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Spine Health: What You Need to Know

Spine Conditions

October 16th is World Spine Day. World Spine Day is part of Bone and Joint Decade Action Week. The day was formally launched by the World Federation of Chiropractic in 2012, with the goal to raise awareness about spinal health and spine disorders.

World Spine Day will be celebrated on every continent, with health professionals, exercise and rehabilitation experts, public health advocates, schoolchildren and patients all taking part.

If you’ve ever experienced back pain before, you know how much it hurts. Often the problem is muscular, but occasionally the problem is directly related to the spine.

On World Spine Day, we're discussing spine health, what types of problems can develop, risk factors for spinal conditions along with their diagnosis and treatment. Spine Health is important to maintaining good mobility throughout old age. Learn what you can do to prevent these common problems.

Common Types of Spinal Conditions

Spinal Conditions

Degenerative spine and disc conditions:

Other spine conditions and disorders can include:

This link to the website Spine Universe gives you a complete list of all the various spinal conditions and information about them.

Causes of Spine Disorders

Spine disorders have a wide variety of causes depending on the particular condition. For some conditions, the causes are unknown. Common causes include:

  • Abnormal Bone Growth
  • Accidents or falls
  • Cancer
  • Congenital disorders (present since birth)
  • Degenerative wear and tear that comes with ageing
  • Inflammation
  • Infection
  • Inherited disorders
  • Injuries ranging from minor to traumatic

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Risk Factors for Spine Disorders

Factors that can increase the risk of developing a spine disorder include:

  • Excess weight or obesity
  • Improper lifting techniques
  • Nutrition and lifestyle habits such as sedentary lifestyle, low calcium intake, or smoking
  • Other conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or thyroid disease
  • Overuse from exercise or occupational movement
  • Poor posture
  • Repetitive strenuous activities

Symptoms of Spine Disorders

Signs and symptoms depend on the specific spine disorder and often affect other parts of the body, depending on the area of the spine or spinal cord that is affected. Common symptoms include:

  • Abnormally rounded shoulders or back
  • Back or neck pain that can be sharp and stabbing, dull and aching, or burning
  • Bladder or bowel dysfunction
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Pain radiating in the arms or legs
  • Stiffness or tightness
  • Uneven appearance, such as one shoulder or hip being higher than the other
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling in the arms or legs
back pain and spinal conditions

Diagnosis of Spine Disorders

Spine experts will conduct a thorough evaluation, including:

  • Physical exam
  • Discussion of personal and family medical history
  • Discussion of symptoms and risk factors
  • Neurological exam, if a nerve injury or disorder is suspected

Depending on each patient’s individual case, your doctors might recommend one or more tests, such as:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan: MRI uses radio waves and a strong magnet to produce detailed images of the spine. MRI is useful in detecting injuries and disorders in soft tissue such as muscles, ligaments, tendons, spinal cord, and nerves.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: CT uses specialized X-rays with or without a contrast agent to produce cross-sectional, 3D images of the spine. CT provides images that are more detailed than plain X-rays for evaluating bone injuries or disorders.
  • X-ray: X-rays of the neck or different areas of the back to check for bone problems such as fractures, other injuries, and chronic disorders.
  • Biopsy: If cancer is suspected, neurosurgeons can take a small tissue sample for analysis under a microscope.
  • Electromyography (EMG): Electrodiagnostic examinations measure electrical activity generated by muscles and nerves. They generally involve seeing how different parts of the body react to stimuli.

Treatment for Spine Disorders

Spine specialists often use one or more treatments, depending on the specific condition or injury. Treatments offered include:

  • Back bracing
  • Cancer treatment such as surgery to remove tumors, radiation therapy, radiosurgery, and chemotherapy
  • Chiropractic Care
  • Ice or heat therapy for injuries
  • Injections, such as corticosteroids or nerve blocks, for pain
  • Massage for relief of back pain
  • Medications such as anti-inflammatories, pain relievers, or muscle relaxers
  • Rehabilitation using physical therapy to strengthen and stretch the back and abdominal muscles
  • Surgery to replace discs, fuse (connect) vertebrae, open up the spinal canal, or repair nerves
healthy spine

Lifestyle Is Important

It’s important to pay attention to your lifestyle when it comes to spine problems. If you are overweight, it puts added pressure on your spine and can cause issues like arthritis to become even more painful. Exercise on a regular basis and do spine strengthening moves such as stretches and yoga.

