Nerve Scrambler Therapy lessens pain for warfighters, Tricare patients

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Joe Yanik
  • Air Force District of Washington Public Affairs
At first glance, Nerve Scrambler Therapy is a name that some might confuse with an experimental, avant-garde rock band from the 1970s. Think The Velvet Underground, Electric Light Orchestra or Grand Funk Railroad.

In reality, NST is one of the 79th Medical Wing’s most cutting edge methods for managing chronic and debilitative nerve pain that impacts warfighters’ job performance and long-term quality of life.

“Like many civilians, military patients sometimes experience nerve pain after they’ve healed from injuries or have been treated for diseases,” said Lt. Col. Candy Wilson, 779th Medical Group nurse scientist and NST practitioner. “NST has proven to be a viable alternative to opioids for reducing or eliminating this kind of pain.”

Nerve pain that indicates no underlying injury or disease, technically known as peripheral neuropathic pain, can affect patients who undergo chemotherapy or suffer from diabetic or sciatica pain, drug/toxin exposure, infections stemming from surgical complications or incidents of trauma.

“A common case we treat with NST is a condition found among some wounded warriors known as phantom limb pain,” said Wilson.
Phantom limb pain is a condition in which an amputee experiences pain sensation from the part of the body that was removed.

Wilson and her nursing colleagues at the 779th MDG’s Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine Center administer NST using a Calmare machine. Calmare is the name of the manufacturer and it means “to soothe” in Italian.

NST involves sending a low voltage current of electrical stimulation through two electrode pads placed on the skin of the patient. One pad is placed on a part of the body inches away from the source of a nerve pain; the other pad is placed on a part of the body not affected by pain.

According to the Calmare Therapeutics Company’s official website, the stimulation scrambles the pain nerve signals to the brain. A “no pain” signal to the brain replaces a pain signal. Cleared by the Food and Drug Administration, the Calmare machine has been used successfully in Europe for the past 15 years and in the U.S. for the past few years. The website reports the treatment is painless, non-invasive and patients experience no adverse side effects.

“In effect, NST means we’re able to re-train the brain for reducing or eliminating pain,” Wilson said. “Recurring treatments over a certain amount of time result in prolonged pain relief for the patient.”

Patients needing treatment at Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine Center require a referral from their primary care provider. Then, their treatment is determined by one of the Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine Center’s physician acupuncturists.

“Referrals are necessary to ensure we are providing the appropriate and most effective treatment for our warfighters and other patient beneficiaries,” said 1st Lt. Folake Niniola, 779th MDG registered nurse. “Because of our thorough screening process, we’ve been very successful with this therapy and there have been no known or reported side effects or injuries from the use of this machine.”

Because of the Nerve Scrambler Therapy’s ability to reduce patients’ pain without side effects, the 79th MDW exemplifies the Zero Harm tenet of Air Force Medical Service’s patient care philosophy.