For more than a decade, Mary Apala lived with severe pain in her back that left her unable to do simple tasks like bending over the sink while brushing her teeth without feeling immense, stabbing pain.
“Out of a pain scale up to 10, it was a 10 plus a 10,” said Apala, of Ardmore. “Little bit by little bit I got to the point that I couldn’t do much of anything. I’m 72 years old and all I wanted was a quality of life where I could do something besides sitting in a chair or laying in a bed.”
In August, she regained that quality of life when Dr. Adam Savage, a Mercy pain management specialist in Ardmore, implanted a device in her back that sends an electrical current into her spine and reduces pain.
“It’s the difference between daylight and dark,” said Apala. “It has just been a Godsend.”
Pain Control Close to Home
Savage joined Mercy in mid-2014 as the only pain management physician in Ardmore and the surrounding area. Since coming to Ardmore, the demand has been great. During his first year, he treated more than 2,000 patients for their chronic pain, which is pain often lasting more than three months.
With the assistance of his team of nurses, medical assistants and support staff, Savage said he takes a very targeted approach to the care he provides.
“Some physicians only prescribe medications,” said Savage. “I practice a multi-modal approach to pain management by not only treating with medications, but incorporating other treatment services along with minimally invasive procedures, physical therapy, psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s important to change a person’s mindset about pain so they understand that they have a say in what they feel.”
Back and neck pain are the most common types of chronic pain Savage and his team treat in their clinic through various methods, including medications, injections and treatments using electrical energy.
Medication Management and Injections
Since patients can become highly addicted to certain pain medications, especially opioids, Savage delves deep into the cause of a patient’s pain and prescribes medication, if necessary, to specifically address the varying types of pain. For example, he will use different medications to treat nerve pain compared to muscle spasms or joint pain.
“We don’t just provide an opioid to patients, which is your traditional pain medication that can cause significant problems, including addiction,” said Savage. “We’re really trying to focus on the right types of medications for our patients.”
Savage also frequently administers injections, which deliver medication directly onto a specific nerve, or into a muscle or joint to calm it and reduce the inflammation that may be causing pain. Injections may only provide temporary relief but often allow the patient to participate in and benefit from physical therapy, which can have a more lasting impact.
After about three years of constant pain, 67-year-old Mickie Dill finally got relief about a year ago when she received an injection in her right knee and near the sciatic nerve on her right side.
“It was almost instant relief,” she said. “From the minute I walked out of there, I’ve had no problems.”
Dill, a local realtor, said being pain-free means she can stay more active and keep up with her seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. She has received four injections over the past year and has been able to avoid having total knee replacement surgery.
Treatments Using Electrical Energy
If other traditional treatment methods do not work, Savage may use procedures involving electrical energy for longer relief of pain.
Radiofrequency ablation involves placing a needle next to a nerve and sending electricity through that needle to “zap” the problematic nerve. This essentially turns the nerve off so it cannot conduct its typical pain transmission. This may only be a temporary solution lasting approximately 10 months — sometimes longer in older patients — since the body eventually heals the nerve.
Dorsal column stimulation is a more permanent option for some patients who qualify. Since pain travels up the spinal cord to the brain, this treatment can minimize the pain signal to the brain by sending electricity through an implanted device near the spine.
“It’s kind of like when you hit your thumb and your parents told you to rub it to make it feel better,” said Savage. “It’s a similar medical principle. If you provide a different stimulus, like pressure or rubbing, you can overpower the pain.”
Before permanently implanting the device, patients, like Apala, must do a trial with the device for a few days to see if the pain has been lessened; if they have noticed improved function, such as standing longer, walking farther or sleeping better; and if they do not need to take as much pain medication.
If successful, patients can control their own pain by increasing or decreasing the amount of electrical stimulation they need through a remote control.
With her new lease on life, Apala said she gets out of the house more often to run errands and plans to start taking walks with a neighbor, which is a task she has not been able to do for years.
“With the cooler weather, I’m ready to go,” she said.
Results in Action
For Savage, the success of patients like Apala and Dill is why he went into medicine and decided to become a pain management specialist.
“Who among us hasn’t hurt?” said Savage. “Pain doesn’t show prejudice; it affects us all. It’s the number one reason that people seek medical treatment. So, for me personally, there’s no greater calling for a physician than to offer hope and relief to those suffering chronic pain.”
Savage and his team moved into a new, 5,000-square-foot clinic in July of this year, which features six exam rooms, two procedure suites and multiple pre-operative and post-operative bays.
He hopes to eventually add another provider to the team so they can care for even more patients locally, which is very important to Apala and Dill.
“It’s so important for us to be here and not have to take the time to go to the city because it’s a major ordeal,” said Dill. “We live here. We don’t want to have to go somewhere else and not have all our family there.”
Dill said she is thankful for the team at Mercy’s Pain Management Clinic.
“All someone has to do is go to Dr. Savage one time and you can tell how much he cares about what he’s doing,” she said. “The atmosphere in that office is just wonderful and everyone is so compassionate. I really hope that Dr. Savage stays for a really long time because he is such an asset to Ardmore.” Apala agrees.
“I just adore Dr. Savage and all his staff,” she said. “I always tell him it’s like going to visit family instead of going to a doctor. I’m just so thankful.”
Mercy Clinic Pain Management is located at 731 12th Avenue NW, Suite 302, in Ardmore. To make an appointment, call 580-220-6526.