10 May 2017

Does your doctor always know best?

In the 18th century scurvy was a big problem for the navy. Nobody knew what caused it but it was a condition that made sailors too ill to work. Various cures were suggested: The Admiralty believed that vinegar was the answer. The Royal College of Physicians disagreed and recommended Sulphuric Acid (presumably very dilute). It was only when James Lind carried out a trial with a group of afflicted sailors that a cure was found. He divided the group randomly into four subgroups and gave each subgroup a different treatment: sulphuric acid, vinegar, lime juice or water.

Only the group given lime juice recovered and eventually this treatment found favour with everyone. Incidentally that is why British sailors got the nickname “limeys”.
The worrying thing is that the people in authority were adamant that their solution was correct, until they were proved wrong. And it begs the question: how many of our current medical practices are wrong and we just don’t know it yet?

This is the topic of the book I am currently reading and the good news is that it is free to read online. The book is called Testing Treatments by Evans, Thornton, Chalmers and Glasziou and you can find it here www.testingtreatments.org

And don’t blame your doctor for not knowing all the answers. The current regulatory system strongly leans against the sort of research that could help us all get better information about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to treating your illness. I strongly recommend this book as a dose of common sense in the confusing world of modern medicine.

4 November 2015

I had to smile

A delightful lady now in her eighties has been visiting me for the past fifteen years every month or so for an osteopathic “top up” and she swears it keeps her agile and flexible. She has little sympathy for her friends, often younger, who grumble about their aches and pains. “Go and see an Osteopath” is her usual advice.

She told me about one of her friends who on receiving this advice admitted to being nervous at being looked at. “Don’t worry my dear”, she replied. “He examines you as if you were a chair”.

29 August 2014

Are you kneeling comfortably

Knee problems keep surgeons busy. Around 80,000 knee operations are carried out by the NHS in the UK every year and a lot of them are triggered by overuse and repetitive movements. If you hurt your knee playing sport you can probably afford time off for recovery but if your livelihood depends on being able to kneel you are in trouble. Electricians, plumbers, decorators and carpet fitters probably spent more time kneeling than standing some days. The obvious risk is kneeling on something hard and sharp, a fragment of concrete or metal or an uneven surface with raised edges. The less obvious risk is prolonged pressure which can interfere with blood circulation and can cause bursitis; a painful inflammation that accounts for 20% of the compensation claims in knee overuse injuries.

As an osteopath I see quite a few "dodgy knees". Once the damage is done I can help reduce the pain but I can’t restore your knee once arthritis has permanently changed its shape. My advice is to protect your knees by using good quality knee pads while you are working.

Be wary of foam based products which can deform fairly quickly; I prefer something like "Redbacks" whose knee pads are designed to spring back into shape every time they are deformed and will give better protection


14 January 2013

Plumbing and Osteopathy – does it hurt when U-bend

I was chatting to a patient this morning and we gradually realised how similar our work patterns are. He is a plumber and his clients tend to fall into three discrete groups: emergencies, upgrades and maintenance. His maintenance clients tend to be those with boilers that need a clean and a once over every year. Mine are the individuals who like to keep their bodies flexible and feeling comfortable and they come along for a "loosen up" every three to eight weeks (it varies a lot). His upgrades are the clients who decide to have a new kitchen or bathroom because the old one is tired, or dysfunctional or no longer to their taste. My "upgrades" tend to be the patients who have come to realise that they creak and ache and are seizing up. Typically they get a shock when an old easy activity suddenly hurts, like turning to look right at a junction when driving. Or discovering that you don’t turn your head any more, you turn your whole body. And then we both have the emergencies. Sometimes they are due to lack of maintenance but other times things just happen. Sport, gardening and falling, twisting, lifting injuries are responsible for most of my emergencies. Most plumbing emergencies are when things stop working; like central heating systems. The only difference I suppose is that you can replace your entire plumbing system if necessary. Unfortunately you only get one body.

Plumbing and osteopathy
16 February 2011

Take the weight off your shoulders

I wrote recently "School Lightens the Load" about how schoolchildren in Kansas were relieved from having to lug heavy books around school.

An article today in the Daily Mail highlights another vulnerable group of people, young men are carrying their offices on one shoulder, and not surprisingly are developing strain patterns that used to be commonest in schoolchildren. The fashion item called a "man bag" is basically a pouch with a shoulder strap and will carry a laptop plus a lot more.

When I was a lad I had a paper round and the shop provided me with a canvas "man bag" to carry the papers in. I soon found that the casual, bagstrap on one shoulder approach was painful. I tried putting the strap across my body but that pressed painfully on my collar bone unless I supported the weight of the bag with one hand. The only solution was to minimise the carry time and deliver the papers as quickly as possible. And that I suggest is why you always used to see paper boys running.

