Clinic aims to prevent chronic pain

February 16, 1993|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff Writer

Dr. Henry S. Sabatier has gotten used to pain. He deals with it every day at his Pain Treatment and Rehabilitation Clinics in Glen Burnie, Pikesville and White Marsh.

"We take care of the walking wounded," said Dr. Sabatier, who was in the Glen Burnie office yesterday.

His patients, who are referred by emergency room or family doctors, lawyers or former patients, arrive at the center's doors with a variety of injuries and stress-related problems from work-related accidents, car accidents and sports injuries.

Dr. Sabatier and his colleagues say they try to begin treating patients as soon after an injury as possible. The longer patients go without reatment, the less their chances of getting back to normal.

"If we treat people within three to six months, there's a 60 to 70 percent chance they'll return to work," said Dr. Sabatier, the clinic's medical director. "Six months to a year or a year and a half, it's less than 50 percent. After two years or more, they probably won't go back to work."

The average person laid up in bed loses 3 percent of his physical ability and stamina with each passing day, he said. And it takes three times as long to rebuild that strength and recondition the body as it did to break down.

Christine Moler, 18, was involved in a head-on car crash in Linthicum in January. She suffered injuries to her muscles and ligaments so severe that for days she would lie "on the floor crying in pain," she said.

Ms. Moler of Baltimore Highlands has been receiving thrice-weekly therapy sessions at the clinic ever since. And her chances of a complete recovery are good because she started her treatment soon after the accident and she is highly motivated, Dr. Sabatier said.

"You have to want to do this. . . . I come here three times a week," Ms. Moler added.

Her program includes physical therapy, biofeedback and electrical stimulation of the lower back. Halfway through it, she said she feels about 50 percent improved, but still suffers from lower back pain.

"The neck and the shoulders are almost completely healed," she said. "But I still don't sleep through the night. It's hard to go up and down stairs. And bending over, well forget it."

Kristin Haines, also 18, of Glen Burnie has suffered debilitating headaches and jaw pain since the car she was riding in was rear-ended while waiting at a traffic light in February 1992. Dr. Sabatier said the headaches likely come from a jaw injury sustained during the accident and from tension in her facial muscles. Yesterday, Ms. Haines was learning to control the tension, and thus the headaches, through a process known as biofeedback.

A machine with contacts on her forehead measures such things as pulse rate, sweating and respiration. It can help patients learn how to control tension in certain muscles, which may increase the pain related to a number of physical ailments.

Siri Stolar, who is certified in biofeedback, said the technique is used successfully to treat migraines and tension headaches, severe menstrual cramps, chronic bowel problems and even high blood pressure.

Ms. Haines said her headaches come less often now, and many of her symptoms have eased since she began treatment early in November.

Dr. Sabatier said his staff uses many types of therapy because patients often have complicated problems and symptoms.

Staff physician Marcia D. Wolf specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation and Dr. Steven Peterson, a dentist, specializes in temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders and craniofacial pain. The center also has a staff psychologist to counsel patients on dealing with acute pain and rehabilitation.

About 80 percent of the center's patients, who range in age from 6 to 84, are being treated for problems related to recent injuries. And nearly all of them will be able to return to normal, said Dr. Sabatier.

The remaining 20 percent suffer chronic pain from injuries sustained years ago. Although they are harder to treat and their recovery takes longer, the doctor said most will show some improvement over time.

"Eighty percent or so will improve some, and maybe half will eventually get back to their former activities," he said. "But there are some people we just can't help. Our business is really preventing chronic pain. We hope to help patients before it comes to that."

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