Regular readers will know that I suffer from recurrent, severe neuropathic pain as well as allodynia in my arms and hands that feels like having a broken glass bottle ground into my forearm.
On bad days, the pain completely derails my participation in the innovative rehab program I came to Kunming for in the first place. And when the pain is high enough, I can’t sleep at all without prescription sleeping medication like strong benzodiazepine-class drugs.
Reducing neuropathic pain had, of course, been a secondary but nonetheless key objective of my recent neurosurgery with Dr. Liu.
The top surgery priority, of course, was to attack the large (3 cm) and growing cyst inside my spinal cord that was beginning to interfere with my breathing and likely would have had me on a ventilator within a few more months.
My breathing is fine again today, so chalk up another surgery masterpiece to Dr. Liu and his team.
Unfortunately, the frequency and severity of my pain are essentially unchanged since before surgery.
“Sometimes untethering helps with pain, and sometimes it does not.”
Wonder why the untethering surgery did not reduce my pain + what else I could do now?
Well, trying to answer this question is what has recently led to both my Dad and me stepping up the amount of time and energy we devote to global pain research.
While pain research is obviously neuroscience, clinical pain management has a very different cast of investigators and academic literature compared to, say, regenerative medicine.
So upcoming blog posts will report on what we learn about better management of neuropathic pain, and eventually I’ll group the pain posts in a separate tab here, as I did for my surgery.
Today I’m just laying the groundwork.
A recent U.S. Government-funded study reported that 75% of SCI survivors suffer from long-term neuropathic pain. But Dr. Wise Young (M.D., PhD) from Rutgers University, a renowned expert on SCI, says that just 15% of SCI survivors suffer pain levels severe enough to be debilitating on a daily basis.
One possible explanation for this is that if the original source of the pain is not relieved within a few months, the spinal cord appears to get imprinted with pain memory that sticks even when the original source of the pain is relieved.
Maybe think of this as the dark face of neuroplasticity!
In an upcoming post, I’ll be explaining the first thing we’re going to do to see if we can at least turn down the volume on this pain memory without resorting simply to addictive painkillers.
Meanwhile, my injured right knee is well enough again for me to have resumed the walking program on a limited basis.