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10 Uses for Botox That Aren't Wrinkle-Related

Botox is primarily known as a cosmetic treatment but doctors have discovered lots of other uses for it. Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Botox is primarily known as a cosmetic treatment but doctors have discovered lots of other uses for it. Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

When you hear the word Botox, you immediately think of celebrities getting injections to eliminate wrinkles on their foreheads or those crinkly lines around their eyes. In light of the drug's popularity as a cosmetic treatment, it's strange to think that what people are having injected into their faces is actually a toxin produced by botulinum. That's a type of bacteria that causes botulism, a particularly unpleasant and potentially fatal type of food poisoning [source: Kedlaya, Mapes].

Dr. Justinus Kerner, the German physician who first discovered botulism in the 1820s, originally called it "wurstgift" — German for "sausage poison." He also was the first person to inject himself with the stuff to document its effects, which include muscle weakness, difficulty swallowing and, if left untreated, paralysis and respiratory failure [source: Mapes].

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Eventually, doctors figured out that tiny, purified doses of the toxin actually could have beneficial effects. But beauty wasn't the first thing on their minds. When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved the preparation that eventually became known as Botox in 1989, it was for use in treating strabismus (cross-eyes), blepharospasm (eyelid spasms) and facial spasms [source: Kedlaya]. That toxin's ability to prevent nerves from sending signals to muscles (thereby causing muscle relaxation) could be used for many purposes.

In the early 1990s, a Canadian ophthalmologist, Dr. Jean Carruthers, discovered that when she injected Botox into patients to treat blepharospasms, their frown lines started to disappear. Dermatologists soon began using it for that purpose off-label, and by 1997, Botox was so much in demand that the supply temporarily ran out. The FDA eventually approved it for appearance enhancement [sources: Kedlaya, Mapes].

Doctors have found scores of other non-cosmetic uses for Botox. Here are 10 applications that don't have anything to do with wrinkly skin.

Botox is a safe and effective treament for migraines. Juan Silva/Getty Images
Botox is a safe and effective treament for migraines. Juan Silva/Getty Images

About 12 percent of Americans get migraine headaches, which can cause intense, throbbing pain that's often accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. Worse, the symptoms can last for hours, and chronic sufferers often experience migraines for at least two weeks out of every month. This can interfere with work, family life and just about everything else [source: Hendrick].

Migraines also can be frustratingly difficult to treat. That's why in the early 2000s, researchers began giving patients Botox injections around the eyes, forehead, jaw and other locations. The general idea was that the toxin, which disrupts pain messages to the brain, could prevent migraine pain [sources: ScienceDaily, Patz]. In 2010, the FDA approved Botox injections, given every 12 weeks, as a treatment for the most severe migraine patients.

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Since then, Botox injections have become a common treatment for migraines, and in 2016, the American Academy of Neurology recognized them as a safe and effective treatment [source: HealthDay News].

A patient gets a Botox injection in the underarm to reduce excessive sweating. BSIP/UIG via Getty Images
A patient gets a Botox injection in the underarm to reduce excessive sweating. BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

If you watched Donald Trump taunt rival Marco Rubio about his sweating during the race for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination — "I've never seen a human being sweat like that" — you saw evidence of how much importance our society places upon staying cool and collected [source: Lamagna].

That means that hyperhidrosis — excessive perspiration — is a particularly embarrassing stigma for some people. They get it so intensely that the sweat will soak through their clothing in minutes, making the condition difficult to hide, even with frequent wardrobe changes and use of absorbent pads. But fortunately, Botox can help alleviate their distress.

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For years, doctors have been injecting it into hyperhidrosis patients' underarms, as well as into the palms of their hands and the soles of their feet. The toxin paralyzes the sweat glands that are responsible for all that wetness. Patients get the injections once or twice a year, and it's a relatively low-stress procedure than can be performed right in the doctor's office, without anesthesia [source: ScienceDaily].

The treatment has become so popular that one Miami plastic surgeon told Marketwatch in 2015 that patients frequently asked him for it before important events, such as weddings or a court appearances.

Studies show that doctors can provide urinary incontinence patients with some relief by injecting their bladders with Botox.  Peter Dazeley/Getty Images
Studies show that doctors can provide urinary incontinence patients with some relief by injecting their bladders with Botox.  Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Some people experience a condition called urinary incontinence, in which an overactive bladder contracts too often or without warning. That can cause them to have a constant urge to run to the bathroom — and they may not make it in time.

But studies indicate that doctors may be able to provide urinary incontinence patients with some relief by injecting their bladders with Botox. In one 2015 study, researchers at New York University's Langone Medical Center followed 227 people who had Botox injections — typically two per year or less — over a four-year period. About nine in 10 patients experienced a decrease of 50 percent or more in the number of daily episodes of incontinence, and between 44 and 52 percent of patients saw the condition vanish [source: Mozes].