Be aware of your surroundings in order to avoid accidents and falls. Use proper safety equipment at all times, especially if you are working at heights such as roofs or trees.

Lift properly, using your legs and not your back. Even a minor change in your lifting habits will help to protect you. Engage your core muscles and using lifting straps for heavier items.

Quitting smoking is always good as it helps to increase blood circulation which is always good for the body including the spine.

Conclusion

A healthy spine is a happy spine. If you are experiencing problems with your back, see your Family Physician first to rule out any serious problems. Massage or Chiropractic care may be the first step to healing, or you may need to see a specialist. The important thing is to seek treatment early so you have the best chance of gaining full recovery.


Pamela Jessen lives in Langford, BC Canada. She is a blogger who writes about Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue and Invisible Illness at pamelajessen.com.  She also writes for The Mighty,  PainResource.com and various independent publications. Pamela is also a Patient Advocate with the Patient Voices Network in BC.  She sits on 4 committees and one Provincial working group and has also been involved in advocacy work at the Canadian National level as well. Pamela is married to her amazing husband Ray and they have one cat named Dorie. 

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Living With Forestier’s Disease, aka DISH

spine_general_DISH_intro01Forestier’s Disease is a rare form of degenerative arthritis. More commonly known as diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH), this disease attacks the ligaments of the body and turns them to bone.

The process is caused by the buildup of calcium salts in the ligaments and tendons, creating abnormal new bone growth (ossification). Doctors are unsure what causes this process to occur, but some suspect there is a genetic component. The hardening of the ligaments leads to joint stiffness and eventual loss of mobility.

DISH can occur in any part of the body, but most commonly affects the spine and lower back. Some people have DISH in their neck ligaments, which can make swallowing difficult. Other areas affected include the shoulders, elbows, ribs, knees, feet and ankles.

When it attacks the ligaments of the feet and ankles, DISH results in heel spurs, small sharp growths of bone that appear along the heel. DISH can be progressive. As it worsens, it can cause serious complications.

Causes of DISH

  • Sex. Men are more likely to develop DISH than women.
  • Age. DISH is most common in older adults, especially in people older than 50.
  • Diabetes and other conditions. People with type 2 diabetes might be more likely to develop DISH than are those who don’t have diabetes. Other conditions that can raise insulin levels in your body may also increase your risk, including hyperinsulinemia, prediabetes and obesity.
  • Certain medications. Long-term use of medications called retinoids, such as isotretinoin (Amnesteem, Claravis, others), which are used to treat skin conditions such as acne, can increase your risk.

Symptoms of DISH

DISH does not initially produce symptoms. As it progresses, you might experience:

  • pain and stiffness in your joints, especially in the morningSymptoms of DISH
  • loss of motion in your feet, lower back and other affected areas
  • inability to stretch fully
  • pain in your back, knee or heel
  • Loss of range of motion
  • Tingling, numbness, and/or weakness in the legs
  • Spinal fractures and increased risk of breaking other affected bones
  • Compressed or pinched nerves (radiculopathy)
  • Compressed spinal cord (myelopathy) which can lead to partial or complete paralysis of the legs and/or arms (paraparesis, tetraparesis)
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Hoarse voice or difficulty speaking (dysphonia)
  • Sleep apnea
  • Decreased lung capacity (if DISH affects the ribs)
  • Difficulty breathing possibly due to airway obstruction

You should always consult a doctor if you’re experiencing pain and stiffness or if you have bone spurs.

Complications

In most cases, DISH causes mild discomfort, allowing patients who have it to live with the symptoms through a combination of pain relievers, stretching exercises, other interventions and in rare cases, surgery to remove bone growth.

For others, the disease may continue to progress which can result in a complete loss of mobility in the affected joints. For instance, if you have DISH in your shoulder, it can make it difficult to raise your arm or move it in all its natural positions.

Fractures are a serious complication of DISH because the stiffness of your tendons makes your bones more likely to fracture if you’re injured.

