infection, or inflammation. Modern thinking is very different. According to the Stanford University School of Medicine’s Pain Management Center, “pain is now seen as a discrete disease entity—one that fundamentally alters the entire nervous system.”
Athletes—especially at the elite level—are always open to new thinking, especially if it improves performance, so it’s no surprise that sports medicine is where cutting-edge pain management techniques are first adopted. Ironically, one “ advance” has been the re-introduction of ancient pain management techniques, and that’s exactly what the doctors at RSM associates in Syracuse, New York have begun offering
“We have a good marriage now of traditional medicine with alternative medicine to give more treatment options for pain management to treat our athletes and everyday patients ”- Dr. Irving Raphael
After relying on traditional western medicine to treat Syracuse University’s top athletes for almost 25 years, Dr. Irving Raphael and his son Brad teamed up with Dr. Renee Melfi to form RSM Medical Associates.
For many years Dr. Raphael’s primary practice was providing treatment for the Division 1 athletes at Syracuse University. In that capacity, everyone from Donovan McNabb to Derrick Coleman has had their knees, ankles, shoulders and elbows treated.
Over the years Dr. Raphael and his team have seen every sports injury under the sun. In 2011, the father-son team became interested in treating pain as a disease, so they partnered with Dr. Renee Melfi.
“Dr. Melfi is unique in combining western medicine and alternative medicine. She is not only has a MD degree but did her post doctorate study in physiatry and is certified in alternative medicine” –Dr. Irving Raphael
Dr. Melfi studied medicine at St. George’s University specializing in Physiatry. She also bought an extensive knowledge of traditional Eastern medicine to RSM.
Physiatrists are also called rehabilitation physicians. They are nerve, muscle, and bone experts who treat injuries or illnesses that affect movement. The addition of physiatry to acupuncture, chiropractic, osteopathic medicine, and other Eastern medical practices, is the new holistic approach to sports-related pain and chronic pain being pioneered by offices like RSM. It’s especially important in cases where conventional western medicine has proven ineffective, or even dangerous.
“We want to investigate every possible resource for our patients to lead a pain free life” says Dr. Irving Raphael. “We feel it’s important to explore all treatment options, even those that may not be considered the norm by modern standards.”
When Dr. Brad Raphael was experiencing neck pain he turned to Dr. Melfi and acupuncture. “Without much knowledge I was skeptical at first” he says, “but I was an instant believer when I received almost immediate relief.”
With successes like that it’s no surprise that the physiatry division of RSM has been growing—so much so that Dr. Melfi has hired a new physiatrist to help treat the increase in patient volume.
If you’d like to know more about RSM’s approach to pain management, check their website here.