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Main Line (Austin Area)

How Crystal Found Relief From Chronic Pain

By Allison Turner, DNP, FNP-C

We understand your frustration. Enduring complicated medical procedures, taking multiple medications, only to experience minimal pain relief.

You may think living in pain is just life.

For Crystal, a 52-year-old with chronic low back pain and knee pain in the setting of rheumatoid arthritis, that’s the conclusion she was approaching. 

Even with a 12-year-old spinal cord stimulator for her back pain, multiple medications, and recent knee replacement surgery, Crystal only had moderate pain improvement.

Adding to her frustration was pressure from medical professionals to continue trying invasive surgical procedures. She was also faced with the revelation that she might require a hysterectomy for her recent abdominal pain. 

Crystal felt determined to find a better solution. She came to APC. What she found transformed her life for the better.

We Build Mutual Trust 

It takes courage and optimism to seek help for chronic pain. A variety of emotions is expected when patients feel like they’re running out of good options.

Our doctors and nurse practitioners bring a wealth of education, experience, and empathy to our patient interactions. 

I like to think that when a patient walks through the APC doors, they feel reassured that they’re in the hands of caring, skilled professionals.

Nurse practitioners, like myself, work very closely with our physicians, and they trust us completely in our ability to properly assess our patients’ needs. 

I spend a lot of time with patients to earn their trust as well, which is key to quality care at APC.

That means listening to patients and making sure they understand me. I don’t talk over them or assume they understand. I give them a chance to ask questions without feeling judged or embarrassed. There are no stupid questions at APC.

I also understand many of the misconceptions around pain treatment that patients battle. With an ongoing opioid crisis, patients are understandably insecure about how their medication dependency is perceived.

I know many of our patients don’t necessarily want to be on medication. They want other options because they’re tired and don’t understand why they still have pain.

Your Personal Story is Central to Our Process 

We take the time to understand your pain — past and present. Just as important, we make sure you understand all of your options.

That level of understanding is what leads to successful pain relief.

First, we make sure we know exactly where your pain is coming from. That means listening to your story and relying on medical tools for guidance to put the puzzle pieces together.

That’s why we perform tests, like imaging, to be sure we are getting the full picture. 

But make no mistake: we take your words seriously.

It’s not just about what the imaging shows. Your symptoms may not correlate with the imaging. If it comes down to that, we’ll rely on your symptoms to guide us.

When Crystal came to me for help, she was very frustrated with her pain. She had just recently come out of knee replacement surgery, but her knee pain didn’t get any better. She was also experiencing abdominal pain, which [doctors] thought was endometriosis.

Her doctor even wanted to remove one of her sacral bones. When she told me that, she was crying and said, “I’m at my wit’s end.”

I don’t expect our patients to understand where their pain originates. After years of chronic pain, it can feel like the pain is everywhere. But at APC, we know what to look for.

Knowing that Crystal had a 12-year-old spinal cord stimulator that had never been replaced, I suspected that Crystal’s back was actually the cause of her knee and her abdominal pain was from trying to turn up her stimulator in an attempt to address her back pain.

Crystal admitted that her stimulator had “no longer given her relief,” but no one had ever suggested replacing it.

Crystal was also relying on a transdermal pain patch and oral medication, which alerted us that something was off.

She should have experienced better pain relief considering the medication she was on. So I stepped back and suggested we update her imaging. I suspected that all her pain points were connected to her back.

Pain Treatment is Tailored to Your Needs

We know what we do best, but we also know that no two patient’s needs are precisely the same. 

Patients like Crystal — who have experience with older spinal cord stimulators — can be understandably wary to try a newer version of the same solution.

I know what stimulators were like back in like 2005. Usually, after about two years, scar tissue develops and some of those stimulators aren’t able to reach through that scar tissue [to block pain]. Patients can often try to improve pain by increasing stimulation which can lead to unwanted other areas of stimulation, which she was experiencing in her abdominal area.

Crystal and I had a long discussion about how the technology has changed. I explained why I thought a lot of her pain was coming from her back, and why she still had knee pain after her knee replacement surgery. And potentially, why the abdominal pain was there. I didn’t think it was endometriosis.

There’s never pressure on you to commit to a procedure right away. Ultimately, the key with stimulators is making sure the patient is an appropriate candidate in order for it to be successful.

When Crystal returned for a second visit, the path forward became clear.

Related: 3 Ways to Treat Chronic Back Pain Without Surgery

Try It First

The best part about APC’s spinal cord stimulator is that it can be “trialed” and is a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure. No incisions, just a small needle prick in the back.

It’s like test-driving a car. You get to try it before you buy it.

After waking up from her trial stimulator procedure, Crystal was in tears — of relief. 

I got a call that Crystal woke up and immediately cried because the pain relief was so immediate and dramatic. I’ll never forget it.

Pain Treatment — and Relief — is Personal

Looking back, I think Crystal had unnecessary knee surgery. I don’t think her source of pain was her knee. There are dermatome patterns that better correlated with her pain from her back. Her pain completely went away after she got the new spinal cord stimulator implant — even her knee and abdominal pain.

Crystal still comes into our office when she needs medication refills, which is less frequent now that she’s experiencing lasting pain relief. 

But whenever she comes in, she brings me these beautifully embroidered towels she makes by hand. She tells me every time how much we’ve changed her life because her pain had been taking over her life for so long. 

She realizes how close she came to that invasive sacral bone removal procedure — just because she was desperate.

People like Crystal make me love my job.

We’re Committed to Healthy Alternative Options

Providing different pain treatment options is a point of pride for us at APC.

We attend pain conferences and observe surgical procedures to really understand what other methods are out there. We’re able to offer treatment to patients that they may not be aware of.

Even when it comes to medication, we strive to find alternatives other than just opioids, because adding more medications is not always the answer.

That’s the key. We think outside the box and come up with interventional options for our patients.