One huge drawback with DISH is that the pain and stiffness can mimic many other conditions, so proper diagnosis and treatment is essential.

Diagnosis and Treatment

DISH Thoracic_spine_AP
An xray shows the skeletal changes of a DISH patient in the Thoracic Spine.

A diagnosis of diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH) is often suspected by the signs and symptoms a person has. X-rays can confirm the diagnosis. In some cases, a computed tomography (CT scan) and/or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be ordered to rule out other diseases that cause the same symptoms.  All three types of imaging studies may be used to see which other areas of the skeleton are affected by DISH.

There is no cure for DISH, but you can

  • Treat underlying conditions. If you have diabetes or another condition associated with insulin resistance, getting that condition under control will help minimize the symptoms of DISH. Maintaining a healthy weight will also help.
  • Get pain relief. Ask a podiatrist for pain relievers that can treat joint stiffness in your legs, feet, and ankles. Your doctor might prescribe corticosteroid injections for more severe pain.
  • Increase mobility. Gentle stretching exercises can keep your ligaments from becoming overly stiff and brittle. Ask your doctor to recommend a regimen for your joints that will keep them moving. Walking, bicycling, and Aqua exercises are all excellent ways to stay mobile.

My Personal Experience

I was diagnosed with DISH in 2014 after going to the Emergency Room for chest pain. After a number of tests were done, including a CT Scan, the doctor informed me that they had discovered I had DISH in my Thoracic Spine (after ruling out heart problems for the chest pain).

I had always had pain and stiffness in my spine but assumed it was “regular” arthritis, as I have Osteoarthritis throughout my body. Finding out it was something different came as a surprise to me. I discovered that because I have Diabetes Type 2, it was likely a contributing factor. In the years since the diagnosis, I have developed bone spurs in my left ankle, and the DISH has spread to include my Lumbar spine as well as the Thoracic spine. The bone spurs on my spine look more like melted candle wax than actual spurs which is typical for this disease.

I find the stiffness is the most difficult part of having DISH. The sensation is like trying to stretch, but never quite getting enough range of motion, so you’re left feeling “incomplete.” It’s almost like one good “pop” would make things better. I do stretching exercises and use a foam roller to help minimize the stiffness, and I’m conscious of my voice as well. I’ve developed some hoarseness over the years which could indicate that the DISH has affected my cervical spine.

I don’t take any additional medication for DISH with the exception of an occasional muscle relaxant if my back is particularly stiff. By relaxing the muscles around the spine, I get some relief from the stiffness that is part of DISH. I find that my stretching exercises are usually effective enough to bring relief. Heat sometimes helps with the stiffness as well, and a good muscle rub or magnesium rub can make a difference in pain levels as well.

activity-fitness-leisure-374589

Conclusion

If you are experiencing pain and stiffness in the spine or noticing that you are developing bone spurs on your feet (or hands), consult with your doctor and ask about whether DISH could be causing your problems. X-rays and/or other imaging tests can help to determine if there are problems with the ligaments or if there is increased bone growth.

Discovering DISH early can help you get a treatment plan in place to provide relief. Although DISH is considered “rare”, it seems like it’s becoming more predominant than in the past so the sooner you get a diagnosis, the better.

Resources and Further Reading

Pamela Jessen lives in Langford, BC Canada. She is a blogger who writes about Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue and Invisible Illness at pamelajessen.com.  She also writes for The Mighty,  PainResource.com and various independent publications. Pamela is also a Patient Advocate with the Patient Voices Network in BC.  She sits on 4 committees and one Provincial working group and has also been involved in advocacy work at the Canadian National level as well. Pamela is married to her amazing husband Ray and they have one cat named Dorie. 


