July 25, 2008

Center devoted to easing chronic pain, improving quality of lives

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Sukdeb Datta, M.D., left, talks with patient Billy Taylor about his neck pain. (photo by Neil Brake)

Center devoted to easing chronic pain, improving quality of lives

In operation for a little more than a year, Vanderbilt Medical Center's Interventional Pain Center is growing quickly.

The center, located in The Vanderbilt Clinic, provides diagnostic and therapeutic outpatient services for individuals experiencing pain.

“There is a huge need for pain management,” said Sukdeb Datta, M.D., director of the Interventional Pain Center and associate professor of Anesthesiology. “It is life-changing in a lot of people. They are in so much pain that quality of life suffers tremendously.”

Patients seen at the center may be facing a number of pain-related issues such as chronic back and neck pain, cancer-related pain and neuropathic pain resulting from diabetes.

A new patient visit starts with a full assessment, including medical history, and then a plan to alleviate the pain is formulated, usually starting with the least invasive procedure. However, the biggest hurdle is often finding the source of the pain, which can be accomplished through precise diagnostic nerve blocks.

Datta and his partner, Tracy Jackson, M.D., perform many percutaneous procedures, which use needles rather than incisions to get inside the body.

Another procedure that Datta has particular expertise in is spinal endoscopy, in which a scope is inserted into the spinal cord to view and treat scarred nerves.

“Most procedures are done in under an hour, and the patient is in and out in two hours,” Datta said. “Most patients are extremely anxious before the first procedure, but considering the initial experience with the benefits of the nerve blocks and the instant pain relief that they usually receive, they are surprised and want me to do it again as soon as the pain returns.”

The center is also involved in research activity. Datta's focus is on a molecular neurosurgical approach and is funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Rather than treating pain with narcotics or by cutting nerve pathways, these techniques specifically target the neurons that transmit pain signals.

“I think this is where intervention is going in the future; to blocking these tiny receptors,” Datta said. “The technology is amazing. It just keeps growing and growing.”

The center partners with specialties like neurosurgery, orthopaedics, psychiatry and physical therapy, with the goal of providing a full spectrum of pain management services.

“Pain management is not an isolated entity; it is just one piece of the puzzle,” Datta said. “Our goal is to become a huge collaborative enterprise. We want to be a comprehensive package.”

The pain center will be closer to realizing that goal next April when it moves to a 7,000-square-foot space at Vanderbilt Health at One Hundred Oaks, sharing the facility with the new rehabilitation center and the first outpatient palliative care clinic.

The center first opened in April 2007, for two days a week, but now operates five days a week with a full staff.

James Walker, M.D., and Arun Kandra, M.D., came on board as the center's first fellows in July.

Both will be actively involved in diagnosis and management of complex pain problems and will also be involved in multidisciplinary training in fields like neurology, pediatric pain management, cancer pain and palliative care, radiology and addiction medicine.