A new array of therapies give relief to people who continually
When she was in her 30s, Longboat Key resident Diane Wight, 69,
was diagnosed with fibromyalgia -- a condition that causes fatigue
and widespread musculoskeletal pain, mood and sleep disorders,
headaches and digestive problems.
Things got worse after her hepatic lobectomy -- removal of part
of the liver -- to excise a nonmalignant tumor several years ago.
The surgery was traumatic, leaving only 60 percent of her liver
behind. She had painful, incapacitating scar tissue that prevented
her from bending.
"I was so debilitated; I couldn't even take milk out of the
refrigerator," says Wight, who used a pair of tongs to pick things
up around the house.
As the agony persisted, affecting all aspects of her life, Wight
found herself on a medical treadmill. She had joined the ranks of
people who suffer from chronic pain.
"You are pigeonholed as a particular kind of patient," she says.
"Doctors think they know how to treat you because it's in your
records. Sometimes it seems nothing works, and then finally you find
THE doctor. A doctor that has a good referral system is extremely
Chronic pain -- pain that lingers six or more months beyond the
time it typically takes for an injury or illness to heal -- affects
an estimated 100 million Americans, according to the Institute of
Comorbidities are common too. Fifty percent are clinically
depressed. Many have anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, sexual dysfunction,
isolation and other problems that peck away at joy and well-being.
THE PILL PROBLEM
Opioid medication -- oxycodone, hydrocodone, and others -- is the
most common and frequently-prescribed treatment for moderate to
severe chronic pain, according to a 2013 report by the American
Chronic Pain Association. That's because for most people it works.
But health care providers, mental health professionals and
patients know how relying on pills alone, or taking them for long
periods of time, can be a slippery slope.
"Opioids carry a lot of baggage," says Dr. Rafael Miguel, medical
director of the Pain Medicine Program at Sarasota Memorial
Hospital's Institute for Advanced Medicine.
Miguel says painkillers usually come with a lot of unpleasant
side effects -- ranging from bothersome, to intolerable and
potentially dangerous. Strict laws and increased monitoring of the
way opioids are prescribed and dijstributed in Florida have also
forced doctors and patients to rethink treatment options.
And patients' dependency on painkillers and fear of withdrawal
can keep them tethered to a medication they'd rather not take
"My experience is that patients don't want to take a pill -- they
want their lives back," says Dr. Myrdalis Diaz-Ramirez, medical
director at the Comprehensive Pain Center of Sarasota. "There are
many things we can do so you don't have to be attached to a pill.
I'm not going to really help you if I just give you the pills and
don't address everything else anyway."
Wight says that because her liver is too vulnerable to metabolize
strong painkillers, she has had to find other ways to cope with
chronic pain -- including a combination of tools and non-opioid
Wight now enjoys a full, active lifestyle. She also facilitates a
monthly chronic pain support group at the Waldemere Medical Plaza,
where she and others share experiences and learn to face up to and
move beyond the limitations of chronic pain.
"I can do things now -- approaching my 70th birthday -- that I
couldn't do in my 40s," says Wight.
BEYOND THE MEDS
Miguel and Diaz-Ramirez say many patients, including Wight, are
managing chronic pain with less or no opioid medication -- by using
analgesic injections, neurostimulation implants, antidepressants,
acupuncture, cognitive and behavioral therapy, biofeedback,
meditation, hypnosis, exercise, physical therapy, massage, herbs,
patches, analgesic creams, supplements and better nutrition. …