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Neck Strengthening Exercises

These resistance exercises for the neck are so simple, I had a tough time conveying the concept. Basically, you’re going to push against your head in order to create resistance; something for your neck to have to fight against. You can’t really see it in the video, because you’re not supposed to move your head, you just meet your hand with equal resistance. It should remain in basically the same position as you resist the force of your hand. You want to do these exercises coming from all four directions, both sides, front and back. Keep your hand position toward the top of the skull on each side. Your hand should be positioned on the center of your forehead when facing the front, so the pressure is high on your skull, but well balanced. On the sides of the head, your hands should be slightly in front of and above your ears. In the back, it should be a mirror of the positioning on your forehead.  It doesn’t really matter if you do a whole set before moving to another side or one repetition; just do what’s most comfortable for you and gets you in a good rhythm. They will help you to gradually build up the muscles in your neck. You can hold them beginning at a count of three as I do in this video and work your way up to a longer hold and more repetitions. You should not experience any pain with this exercise. If you do, you may be exerting too much pressure and need to ease up. You may also benefit from more magnesium in your diet and/or myofascial therapy. if you have persistently sore muscles.

I look at these exercises as a way to maintain a healthy neck. If you already have neck issues that you’re struggling with, seek a therapist and imagining, if necessary. I’ve gone through five or six different head and neck therapies and there’s one I felt was most effective, but of course I’ve lost all the information I had on it and haven’t seen the practitioner for years. I had terrible neck pain for the longest time, but never could quite determine how much was attributed to coat hanger headaches and how much was the damage to my cervical spine caused by my degenerative disc disease. I do have instability in my neck from a couple of herniated discs, but once I got my POTS under control and had been working on  my head, neck and shoulders by fasciablasting them for about a year, my neck pain resolved, with the exception of the occasional twinge.

The important things to remember during this exercise is that you maintain good posture while doing it, try not to hyper extend or overexert your neck by pushing too hard or doing too many reps, and be sure to keep your movements slow, measured and steady. Jerking movements to the neck can be damaging and of course that’s exactly what we want to avoid. Since you can vary the amount of pressure, number of repetitions and length of time you hold the movement, it’s easy to increase the challenge of this exercise. Finally, in my opinion these exercises are safer than flexion and extension exercises for zebras, which primarily involve stretching and could damage our already fragile collagen.

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AloeMD; Pain Relief + Healing

This article was last checked and updated 4/8/19 by Capricious Lestrange.


AVAloeMDAloeMD is a topical pain relief cream that I recently had the opportunity to try as part of a 3 day study.  The claims about AloeMD are impressive, so I was a little wary at first. I was told it would not only relieve my pain, but actually heal the extracellular matrix and that it would actually become more effective over time, requiring me to use less and less.  They also claimed that it was as effective at relieving pain as NSAIDs and nearly as effective as steroids, yet it didn’t contain any of these substances.  Could it really be as good as they were saying?  I’ve been sold a lot of stuff that makes big promises only to break them.  However, after only five days (I couldn’t give it up after 3), I’ve seen these claims in action personally and I want to share everything I learned.

Having hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, fibromyalgia, and a mast cell activation disorder, I have suffered from chronic pain since childhood. I have chronic joint dislocations and subluxations, severe migraines, tension headaches from occipital neuralgia and minor TMJ dysfunction, bone pain, fibromyalgia tender points, muscle aches and spasms, frequent bouts of tendonitis and frequent stomach and bowel pain. Being allergic to codeine and unable to tolerate opioids, I have suffered for decades without acceptable pain relief until I turned to holistic medicine. I have tried many things with varying degrees of success. I’m always on the lookout for something more effective so when I heard Aloe Veritas, the makers of AloeMD were looking for study participants, I raised my hand with insistence.

Already being aware of some of the great benefits of aloe and what it can do to improve collagen in EDS, I was curious about this pain cream and how it might fare against the chronic joint pain of hEDS. Aloe has been used to heal a variety of other conditions for years. Just look at all the conditions people have been using aloe to treat since time immemorial:

AVUses

My AloeMD Trial Results

I decided to use AloeMD on my left elbow for my trial. My left elbow has been causing me pain for over a year, as the tendons are so stretched that my elbow will not stay in proper position for longer than a couple of minutes. It is constantly inflamed and in pain. When it gets far enough out of position, it begins to throb with a stabbing sort of pain and sometimes it becomes so inflamed I cannot get it back into position without a good deal of force. These tendons are constantly in a state of duress, despite months and months of rest, physical therapy, ice, magnesium baths and use of a specially mixed topical pain cream that contains local anesthetic and NSAIDs.

