Living with pain every day is kind of like living next to an airport. After a while you don’t hear the jets flying overhead anymore. They’re still there, in the middle of the night and the middle of the day, unending and ceaseless, but you don’t notice every time one flies over.
Chronic pain is much the same. After you’ve had it long enough, your body accepts that sensation as normal. You no longer expect pleasant sensations from touch. You don’t expect to be able to wear normal clothes or take a shower. You don’t expect to be able to exercise muscles in that part of your body without excruciating pain.
Occasionally, however, something happens that makes you reconsider everything that you’ve come to expect. Something happens that gives you a new normal.
I started Calmare therapy last week at Pain Relief of Oregon in West Linn, OR.
Most of my pain has gone away.
Calmare uses electricity to block pain signals without the use of drugs. Originally developed for people suffering from chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy, Calmare has also been found to be and effective at treating other types of neuropathic pain, including Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), which I’ve suffered from over the last two years.
Calmare won’t treat mechanical pain, however. Mechanical pain in my case being the collapsed arch in my foot and the sprained ankle that led to my CRPS in the first place.
Having the pain from my CRPS gone is like listening to the sounds of the forest, after being in an office building next to jackhammers and construction all day. The volume is turned down and suddenly you’re receiving far less sensory input. You are able to notice much more subtle nuanced things that you never had the capacity, energy or space to notice before.
I can feel sore muscles in my foot again. I can feel them because my feet hurt so much and were so hypersensitive to touch and pressure that I wasn’t able to walk normally on them for nearly two years. My leg and foot muscles atrophied so much I had to retrain myself to walk with proper form. I can also feel the muscles in my neck complain after I’ve been sitting in one position too long.
I’ve only been walking since I attended the Rehabilitation Institute of Washington’s CRPS program in Seattle in November of last year, which got me out of a wheelchair and back on my feet. That was certainly a change for the better, but my quality of life was still nowhere near what I wanted it to be. A 4-5 on the 10 pain scale had become my “tolerable normal” and what I was beginning to anticipate for the rest of my life.
The thing about Calmare that boggles my mind is that after trying all manner of painful procedures and medicines, and waiting weeks or months to see a result — if you have the type of pain that Calmare therapy treats, you’ll know if it will be successful for you within a few minutes.
My first day of therapy, I walked in at a 6/10, and left an hour later, eerily close to pain-free. I started feeling a change in 30 minutes.
The pain in my legs started to creep back in after a few hours, but I’m told that is typical after one treatment.
Patients typically go for 10 consecutive days of Calmare treatment, though each case is different. By the end of that first round of treatment, the objective is that patients be pain-free for 30-90 days. At that point a booster treatment of one or two sessions will keep you going for another 30-90 days free of pain. It’s repeatable, not something your body is going to develop a resistance to the same way it might with drugs.
The treatment itself is nothing more than being hooked by a few electrodes up to a machine. Electrodes placed, I might add, well outside of any area affected by pain.
I like to think that Calmare works for pain much the same way that noise-canceling headphones do for ambient noise. The Calmare machine interrupts the chronic pain signals your brain is used to receiving and replaces those distorted nerve signals with a normal, pain-free sensation.
At first, these new nerve impulses going through my central nervous system felt a bit like a bee sting or a strange vibration. But after a minute or two, the only thing I noticed was the pain receding. Even though my pain came back after a few hours that first day, it reminded me what having a normal, pain-free life was like, something I wouldn’t have thought possible.
For the first time in months, I was able to sit with my legs down in a chair — not balled up close to my body to keep them from swelling painfully. When I touched my typically oversensitive skin, it also felt different. I could feel the skin and the muscles in my legs again. It felt so weird. Good weird.
When I left the clinic after that first day of treatment, everyone in the room got hugs. I had never hugged a doctor before.
When I got home, I was able to take a nap for the first time in weeks. I actually fell asleep in a chair while reading because I felt so good.
I was really skeptical when I first heard about Calmare because I know things like TENS and spinal cord stimulators don’t work for me. I was really apprehensive, but I am so glad that I tried it and that is working.
The pain that I still experience daily is different from the pain I had a week ago. I am only halfway through my treatment and it is amazing! Compared to everything else I have tried, this is working wonders. I have pain-free times every day. Each day I walked into the clinic with less and less pain and walked out pain-free.
I have actually been able to get out of the house! I went to the mall and walked around, took my dog on a long walk, and took my family to a water park. It has been a life changer!
I’m super excited to see where the rest of the treatment takes me. I am hopeful that this treatment may allow my husband and I to finally start planning on having another baby, which was something we never thought possible because of my CRPS. But if the treatment keeps going this well, hopefully we will be able to bring another Siebe into our family.
Amanda Siebe lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband and son. She writes about her daily battle with chronic pain and CRPS in her blog “Life in Pain.”
Amanda’s Calmare treatments at Pain Relief of Oregon are being provided at no cost to her. In exchange, Amanda has attended open houses at the clinic to talk about CRPS, how it has affected her life, and the various treatments she has received.
In coming weeks, Amanda will continue to write about her Calmare treatment.
The information in this column is not intended to be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Only your doctor can do that! It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s personal experiences and opinions alone. It does not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report or Microcast Media.