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New treatments for chronic pain (8-17-99)

An 8-foot fall changed John Thompson's life forever 13 years ago. The fall broke Thompson's back, crippling him with excruciating pain and transforming the once vibrant life he enjoyed to an existence in which persistent discomfort and limited movement are his constant companions.

Chronic pain syndrome is pain that persists beyond the normal healing time and lasts longer than three months, says James N. Rogers, M.D., associate professor of anesthesiology at The University of Texas Health Science at San Antonio.

For 13 years Thompson tried every known therapy for chronic pain. "I lost my life after the fall. The pain was so unbearable, I couldn't do anything," he says. "I couldn't stand for more than a few moments, I couldn't sit and I couldn't go anywhere. I was a prisoner of this unrelenting pain."

Today Thompson has a new lease on life. A few months ago, he decided to have a pump surgically placed inside his abdomen to deliver pain medication throughout the day.

"It's called an Arrow 3000 Implantable Pump," says Dr. Rogers. "The pump looks like a silver hockey puck and the inside is filled with pain medication, which is released continually and directly to the lower spinal cord. Pumps have given patients like Mr. Thompson, who have been plagued with chronic pain syndrome, an effective way to manage the pain without injections or taking pills and with fewer side effects."

The pumps have been around for about 20 years but they continue to be perfected. Newer models are much more durable, and once implanted can last throughout the patient's life span.

The only maintenance required is monthly visits to reload the pump with new pain medication. It's a quick and painless procedure.

"Chronic pain can be managed," says Dr. Rogers. "The patient, however, has to be proactive and not give up when physicians say there isn't anything that can be done. There are alternatives."

Contact: Myong Covert