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Botox reduces activity in the bladder muscle by causing it to relax, thereby lessening episodes of urinary incontinence. The FDA approved Botox for treating urinary incontinence in 2013.

However, a 2015 study of 300 patients by Michigan-based urologists did point to a possible downside. They found that a fifth of their patients who received a single injection suffered acute urinary retention that required insertion of a catheter to relieve. Even so, 40 percent of the patients in the study were sufficiently pleased with the results and wanted a second injection [source: Mozes].

Caprice Kelton, age 40 (right), carefully adjusts the leg of her mother, Judy Bonham, 63, who suffers from multiple sclerosis in their California home. Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Caprice Kelton, age 40 (right), carefully adjusts the leg of her mother, Judy Bonham, 63, who suffers from multiple sclerosis in their California home. Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a condition that damages the nerves, disrupting and throwing out of sync the signals that they send to the body's muscles. That causes the muscles to tense up and move in ways that they don't want to, a condition called spasticity.

Botox, fortunately, offers MS patients some relief from that condition. The toxin blocks acetylcholine, the chemical that transmits those garbled nerve signals, and that allows muscular relaxation [source: WebMD].

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For Botox treatments to work effectively, a doctor may need to record electrical signals from the patient's body in order to determine which muscles are getting mixed-up signals. That way, the drug can be injected in the places where it will help. Usually, the treatment starts to work after a week or two, and the effect lasts for two to six months [source: WebMD].

A 2012 study also found that botulinum toxin may help prevent shaking and tremors in the arms and hands of MS patients, another persistent problem that they face. The researchers reported that patients' tremor severity improved by an average of two points on a 10-point scale (which indicated moderate symptoms being reclassified as mild), and that they showed improvement in their ability to write and draw [source: ScienceDaily].

This patient has strabismus, or crossed eyes. The earliest use of Botox was to treat this condition. BSIP/UIG via Getty Images
This patient has strabismus, or crossed eyes. The earliest use of Botox was to treat this condition. BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

As we mentioned in the introduction, one of the first uses that doctors discovered for Botox was treating strabismus, a condition that affects both children and adults. Strabismus is caused by imbalances in the pair of muscles that move the eye from side to side. If one of those muscles is weaker, the stronger counterpart will pull the eye in opposite direction. As a result, one eye may turn either inward — a condition that sometimes is called being cross-eyed — or outward. Since the stronger muscle is always contracting, it can become permanently tight. As a result, people can have trouble with depth perception or experience double vision [source: Metcalf].

Botox doesn't offer a permanent solution, but it can provide some relief from the problem. A doctor will inject it into the stronger muscle, so that it relaxes and has a chance to recover. The effects last a few months before a patient needs another injection [source: Metcalf].

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The American Academy of Ophthalmology's website describes Botox treatments as "an extremely safe and effective way of changing the position of the eyes."

A 2015 study showed surgeons may be able to reduce the chance of irregular heart beat rhythms (AFib) by injecting Botox into the fat surrounding a patient's heart after bypass surgery. DR P. MARAZZI/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/GETTY IMAGES
A 2015 study showed surgeons may be able to reduce the chance of irregular heart beat rhythms (AFib) by injecting Botox into the fat surrounding a patient's heart after bypass surgery. DR P. MARAZZI/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/GETTY IMAGES

About a third of the patients who undergo coronary bypass surgery suffer a complication called atrial fibrillation. AFib or AF, as it's also called, is a type of irregular heartbeat that can lead to stroke, blood clots, heart failure and life-threatening conditions. It also causes requires that patients remain in the hospital longer, which jacks up their healthcare costs.

But according to a study published in 2015, surgeons may be able to reduce the chance of those irregular rhythms occurring, by injecting Botox into the fat surrounding a patient's heart after bypass surgery. In two Russian hospitals, researchers found that in the 30 days following surgery, patients who received the Botox injections had a 7 percent chance of developing AF, compared to 30 percent in the control group who received a saline placebo instead.

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In the year after surgery, the patients who'd received the Botox injections fared even better. None of them developed AF, compared to 27 percent of the control group. No complications were reported in the patients who got the Botox injections.

While those results are promising, the researchers did caution that they must be replicated in more and bigger studies before Botox injections become a standard part of bypass surgery [source: AHA].

Gael Monfils of France checks his elbow after falling trying to reach a return against Rafael Nadal of Spain during a men's singles final match in Japan in 2010. You can get tennis elbow from other activities besides tennis. TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images
Gael Monfils of France checks his elbow after falling trying to reach a return against Rafael Nadal of Spain during a men's singles final match in Japan in 2010. You can get tennis elbow from other activities besides tennis. TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images

Tennis elbow is a soreness on the outside part of the upper arm, near the elbow. Basically, if you do a lot of repetitive twisting of your wrist — hitting a backhand, for example — small tears develop in the tendon that attaches the muscles in your forearm to the bone on the outside of your elbow. Though it's often a problem for people who play tennis or other racquet sports, you actually can develop the condition from any other activity that involves the same twisting motion over and over, whether it's painting, plumbing, cooking, or using a computer keyboard or mouse [source: MedlinePlus].

