RSD – CRPS – Complex Regional Pain Syndrome – Long Distance Patients


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I see long distance patients in my office who generally come for a two week stay, and I wish to encourage their comments on this page. I am sorry I did not post this page for them sooner.

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Most people I see have been tried on every common approach to treatment for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, CRPS. I prescribe most of those therapies as well, but I also use an expanded number of neuropharmacology approaches. Some of these are outlined in the case report I filed in March 2010. Patients have sent comments on their progress, and others have made comments on spinal cord stimulators, below.

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In my opinion, it is important to use rational polypharmacy. When pain is intense, it is important to look at more than one mechanism. Once pain comes under control and remains at zero, then we can slowly begin to taper off one at a time.

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The following describe two of the several mechanisms of interest to me.

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NMDA Antagonists

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The glutamate-NMDA receptor is profoundly important in controlling pain pathways. It is responsible for tolerance to medication and centralization of pain. Research in France has shown that with chronic pain in persons with CRPS there is an increase in NMDA receptors in the central nervous system. After pain control, the increased number of NMDA receptors returns to normal.

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With persistent pain or chronic depression, glutamate increases and becomes excitotoxic. When it attaches to the NMDA receptor, it causes calcium to enter the neuron, creates free radicals, and kills neurons. This leads to brain atrophy and potentially memory loss.

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The goal is to block this mechanism. I use three medications that work at this level.

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Morphinans – Glial dysregulation of pain pathways

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Another important area of focus for me are the morphinans which means morphine-like. Their mechanism of action is at the microglia, the immune cells in the central nervous system. There is important new research on glial dysregulation of pain pathways. Once primed and activated by pain, the next pain insult causes glia to react harder, faster and longer perpetuating pain with cascades of pro-inflammatory molecules. Glial research on pain is very recent, very new, very important, and is a rapidly growing  body of science. It offers an entirely new paradigm for treatment of chronic pain.

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The Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association library has

many research articles that you may wish to read.

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I am grateful to be invited to their workshop on activated glia.

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Oth

Contributing Factors

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I look at the whole person, review all of their medications including their vitamins and botanicals, toxicity and adverse interactions with medication. I check the blood level for 25(OH) vitamin D (done at ARUP labs), parathyroid hormone (PTH) if not already done, and stress the importance of anti-inflammatory diet, fish oil, and adequate levels of vitamin D3.

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Spinal cord stimulators – controversy

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A recent Wall Street Journal article discusses some of the controversy of interventional techniques in this evolving specialty and mentions that some studies are underway to show efficacy. Implantable devices are controversial “and questions remain about the appropriateness of their use.”

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In April 2010, new guidelines were published, updating earlier ones from 1997: Practice Guidelines for Chronic Pain Management: An Updated Report by the American Society of Anesthesiologists Task Force on Chronic Pain Management and the American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine.

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“Spinal cord stimulation: One randomized controlled trial reports effective pain relief for CRPS patients at follow-up assessment periods of 6 months to 2 yr when spinal cord stimulation in combination with physical therapy is compared with physical therapy alone (Category A3 evidence).”

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A3 evidence was defined as: “The literature contains a single randomized controlled trial.”

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The guidelines had no references, nor did it indicate how old that study was. A short two year followup and a single limited study after more than 32 years of implanting these devices should call for more research.

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I do not recommend spinal cord stimulators as there is no research showing long term efficacy and no quality evidence showing they are superior treatment. Success declines after placement and that may occur the first day. In fact, there is one long term 5 year European study showing no efficacy after two years. A surgical nurse offered her frightful surgical experiences in comments below. Any invasive procedure may trigger pain in a person with CRPS and removal of the device does not necessarily relieve pain.

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Often patients are not aware that alternatives exist and are not given fully informed consent on the stimulators. Those risks include increased pain with any invasive procedure in persons with CRPS, paralysis, spasticity, infection, scarring, potential flare into generalized CRPS pain. The fact that these leads may be permanent  – they can never be removed – means that person can never undergo MRI scans in future even if they should have cancer or stroke. The leads may become scarred into nerve tissue and tethered to the spinal cord.

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A colleague, a prominent Harvard trained anesthesia pain specialist in practice for 40 years, declines to recommend stimulators or pumps for that reason: there is no long term data proving efficacy.

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Complications of spinal cord stimulators should be published. Perhaps they exist. If anyone has seen them, please advise me. I tend to see the complications or the failures, but those who place them and the corporations that fund them should have a special obligation to study the complications and the long term benefits. Having a spinal cord stimulator does not prevent use of other medication but it may add to the burden of pain to overcome. Nationally there should be an audit of stimulators placed, with patient outcomes including complications and number of revisions made. The risks are too grave not to require this and the cost is too high if there is no lasting efficacy.

