Painfully Closed: A Pain Clinic Reopens with Hope

Julian, a tall attractive guy, lives with constant pain. His pain journey began three years ago with a slip on the stairs that hurt his back. Several back surgeries later, the pain had spread throughout his body as a result of his developing Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy.

Today, Julian is planning the next steps on his journey, thanks to a new pain treatment program that opened in July at the Courage Center, a not-for-profit rehabilitation center for people with disabilities in Golden Valley. He hopes the center will teach him how “to separate myself from my pain,” Julian says.

More than 50 million Americans have chronic pain, according to the American Chronic Pain Association. Up to 20 percent of these suffer from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, sometimes known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, usually characterized by pain in the arms, hands, legs or feet.

The idea for the new center arose last December when the 25-year-old Chronic Pain Clinic at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis was closed.

The clinic’s new home at the Courage Center will give inpatients and outpatients access to the center’s resources including a swimming pool, physical therapy equipment and a fitness center.

To help him overcome his chronic pain, Julian plans to meet with Jay Tracy, a physician’s assistant at the center, whose book—“PAIN: It’s Not All in Your Head”—contains a chapter on Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy.

Tracy’s office at the Courage Center is hung with signs that summarize the center’s treatment goals:

• Make pain go away

• Lessen it as much as possible

• Live better with what remains

• Improve function

• Decrease dependence on healthcare system

• Find meaning

“The Pain Clinic is about life coaching,” Tracy says.

The clinic’s therapy embraces all aspects of a patient’s life, including nutrition, exercise, meditation, education and recreation. The clinic generally recommends a lessening of dependency on potentially addictive drugs.

Dr. Matthew Monsein, medical director of the new clinic, encourages his patients to see their pain in a new light. He suggests they replace the term “chronic pain” with “long-term chronic discomfort.”

Dr. Monsein opened the clinic’s outpatient facility, called Phoenix Center, in September. Coincidentally, but auspiciously, September was also National Pain Awareness Month.