It can surface following an injury, illness or from aging and can linger for months or even years. It's chronic pain and many sufferers describe it as debilitating and crippling - the worst kind of pain to manage. Chronic pain sufferers often try countless medications, procedures and remedies just to get some relief.
Pain experts at Emory University say that help is available for those with chronic pain.
"We believe that if patients come to us first rather than a last resort, we could help manage their pain in a more effective manner," says Anne Marie McKenzie-Brown, MD, director of the Emory Center for Pain Management at Emory Crawford Long Hospital and assistant professor of anesthesiology at Emory University School of Medicine. "We often see patients who are in tremendous pain and feel that they've exhausted their search for pain relief."
The Emory Center for Pain Management provides the latest therapies, treatments and state-of-the-art equipment for pain relief. Its focus is on pain associated with the spine, neck and back, disc herniation, degenerative spine, complex regional pain syndrome (pain of the hands and feet) and cancer pain.
Led by the department of anesthesiology at Emory, all physicians who work in the center are anesthesiologists trained in pain medicine. These specialists collaborate with neurosurgeons, spine specialists and physical therapists to provide an optimal diagnosis and treatment plan.
The first line of treatment for chronic pain patients is to determine the source of the pain. Then a treatment plan is determined. This may include medications and physical therapy, depending on how recently the pain has started.
Pain blocks such as epidural steroid injections may provide rapid relief from pain syndromes such as sciatica. Spinal cord stimulation, where a small pacemaker-like device is inserted into the back to control pain, is an option if injections do not work.
"We approach each case with an individualized diagnosis and treatment plan based on the patient's medical history, life circumstances and specific needs," explains Dr. McKenzie-Brown.
Other specialized treatments for pain include:
- acupuncture treatments to relieve pain associated with migraine and tension headaches, muscle spasms and some nerve pain. A certified acupuncturist provides this service to patients.
- injections to destroy nerves causing pain from cancer.
- intrathecal pumps for cancer pain, which are surgically implanted devices that deliver concentrated amounts of medication, often morphine, into the spinal cord area via a small catheter. Intrathecal morphine requires a much lower dosage than oral, intramuscular, intravenous or epidural injections and consequently has much less systemic side effects.
- radiofrequency denervation to burn the nerves to painful joints that can cause back or neck pain. This procedure can provide pain relief for several months.
- a pain psychologist who treats the emotional and mental needs of patients suffering with chronic pain. The pain psychologist provides evaluation, instruction and therapy services that enable patients to get the most benefit from medical services, without involving medications or injections.
"Our focus is to treat the whole person for their chronic pain, and not just their herniated disc or headache," says Dr. McKenzie-Brown. "By treating patients in this manner, we feel they will have a better outcome."
Soon, the Center will begin offering vertebroplasty, an outpatient procedure used to strengthen a broken vertebra (spinal bone) that has been weakened by osteoporosis or, less commonly, cancer. Vertebroplasty is accomplished by injecting an orthopaedic cement-like mixture through a n eedle into the fractured bone.
The Center also conducts research on chronic pain. Projects include involving the use of novel medications such as Lenolidamide for the treatment of sciatica and an investigation of brain protection for cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.
For persons interested in scheduling an appointment with the Emory Center for Pain Management, please call Emory HealthConnection at 404-778-7777 or 404-686-2410.