So if you must carry several kilos around with you my suggestions are to run more, so that you cut down the carry time, or more sensibly get a wheelie bag like the ones used by airline cabin crew.

30 November 2010

How to deal with a sore throat

I have researched three methods and they work for me, usually, but not always. Let me know how they work for you.

  1. Gargle with nasty cheap red wine. You know the wine that you get for free with a five euro lunch in France, it will be high in tannins and other phenolic chemicals that are great for killing strep bugs. Gargle with it then spit it out, try not to swallow too much. Best not to do it at the table …
  2. Make some ginger tea. Not really tea but an infusion. Grate some fresh ginger root into a small pyrex bowl, add a spoonful of runny honey and a cup/mug full of boiling water, let it infuse for 5 minutes, strain into a fresh cup and sip. Repeat hourly until bedtime.

  3. This is an old fashioned naturopathic treatment that also works (for me) for hayfever congestion as well as sore throat. Take a flannel and soak it in cold water, fold it in half lengthways and put it over your throat like a scarf. Put a dry handtowel over it and secure the ends at the back of your neck. Lie down or sit still in a chair for 30 minutes. Prepare to be amazed at the result. You will probably be quite sweaty and have coughed up or sneezed up impressive amounts of gunge by the end of the process.
4 November 2010

Acupuncture treatment for anxiety

We now know which parts of the brain are involved with feelings of anxiety, sadness and pain. See the Sky News article for further information.

The two main parts of the brain that increase their activity when we feel stressed or anxious are the prefrontal cortex and the limbic centres. Recent research carried out in USA has shown acupuncture to reduce activity in these areas. The trials were done using fMRI a technique that lets researchers see which parts of the brain are active when the body is stimulated, eg by having an acupuncture needle put into a muscle.

The exciting possibility is that we may be able to treat chronic anxiety and some forms of depression with acupuncture.

18 October 2010

Guardian misses the point of acupuncture

I am disappointed at this type of sensationalist reporting by the Guardian headline "dozens killed by incorrectly placed acupuncture needles". Acupuncture must be one of the safest therapies around, think how many mortalities are caused by excessive or inappropriate use of prescription drugs. For starters, I would love to see some trials comparing acupuncture against some of the drugs commonly prescribed for IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or arthritic joint pain. Let me repeat: acupuncture is extremely safe.

Look at the figures Ernst quotes, 86 patients died over 45 years, from injuries to areas no sane acupuncturist would ever put needles. That’s less than two a year, And incidentally none in the UK. How does this make the case for more regulation? This is a “non-story”. It must be a quiet time for the news desk.

16 October 2010

Bounce, wobble, stretch and eat your way to a healthy BMI

To work out your BMI (Body Mass Index) first measure your height: the best way is to stand with your back to a wall, get a friend to mark the height with a pencil. Use a ruler or straight edge to get it accurate so you measure from the top part of your head. Next weigh yourself, set the scales to metric

Then use the formula

BMI = weight (kg)/ (height (m) x height (m))

To convert height to metric you need to know that 1 inch is 0.0254 metres
To convert weight to metric 1lb is 0.4545 kg

Or automatically calculate your BMI on the NHS Choices website

Underweight: BMI is 18.5 and below
Normal weight: BMI range is from 18.5 to 24.9,
Overweight: BMI range is 25 to 29.9
A BMI of 30 or greater indicates obesity

If you are a wee bit over perhaps you need to get more active, this is what I do: bounce, wobble and stretch – see my article on keeping fit and think about your eating and drinking habits

If you are a highly trained Olympic athlete don’t waste your time calculating your BMI, it will probably be meaningless! For us lesser mortals it is quite a useful guideline, easy and quick to measure and calculate.

11 October 2010

Why Hungarian red sludge is such bad news

Red sludge is a by-product from the Bayer process, used to extract aluminium from Bauxite ore. Over time the sludge will separate into two phases, a highly alkaline liquid and a sediment of arsenic and heavy metals (mainly chromium, manganese and nickel). The two phases are usually dealt with on site in different ways and made safe. In this case heavy rain caused the reservoir to break and 200 million gallons of the stuff escaped.

Two main problems are the alkalinity, at pH 12 the caustic liquid will quickly remove your skin and destroy pretty much any living tissue in a short time. Breathing in the vapour will quickly damage your lungs: its worse than tear gas. Arsenic in solution will kill fish and other marine life, arsenic and the heavy metals will get into the soil and may even leach into aquifiers, poisoning drinking water for many years into the future.

I can understand why the media are downplaying the severity of the problem, the consequences of this event are likely to be severe. Especially if, as is being hinted at, there is a further leak.

Blog Author

My name is Bill Ferguson and I am an Osteopath and Acupuncturist. I run a private practice in Tenterden, Kent.

Bill Ferguson, Osteopath and Acupuncturist
Bill Ferguson
Osteopathy Clinic
Tel: 01580 762754