Scrambler therapy can relieve chronic pain

Scrambler therapy is a noninvasive pain treatment.

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The Johns Hopkins pain specialists found that scrambler therapy, a noninvasive pain treatment, significantly reduced chronic pain in 80%-90% of patients. 

In 2009, the FDA approved scrambler therapy, which involves the insertion of electrodes into persistent pain areas and applying electrical stimulation to them. The idea is to catch nerve endings and replace impulses from the painful location with signals from non-painful areas, so “scrambling” the pain signals supplied to the brain. 

According to Thomas Smith, M.D., the Harry J. Duffey Family Professor of Palliative Medicine at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Centre and a professor of oncology and medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, all chronic pain and almost all nerve and neuropathic pain are caused by two things: pain impulses from damaged nerves that send a constant barrage up to pain centers in the brain and the failure of inhibitory cells to block those impulses and prevent them from becoming chronic.

Scrambler therapy used for a patient with chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. The red bursts represent areas where the patient is experiencing pain.
Scrambler therapy used for a patient with chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. The red bursts represent areas where the patient is experiencing pain. Credit: Thomas Smith

Smith said, “If you can block the ascending pain impulses and enhance the inhibitory system, you can potentially reset the brain so it doesn’t feel chronic pain nearly as badly. It’s like pressing Control-Alt-Delete about a billion times.”

He said, “Many patients get substantial relief that can often be permanent. They receive three to 12 half-hour sessions”.

In addition, TENS therapy uses low-intensity electrical signals to treat pain but uses electrodes to deliver the signals. In most cases, pain relief disappears after the electrical impulses have been turned off, Smith says. It was found in a new study that TENS is not statistically significantly different from placebo in terms of reducing pain.      

Journal Reference:

  1. Thomas J. Smith, Charles L. Loprinzi, et al. Cutaneous Electroanalgesia for Relief of Chronic and Neuropathic Pain. The New England Journal of Medicine. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMra2110098.

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