Chronic Pain: Bill Lipscomb's Story - Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

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Bill Lipscomb's Story

Walking normally for the first time in three years

After years of enjoying sports and staying fit, Bill Lipscomb was willing to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his knee, a routine procedure that would correct “a minor cartilage issue” he had developed from his active life. He knew some pain was part of normal post-surgery recovery. But when the pain not only continued but worsened afterward, Lipscomb returned to his doctor and got a new diagnosis: complex regional pain syndrome, or CRPS.

Traditional treatments – medicines, injections, even a spinal cord stimulator – brought no long-term relief. To manage the pain, Lipscomb devised several methods of coping, but they severely disrupted his day-to-day life, particularly at work. A lawyer who primarily practices civil litigation, he said, “I take many depositions, attend many mediations, and try a fair number of jury trials. Before RIC, I could only stand for about two minutes. When I sat down, I was miserable unless my right leg was elevated to approximately the level of my chest, which meant that during depositions and mediations, and even in court, my right leg was propped up on the corner of the table or on the back of a chair,” he said. “This was embarrassing, but I was more miserable with my foot on the floor than I was embarrassed with my leg on the table.”

Much of his work took him out of town, but Lipscomb could only manage the one or two-hour car rides as a passenger in the back seat with his leg elevated; his wife, Ellen, would drive, he said.

Even at his best moments, he could not escape the fear that the pain would rise up and immobilize him. Lipscomb turned to the internet to research treatment for CRPS. Coincidentally, his parents mentioned his condition to friends in Germany, whose son is an orthopedic surgeon there. Both sources led him to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago's (RIC) Center for Pain Management.

Heading to “Boot Camp”

Lipscomb entered the four-week program at RIC’s Center for Pain Management. Nicknamed “boot camp” for its full-day commitment and life-changing approach, it “gives patients tools to lessen [pain’s] hold on their lives,” a story by Associated Press said. The program brings an interdisciplinary team of clinicians who coordinate treatment for the patient under one roof. The team is headed by a physiatrist (a physician, board-certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation) who specializes in non-surgical approaches to improving function. Other team members include physical and occupational therapists, a nurse, vocational counselor, and a pain psychologist, all of whom worked with Lipscomb throughout the week.

After only two weeks, Lipscomb had already made significant improvement in his ability to perform daily activities. “The program retrained my brain and nervous system to function more normally by overloading it with increased amounts of stimuli,” he told Pain Pathways magazine.

After boot camp, Lipscomb’s function at work and daily life improved dramatically.  “I can keep my foot on the floor and not be miserable. I can stand for at least 30 minutes, and I can drive for two hours easily.”

To get rid of his limp, he returned to the Center for Pain Management six months later and gained even greater ability. “Late in the second week, the occupational therapist said, ‘We’re going outside for a walk.’” As they strode briskly along Lake Michigan, Lipscomb could not help but concentrate on keeping up. “We started walking so fast that it was impossible for me to limp,” he said, recalling the feelings of surprise and joy that struck him as he realized he had walked normally for the first time in almost three years.

He applauded the combined efforts of the occupational therapist and his twice-weekly meetings with a pain psychologist. “It was the best possible way to overcome my fear,” he said. “I had been afraid that if I did something and it increased my pain, a catastrophe would happen. They taught me to keep pushing, that my body would adapt to the demands I’d put on it. They educated me about how CRPS works in my body and how I can increase my overall level of function without causing any long-term increase in my pain.”