I was talking with a friend of mine at the pool today. She was formerly a regular in our time slot at this pool, a session mainly attended by disabled people and octogenarians.
It had been a while since I saw her there. I can never tell if a person's long absence is a good sign or a bad one-- either they are doing well and don't need pool therapy or they're having a hard time and just can't make it.
Turns out my friend falls into the not-so-good category.
A few years ago her shoulder was badly injured in a motorcycle crash and ever since she has experienced severe neuropathic pain in her arm. She says that the slightest touch can make it feel like her arm is held over a fire, buried in ice or ... In short, the most excruciating agony you can imagine.
The currently available treatments for this condition, unfortunately, are notoriously unreliable and must be tailored to each individual patient. Basically you keep trying things until something works.
For my friend this has meant a constantly changing combination of medications which have very different primary uses, from antidepressants and anticonvulsants to topical analgesics, cannabinoids and botox. These have many side effects and she has had to suffer through them all.
I guess I haven't seen her in about 10 weeks or so. In that time, she told me today, she has gained and lost 40 pounds ( she's about 5'-5"). Sudden weight gain was a side effect of one medication and then she switched to another which made her nauseous for two months.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though. She is very excited to be starting a program at a local university hospital's pain center. The therapy she's holding out hope for is called Mirror Box treatment.
I had heard of this before and knew it was used experimentally in so-called "split brain" patients but I didn't know it was being used successfully in treating "Phantom Limb Pain" in amputees and helping stroke patients.
One hand is placed inside a box where you can't see it and the other is reflected in the mirror on the outside of the box. From your point of view, you're looking at your right hand, say, and the illusion of your left. Exercises are then performed which have the effect of syncing up your left and right sides. The idea is to change your perception of your own body and somehow retrain your brain to use neural pathways differently.
How does this relieve pain? You got me. But if it works, it is surely better than taking a bunch of pills and waiting to see what happens. Stay tuned.