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The excerpt below is from a 2003 review on spinal cord stimulation (SCS) for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. It may be outdated, however Medtronic failed to provide me with any long term studies when requested:

“The use of SCS for the treatment of pain in CRPS (including RSD and causalgia) has been reported in the literature for over 25 years. The consensus opinion from experts suggests that SCS should be considered in the treatment algorithm when conservative or traditional therapies have failed. However, such considerations are not based on reliable evidence generated through well-designed randomized controlled trials. To date, there has not been a systemic evaluation of the existing literature concerning the efficacy of SCS for patients with CRPS.”

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For those wishing to come to San Diego for two week stay, please see information on long distance patients in banner at top of page.

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~~~~~The material on this site is for informational purposes only, and is

not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider. ~~~~~

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8 Responses to “RSD – CRPS – Complex Regional Pain Syndrome – Long Distance Patients”

  1. Robyn H Says:

    I broke my hip and wrist during a fall at a local skating rink in my hometown in Georgia. The hip healed fine after surgery and two weeks later, surgery was performed on my right wrist. Immediately after surgery, the pain was different. I was soon diagnosed with RSD and put on several medications and therapy three times a week. After many weeks of oxycontin, oxycodone, neurotin, topamax, klonopin, robaxin and paxil and four nerve blocks (SGB), it was suggested I receive the spinal cord stimulator. Through research on the internet, I found Jim Broatch with the RSDSA organizaton who advised me there were other alternatives in treating RSD. I discovered Dr. Nancy Sajben in San Diego. She has been treating RSD with oral ketamine and naltrexone. I saw Dr. Sajben in her office July 19th and began treatment. Since beginning treatment, I have been able to go off the opiods and have had a 70% improvement in my range of movement of fingers and arm and decreased pain levels to the extent that I can now tolerate physical therapy. I have had no “flare ups” since beginning treatment. Dr. Sajben has changed my life for the better and given me hope for the future. Thank you, Dr. Sajben!

    • Nancy Sajben MD Says:

      Remarkably, in one and one-half days, she no longer needed high dose oxycodone which she decreased 95% on her own as pain was 40% better. That was before ketamine reached a dose where it began to have an effect and before naltrexone was prescribed. The later addition of those two helped even more. By the start of week two, she was able to discontinue the last 5% of oxycodone and is 70% better off opioids. She was started on a few other medications than mentioned in her comments: rational polypharmacy. Since January, she was unable to move her fingers, unable to write or pick up anything with the right hand. Less than ten days after we started treatment, the fingers had regained modest motion. She could hold a pen, write, pick things up with the fingers, fold laundry, pack luggage, and best of all her seven year old daughter said: “Mommy, I can hold your hand for real now.” Allodynia and hypersensitivity of the hand is so much better that she is likely to be able now to make progress in physical and occupational therapy. It was too painful prior to her visit. There has not been one flare of CRPS since day one on July 19, 2010, despite using the hand in ways not possible for seven months.

  2. Lori Morris Says:

    I would first like to thank you for your specialization in CRPS. My husband was diagnosed with CRPS in March 2010. He suffers in his lower left extremity (left foot/ankle) with all the signs of CRPS. He has gone through extensive pain management since that time. He has used oral meds, morphine, oxycontin, and now methadone, and also takes lyrica and nortriptylene along with lortab as needed. He has had no relief with these meds. He has had one nerve block with no relief, so a second block was not attempted. On Friday Jan. 7th the SCS trial was done and today Jan. 10th removed due to it causing pain in his lower back and side. The jolting the SCS caused in these areas could not be over come with reprogramming the SCS. Today, his pain management doctor discussed the Drug Delivery Therapy, which is not crazy about doing and after reading your information regarding SCS and Pumps I too am having second thoughts. However, the doctor did mention that there were 2 clinics that specialized in CRPS. One at John Hopkins and the other at UCLA. His doctor recommends the UCLA clinic and that is how I got to your page. I have been doing my research on CRPS since my husband was first diagnosed and am always looking for anything new in the medical field. I have read all your information regarding the Ketamine and Naltroxene treatments your patients have received and will be discussing these with his local pain management doctor. So, again I just want to thank you in advance for your specialization and your web page. Who knows, we just may meet some day.

  3. Traci Says:

    I posted on your main blog, but haven’t heard back. I know you wanted information regarding issues or problems with Spinal Cord Stimulators, so here is some information that you can add to your file. I can also be contacted for additional information because this issue continue to date.