The first time I used AloeMD, I thought for sure I was the victim of the placebo effect. The pain relief came so quickly, I thought I was surely imagining things. Within 5 minutes the pain was significantly reduced. Within 15, it was completely gone. It didn’t last long that first time, only 90 minutes. So I applied some more. Again the relief was almost immediate and this time it lasted a full 2 hours. I noticed this was the trend. Each time I applied it, it acted just as quickly, but each application seemed to last a little longer than the last. When I woke up the next morning, I wasn’t in nearly as much pain as usual. I applied the cream and my pain was completely gone within 10 minutes. This time, I didn’t have to apply anymore until 4 hours later. By the end of day two, I realized I’d put it on about half as often as I did the first day. By day 3, I only used it four times and on day 4 only three.

What really blew me away was that within 2 or 3 minutes of applying it to my elbow, my joint would spontaneously pop back into place, no adjusting, twisting or jerking necessary. I barely moved my arm and heard that loud, satisfying *pop!* of it returning home.

While I never look forward to these things, I can’t wait to try it on other subluxating and dislocating joints. It can be terribly painful to get displaced joints back in, so having a cream that immediately reduces inflammation and decreases pain could be a real game changer for most zebras who traditionally rely on much slower acting pain methods to get them through. My elbow now slides back in like butter and overall, I’m noticing less and less of a pop when applying it, so likely it’s staying a lot closer to home with the reduction of inflammation and healing that has taken place. It’s early yet, but I also haven’t had any full dislocations of the joint in the last 3 days. Since it usually pops out daily and I was certain I was headed for surgery, this is huge for me.

8 Month Update

We ran our of our first 5 ounce tube of this miracle cream right around the 7 month mark and I used this cream on everything. It is every bit as much the lifesaver for dislocations that I suspected. It takes the swelling down immediately and makes it so much easier to get joints to realign and stay there. I’ve only had one scenario where the pain relief AloeMD offers wasn’t enough; my entire cervical spine shifted out of place because it’s herniated at either end. When it shifited, it was pinching a nerve and sending shooting pain through my right arm, rib cage and back. My spine was so far out of alignment, it caused a domino effect where my shoulder and then elbow and sometimes even my wrist would dislocate. It significantly reduced the pain, but it couldn’t quite get rid of it for the first 3-4 days. Everything was going great and I could tell it was healing fine, when I RAN OUT of AloeMD! I ran out and I was flat friggin’ broke. Thinking my neck and shoulder were far enough along to go without, I set myself back completely and everything popped out of place again. When I finally got it three weeks later, I was still struggling terribly. Within two weeks of getting the bottle, it’s almost as if I never went through this terrible experience. This stuff really is worth every single penny.

AVAloeMDBenefits

What Types of Pain will AloeMD Treat?

I still have a lot of testing to do to see how it helps my other types of pain long term. Since I only have a limited supply intended for the test, I decided to do a little “spot treating” of some pain points just to see how it worked on my pain in the short term. I found it very effective for the osteoarthritis pain in my knees, my fibromyalgia tender points and my right hand feels AMAZING after rubbing it into my left elbow over the last five days! I’m so used to dealing with some level of hand pain that I don’t even think about it anymore. Even the pain of holding my fasciablaster and handwriting has been significantly reduced.

AVAloeMDvNSAIDSAVAloeMDEffectiveWhen treating these other types of pain, it worked in the same amount of time as it did with my elbow and offered the same amount of pain relief. The pain I have used it on has ranged between a 1 to a 6 and all of it has been successfully treated with AloeMD without the use of any other pain relievers. While using AloeMD, I have not experienced any side effects or allergic reaction to it, despite having a terribly sensitive and unruly mast cell activation disorder. I feel confident it is safe and effective for any spoonie or zebra to use, but of course consult your doctor with any questions you may have about it’s suitability. The ingredients for all their products are listed on the website.

AVAloeMDThermographySpeaking of fasciablasting, I can’t wait to try out AloeMD in conjunction with fasciablasting. The hardest part of blasting for us zebras is how painful it can be starting out, in addition to the hand pain we deal with just from holding the blaster. I think AloeMD is going to work great as a before or after application cream (or possibly both). Not only will it reduce the pain related with blasting, but the inflammation, while also fostering increased blood flow. It sounds like a big win to me, but of course I’ll do more experimentation and get back to you with my thoughts on this.

