Chronic pain is a more common medical condition than depression or diabetes. Treating it focuses on managing the discomfort because there is no cure that has proven reliably effective.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) has shown promise; it tries to quiet the damaged nerves that send the pain messages by zapping them with electricity. However, the treatment isn’t always effective and outcomes vary from person to person.
“Scrambler therapy,” a different take on TENS, directs electric current not at the damaged nerves but at the healthy nerves surrounding the damaged site that share their neural pathway to the brain.
When stimulated with a small electric current, those healthy nerves can send signals of their own that tell the brain “everything’s OK here.” Those healthy signals seem to inhibit their neighbors from getting their pain signals to the brain or overwhelm those messages of pain.
The idea is simple: by “scrambling” together signals from damaged and healthy nerves, the pain messages going to the brain can be diluted or derailed by messages from undamaged cells.
The therapy is non-invasive and involves taping some electrodes to the skin in the painful area.
The course of treatment is usually three to 12 30-minute sessions, after which patients typically experience “really substantial relief that can often be permanent,” Dr. Thomas Smith, professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University and a leading researcher in the technique, said in comments quoted by Science Daily.
Smith and his group reviewed 381 randomized scrambler therapy trials and found the treatment brought “significant relief” to 80 to 90 percent of patients.
“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,” making the relief permanent in many cases, Smith said.
TRENDPOST: Scrambler therapy is another entry into the growing catalog of effective medical treatments that don’t involve putting synthetic chemicals into the body. In fact, this form of treatment could sharply reduce patients’ interest in opioids and help them avoid the often disastrous personal and social consequences of anti-pain drugs and surgery.