Local Specialist Conducts Chronic Pain Study

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COLUMBIA - Experts say chronic pain is one of the biggest problems in our society.  Dr. Joseph Meyer is a pain intervention specialist at Columbia Interventional Pain Center.  He recently started a study on chronic pain to find out how people reduce their suffering or overcome the pain altogether.

Dr. Meyer said studies are being done all over the world on chronic pain.  He said he knows there's no cure, but wants to see if there are any patterns or similarities in how participants are overcoming long-lasting pain.

"Was it the therapy, was it the surgery, was it the procedures that were done on you, the medications you took, was it some counseling you had?" Dr. Meyer said.

Chronic pain is characterized as pain that has lasted at least a year.  Some of the most common areas of the body that Dr. Meyer sees people having trouble with are the neck and lower back. He said the joints in the hips and knees are also areas people can experience pain on a daily basis.  Sometimes the cause of the pain can be unknown to patients; other times injuries can cause chronic discomfort or even a series of surgeries.

Dr. Meyer said the nervous system actually changes with chronic pain, as different areas of the brain communicate with each other to create the pain.  Parts that deal with emotion, motor control, the sleep/wake cycle and stress management can all be involved in perpetuating pain. Dr. Meyer wants to mesh this neuroscience side with the clinical side to help patients further overcome their pain.

Mary Hartigan is one of Dr. Meyer's patients and is also one of the participants in his study. Hartigan suffers from chronic headaches and pain in her neck and back.  She said it started when she was twelve years old and gradually got worse.  The was pain was so bad in her 40s that she had to stop working.  Her previous doctor was a proponent of medication, but Dr. Meyer tries different methods with Hartigan.

"I didn't actually need to be taking medication everyday for pain, to save the medicine for when it's really really bad. In the meantime, sometimes the steroid injection can stop the pain for a year or longer, and that's been a really great experience for me," she said.

She receives about three injections a year in her neck and back.  She said using the steroids instead of medication frees up her time, gives her more energy and helps her to think more clearly. 

She also tries other things like stretching and exercise to help reduce the pain.  She said the more active she is, the better she feels.

Dr. Meyer has 20 participants now and would like to get about 100.  If interested in participating, visit the study website at studychronicpain.com or call 573-303-6886.