Why AloeMD Works

AVAloeMDAIChartSo why is AloeMD so effective? Because it helps heal the extracellular matrix (ECM) with polysaccharides, antioxidants and the other natural healing agents of Aloe, Japonica root (the same place quercetin comes from), resveritrol, curcumin, citrus containing ceramides and other hardworking natural ingredients I’ve mentioned many times before at the  Zebra Pit. A white paper I received on the cream explains,

“Disruption of the ECM in mammalian tissues has been implicated in a number of disease processes. ECM deterioration has been associated with poor prognosis of many types of connective and hyperproliferative disorders. In particular, destabilization of proper ECM structure and function in human tissues, such as breast and prostate tissues, has been shown to aggravate the disease process in those organs. This disruption manifests itself in a number of indications, including overexpression of tRAS, inflammation, infection, loss of tissue integrity and biochemical imbalances in the cells contained within the matrix, and can lead to increases in mammographic density, microcalcification, degeneration of healthy tissue, and a number of neoplastic and other disease processes in situ”

“An intact ECM supports cell, tissue, organ, and organ system integrity by providing for proper physiologic functioning of each biologic entity. Chronic alteration of this microenvironment resulting in a prolonged state of dysfunction will lead to end-stage structural alterations that are termed “pathological.”  Stabilization of the ECM represents a defense against the onset and progression of chronic disease.  AloeMD Cream may work to decrease prolonged ECM disruption represented by various chronic disease states.”

“AloeMD Therapeutic Cream has demonstrated that successful stabilization of the ECM can decrease the morbidity of chronic processes by reducing pain and preserving healthy organ function. 1

These results mirror my own experience with trying AloeMD. In fact, I feel like I definitely got more relief from applying this cream than I have from the use of advil or Tylenol and since it has a cumulative effect, while I at first needed to apply it more often than I am even allowed to use my local anesthetic cream, I am using it less in the long run. It will also work out to be a lot less expensive, too. Over the 5 days, I have used less than 7ml in total, as all it takes is a dime sized application for any joint.

To learn more about AloeMD and its creator, Dr. McWherter, watch the video below:

AloeMD Facts:

  • Use it as often as needed. With no contraindications for use, you can apply it as often as you need
  • It starts working immediately at reducing inflammation and pain
  • It’s natural and gentle on sensitive skin.
  • It decreases free-radical damage
  • It promotes long-term healthy cellular function
  • It absorbs and penetrates where needed most through smart delivery technology
  • It defends and strengthens the protective barrier around the cells, preventing interruption of healthy growth
  • It diminishes the negative side effects of distressed DNA
  • It optimize the body’s own ability to reinforce health using your innate “Doctor Within”

AVBenefitsofAV

To purchase AloeMD and check out their many other exciting products, visit the store. You can also join the facebook group 4ever Aloe to learn more about the product, see more testimonials from people who have tried it and learn about the science behind the pain relief. I will also be sharing more on each of the Aloe Veritas products as I try them, so be sure to follow the blog if you aren’t already. I’ll be trying the Aloe Veritas Drink Gel next!

While this is a post I wrote in exchange for an opportunity to try this product, I have provided my complete and honest opinion and experiences with AloeMD, just as I have with every product I’ve reviewed here. I’ve actually been so pleased with the way AloeMD has worked for me, I may be partnering with Aloe Veritas to offer their products to our community here. Aloe Veritas offers exactly the kind of quality natural products I want to represent and promote at the Zebra Pit to aid in the health and wellness of our community. This would be a new frontier for us, but it falls in line with our overall mission of providing relief and aiming for better health and quality of life despite chronic illness.

Pinterest Image shows a white squeeze tube that says "AloeVeritas Health: AloeMD: True Cellular Therapy." The text says "Chronic Pain? Get relief fast with the topical pain reliever that's changing the name of the game. AloeMD not only relieves pain, it actually heals the extracellular matrix, significantly reducing healing time. Read all about it and find out how to get your free sample."