    In one of your posts you asked for input from patients that currently have a SCS. I currently have a Medtronic SCS it was implanted early 2010 and I ended up having swelling in my Lt (affected) foot/ankle every time I would charge the “re-chargeable battery”. No one at Medtronic could figure out the issue. I turned into their “human lab rat”. After several months of this I was told to switch from a rechargeable battery to a non-rechargeable batter. Thus another operation… which I did. After this surgery (I have a paddle with 16 electrodes) all 8 electrodes on the Lt side that used to supply stimulation to my Lt foot/ankle now hit my pelvic area – thus I can no longer utilize these electrodes. And out of the 8 electrodes on the Rt 2 are providing stimulation to my Lt foot and the other 6 are hitting the wrong areas. In addition to this I have had continual instances where I am getting a very sharp pain/ sharp twinge (like a jolt) around where the electrodes area. When this happens if I turn off the SCS the pain immediately stops. I’ve been on a conference call with a Senior Engineer of Medtronic and a local Rep in person with me to do reprogramming… The Engineer only wanted to know if the electrodes were putting out stimulation. He didn’t want to know what the amperage was at before I could feel it or in what part of the body the stimulation was felt. These should have been critical pieces of information. All he wanted to state was that the electrodes were working. As for the Sharp Pain / Sharp Twinges that continue to occur in the electrode area their Senior Engineer has no idea what is causing this. He asked me to run an experiment the next time it happened – I did exactly what he wanted and reported back the findings. I have yet to hear back from Medtronic. They do not want to back up their product and they are not willing to admit that their is a problem. Although I have 2 doctors including a Neurosurgeon that feel there is some type of fault in their product or that it is faulty. Hopefully this gives you some additional information you were seeking. Please feel free to email me if you would like to discuss further. I am continuing my uphill battle with Medtronic.

    I have spoke with Medtronic as recently as yesterday and they can not explain the continual sharp pain/sharp twinge that I continue to get where the paddle that holds the electrodes is placed. The “Patient Relations Rep” that has been assigned to me, (at one point she tried to tell me she was from their “Legal Department” and she was later introduced by a team member as a “Patient Relations Representative”), doesn’t feel this is a big issue. She told me yesterday that this is “just medicine” and sometime they can get it right and other times it just doesn’t work out… The Senior Engineer at their company can not figure out what the problem is, so he just wants to reset the “INS”. I asked exactly what the “INS” was and the Patient Relations Rep couldn’t answer that question. I have already had my system reset numerous times (too many to count) and reprogrammed numerous times.

    The trial was aproximately $25,000; the hospital expenses alone and cost for the SCS implant were over $150,000 and the secondary surgery to replace the rechargeable battery with a non-rechargeable battery was aproximately $53,000. This is all for a system the now has 2 out of 16 electrodes that hit the correct area, creates an intermitent sharp pain/sharp twinge in the spinal area where the electrodes/paddle is placed, and they aren’t sure how to resolve this issue. But I was told yesterday that their system was working properly by their rep.

  4. Maureen Says:

    I just had the scs implanted two weeks ago. I am getting that sharp pain and burning near the battery site. It happens with the scs on or off. I really am wishing I never got it. I feel that the small relief that I am getting is not worth it. Are you telling me that the leads can never come out and no MRI ever? I do believe they can be removed.

    • Nancy Sajben MD Says:

      I believe they can be removed, but they may become tethered to the spinal cord itself. I presume that may occur when they have been in for some time. I do not implant these, but one of the foremost anesthesiology pain specialist in the country, Harvard trained in pain management, will not put these in and will not refer patients for them.

    • Nancy Sajben MD Says:

      Again, specifically, if tethered to the spinal cord, or some other complication, they cannot be removed.

  5. Barb Fosdick Says:

    I have been a surgerical nurse for 40 years and have seen many patients receive SCS…and many, many fail, or return to surgery for fractured electrode wires, misplaced wires, or infected battery pockets, besides complicated problems, or “lack of positive results, or battery revisions, or electrode repositionings.” Some patients have even developed spinal fluid leaks when the spinal dura layer has been torn during implanting the electrode wires, and they develop severe headaches, and have to return to surgery for the leak to be repaired. Many pain management doctors are convincing patients that this is a great way to treat their pain, and they find out in 2-6 months that they wish they never had agreed to it. Sure, there are some patients that get some relief, but this procedure has been pushed on the population of chronic pain patients, when they are at their worse condition, and willing to try anything….at any expense, and the companies and implanting doctors are getting the money. More patients need to learn the truth about these devices! Anomymous…. and never allowed them to put one of those things in me…but many tried!


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