If you've ever had to endure this malady, you know that getting rid of it isn't easy. But a study published in 2010 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggests that Botox injections might help.

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In the study, researchers at a university hospital in Tehran, Iran gave injections to 48 tennis players who hadn't been helped by previous treatments. The shots paralyzed the extensor muscles of the fingers, relieving tension. The result was significant reductions in pain while the athletes were at rest.

The treatment, however, did have a significant drawback, in that it weakened the patients' ability to extend their third and fourth fingers, though that side effect faded after four months [source: Loriggio].

Botox can play a limited role in treating body tremors — it seems to provide better relief for people with head tremors rather than people with hand tremors. Giulia Marangoni/Getty Images
Botox can play a limited role in treating body tremors — it seems to provide better relief for people with head tremors rather than people with hand tremors. Giulia Marangoni/Getty Images

Essential tremor is a neurological disorder that can cause various parts of the body, such as the head or hands, to shake uncontrollably. It's caused by electrical fluctuations in the brain transmitting abnormal signals to the muscles. A patient with essential tremor in his dominant hand may find it difficult or impossible to write with a pen or pencil. Some patients have tremor that disrupt the muscles involved in speaking as well.

As Columbia University professor of neurology and epidemiology Dr. Elan D. Louis explained in a 2010 New York Times article, injecting Botox into the affected muscles can play a limited role in alleviating such symptoms. The idea is that it will block nerve transmissions and relax the muscles. But Louis warned: The more muscles that are affected by essential tremor, the less effective the injections are. Additionally, some patients also report weakness in the muscles that receive injections [source: New York Times].

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According to the Johns Hopkins Medicine website, Botox is generally recommended for patients with severe head tremors. While hand tremors also can be reduced with the treatment, the injections are more difficult to administer and it's harder to obtain a clear functional improvement from them.

Doctors have found that injecting Botox in the salivary glands of people with cerebral palsy has been very helpful in controlling excessive drooling. Maskot/Getty Images
Doctors have found that injecting Botox in the salivary glands of people with cerebral palsy has been very helpful in controlling excessive drooling. Maskot/Getty Images

One unpleasant effect of cerebral palsy and neurological disorders is that they can cause sialorrhea, or uncontrollable drooling, in both children and adults, which can be so severe the patients actually become dehydrated as a result. It also creates hygienic problems, and makes it more difficult for people living with the disorders to feel comfortable interacting with the non-disabled world.

Over the past decade, though, Botox has emerged as a treatment to curb drooling. In a 2005 study, British researchers found that injecting the toxin into the salivary glands in multiple spots helped 70 percent of young subjects to reduce their sialorrhea symptoms. The treatment lasted up to 12 months before the children needed repeat injections.

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Dr. Tony Ward, a British physician who used Botox to treat adults with the same problem, reported that it was similarly effective and improved patients' quality of life. "I had one patient who went through 120 boxes of tissues every month," he told BBC News. "Drooling can be very distressing."

A 2012 study by South Korean researchers also achieved impressive results, with 12 of 17 patients showing a more than 50 percent reduction in drooling [source: Jeung, et al.].

Plantar fasciitis is a common cause of heel pain. Botox can help to treat it, says one study. PeopleImages.com/Digital Vision/Getty Images
Plantar fasciitis is a common cause of heel pain. Botox can help to treat it, says one study. PeopleImages.com/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Plantar fasciitis is a condition in which the fascia — the connective tissue that surrounds the muscles — in the sole of the foot become painfully inflamed. There are various ways to treat it, including stretching, which is slow and requires a lot of work, and steroids, which in a few percent of patients actually make the condition worse by causing the fascia to rupture.

But in a 2013 study published in the journal Foot & Ankle International, researchers from Mexico's Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon reported that a combination of Botox injections and stretching might offer the fastest, least problematic way to recover from plantar fasciitis. In the study, one group received Botox injections in their gastroc-soleus complex (calf muscles) and did a stretching regimen, while the other group stretched and got steroids.

Initially, the two groups seemed to recover at a similar rate, but the Botox patients gradually edged ahead, and at six months were able to move on their feet more rapidly and in a more sustained manner than the steroid patients [source: SAGE].

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Author's Note: 10 Uses for Botox That Aren't Wrinkle-related

This was an interesting assignment for me, because before I plunged into the research, I didn't know that Botox was used for anything besides getting rid of wrinkles. I know someone who suffers from chronic migraines and has tried a lot of medications and dietary changes without much success. I'm going to suggest to her that she look into Botox injections to possibly get some relief.

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More Great Links

Sources

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