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Comprehensive Approach to Dealing with Pain - Unique Program at The Nebraska Medical Center

It is the number one reason people go to their doctor’s office: pain. Sometimes it is the result of a recent injury; other times it is unexplained soreness; it can also be constant chronic pain. The Nebraska Medical Center’s Pain Management Program brings a comprehensive approach to helping people deal with their pain; no matter what the cause.

The only one of its kind in the region, The Pain Management Program de-emphasizes a patients’ use of medicine to treat their pain and gives them other tools.

“Pain management does not mean pain removal,” said Jim Willcockson, Ph.D., manager of the pain program. “We give our patients skills and techniques to modify and manage their pain for the rest of their lives.”

The Nebraska Medical Center’s Pain Management Program is designed to treat the whole person; physically, mentally and emotionally.

“Pain is common; we all know what it’s like to hurt,” said Dr. Willcockson. “Pain is also unique. No one feels it in exactly the same way as another person. Our program is personalized to each individual patient.”

Staffed by two psychologists, two physical therapists and two registered nurses, the program treats a total of six patients at a time. The patient spends eight hours a day, five days a week, for four weeks learning to manage and overcome their pain.

“The difference is night and day,” said Matthew Saathoff, 31, a recent graduate of the Pain Management Program. “My chronic pain was affecting all aspects of my life. The pain was having a negative impact on my family, friends, co-workers and studies at Creighton University. The program really opened my eyes to how much the pain had interfered with my life.”

A car accident in September of 2006 herniated a disc and splintered vertebrae in Saathoff’s upper back. Bone splinters pierced a root nerve and caused him constant pain. The pain had become a part of life by the time he enrolled in the pain program at the medical center. At the medical center, he learned a new way of thinking about himself and his pain.

“This has changed how I feel, how I think, how I face life,” Saathoff said. “I’m a different person than when I walked into the program, both physically and mentally.”

Saathoff admits he was something of a skeptic when he began the program in July. According to physical therapist Joe Siracusano, skeptical feelings are not unusual at the start of the treatment.

“Many patients feel like they’ve seen every doctor and every physical therapist,” Siracusano said. “By the time they come here, they may feel like they’ve tried everything.”

Siracusano uses a variety of hands-on techniques to treat patients; massage, stretching and strength training. During those physical therapy sessions, he also finds himself lending emotional support, just as the rest of the treatment team does.

The program is structured, yet also provides individualized care to every patient. Each morning of the program begins with group exercise in the on-site gym. In the hours that follow, each patient spends one-on-one time with the program psychologists, physical therapists and registered nurses.

One of the nurses’ primary goals is to get patients to stop treating their pain with medication.

“Each person is thoroughly evaluated first by our medical director,” explained Lynne Meece, R.N. “Before they’re admitted to our program, we have to determine that they’re at a point where medication is no longer helping them and may in fact be hurting them.”

By the second week in the program, patients begin to stop taking pain medication. The staff begins immediately looking for any signs of withdrawal and providing emotional support. The goal is to have the patients off pain medication by the end of the four-week program.

“Most patients understand graduation is a starting point to a new life. It’s not the end,” said Meece.

Now, two years after the car accident that caused his chronic pain, patient Matthew Saathoff knows exactly how that process has helped him.

He described the four-week program this way: “It’s a progression, like getting over the fear of riding a bike. The first week, I’m on my bike with training wheels on and Dad’s behind me. The second week, Dad’s no longer there, but I still have my training wheels. The third week, the training wheels are off, but I’m struggling to keep my balance. By the fourth week, I’m riding on my own. But I have to keep practicing, if I don’t, I’m back with the training wheels.”

“Even though I still have chronic pain, I no longer let the pain control me,” Saathoff said. “I’m the one in control. I have the tools and strategies in my hands so I can show up at work and be effective. I can be a good husband, good father and good student. It’s really amazing.”

Further details about the Pain Management Program, including admission criteria and frequently asked questions can be found by Clicking Here.


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