Cutting edge therapies for chronic pain being developed in Chicago hospitals

Cutting edge therapies for chronic pain are being developed in Chicago hospitals.  

There’s a focus now to stop the pain before it even starts, by identifying who is prone to the condition.  

"The incidence of chronic pain is significant," said Dr. Asokumar Buvanendran the Anesthesiology Department Chair at Rush University Medical Center. "In fact, it is much more than hypertension and diabetes combined," he added.  

Chronic pain can impact every aspect of life.  

Until now, the primary treatment was opioids.  But Chicago doctors are working to make them obsolete.

Donna Clark has been diagnosed with what’s called the "suicide disease" or complex regional pain syndrome.  

Doctors believe her pain was triggered by back surgery eight years ago.  

"A lot of times I'll wear shorts even in the winter because I can't stand pants touching my legs," said Clark.  "It's a burning pain. It feels like you're on fire," she said.

Those who suffer from chronic pain are often told it’s all in their head.  

Rush University Medical Center doctors are finding in a new study, that this isn’t far from the truth.  

Rush is partnering with the National Institute of Health to identify where chronic pain originates and who is most susceptible to developing it.  

They are using MRI scans of the brain to get their results.  

"Traditionally, pain is reported by the patient, but we can actually see documented evidence now in the brain of the circuits that light up with chronic pain.  So that's a really exciting and new field that's developed over the years," said Dr. Buvanendran.  

Instead of prescribing opioids, doctors are now able to insert electrodes surgically into the spine to stop pain signals before they reach the brain and trigger discomfort.   

"So if you're able to interrupt the signals in the process, you naturally can cut down the pain signals going to the brain, and therefore you decrease the pain perception," said Dr. Buvanendran.  


At Northwestern Memorial Hospital, doctors are taking a closer look at the psychology of pain.  

"We see a lot of pain conditions with people with underlying depression, anxiety, PTSD, and very specifically, people who have a history of childhood trauma or trauma as adults," said Northwestern Chief of Pain Medicine Dr. David Walega.  "Many of the areas that process our emotions, are near areas that process pain," he added.

Donna believes if she was diagnosed earlier, she could have saved her body from progressive trauma caused by the pain syndrome.  

She is hopeful others won’t have to suffer like she has.   

"It's like you watch the world go by, and you can't participate it in anymore. You know you're just on the sidelines saying, you know here I am, doesn’t anybody care," she said.  

Those who suffer from chronic pain and aren’t getting relief are urged to see a specialist in pain medicine, neurology or psychiatry.