Tackling Phantom Limb Pain With Life-Changing Results – Check Out John’s Story
By Allen Dennis M.D., M.S. and John Gavurnik
Post-amputation pain is very common and can be quite a difficult chronic pain to manage, given you are managing pain for a limb that no longer exists. When a limb has been amputated, the peripheral nerves that have been severed can continue producing additional impulses to the spinal cord. This produces a “phantom” pain that can be debilitating and disrupt a “normal” quality of life, in addition to the challenge of managing the loss of a limb.
At APC, we see phantom limb pain as a unique disease process that deserves extra care. Our patients with this type of pain usually are military, those who have suffered from infection, cancer, and other chronic diseases. Unfortunately, using pain management techniques such as medications, physical therapy, and other standard treatment methodologies make it hard to manage this type of pain because this is a special circumstance where we are treating pain for something that is essentially not there.
Therefore, we create a treatment plan that speaks the language of the spinal cord, which is electricity. And in John’s case, to be more precise, we used a spinal cord stimulator to greatly reduce his chronic pain and significantly improve his quality of life.
John Gavurnik first heard of a pain clinic after his daughter went to one. He knew of an Advanced Pain Care clinic in Georgetown, but it was only after he experienced a traumatic left leg amputation, he was referred there to manage his pain from the surgery. His entire leg was removed, starting from his pelvis down to his foot. He also had pain in his right leg from sciatica.
It was immediately suggested that he receive a spinal cord stimulator which essentially is a small pacemaker for the spine implanted underneath the skin, usually near the base of the spine. Spinal cord stimulators consist of wires, or electrodes, that can turn certain nerves on and off, especially nerves that are firing more to the spinal cord than they should. These electrodes are placed through a needle in the posterior spinal column behind the spinal cord. The spinal cord stimulator is accompanied with a remote control that can adjust the electrical impulses to the targeted nerves.
At first, John was tested for 5 to 7 days with a trial stimulator to see if it would be an effective treatment. After that, he was getting steady relief. Usually, the trial is to see if the spinal cord stimulator will provide at least 50% more relief. In John’s case, the test was successful, and a more permanent spinal cord stimulator was implanted.
Usually, with spinal cord stimulators, we tell patients that they will continue to experience 50% relief. In John’s case, he found 85 to 90% relief. He also said that the spinal cord stimulator had also reduced his sciatica pain in his right leg. He says that as far as he is concerned, he hasn’t really felt his phantom pain for a while, and the spinal cord stimulator has been easy to use, and the equipment accompanied with it, the remote and the power charger, has been easy to adapt in his daily life.
He found the staff very helpful, and he said if he had the choice to repeat history, he would return and get the spinal cord stimulator again due to the relief he experienced. He said that everyone was very polite and showed genuine concern for helping him get his quality of life back. He also felt that everyone was very informative and explained the procedure and process for recovery very well.
Why Choose APC
It is challenging in phantom limb disease because patients find it difficult to do the most basic day-to-day activities, such as putting on clothes or taking a shower. This can lead patients to experience emotional and mental health issues and limited or restricted quality of life. We find solutions to help our patients regain some sibilance of life they had before the pain so they can be mobile again and improve their internal well-being.
We have other solutions like nerve blockers or medication, but in most cases, and in John’s case, the relief probably would not have been to the level that John experienced. Therefore, we chose to go with a neuromodulation technique.
Working with John was highly successful, and we are happy that his pain was mostly relieved by the spinal cord stimulator. We just saw him back recently for another case, and he continues to feel better, has gained a lot of his mobility back, and is returning to his normal day-to-day activities.