APS Therapy for chronic pain

As far as I’m concerned APS Therapy (Action Potential Simulation) stands for Amazing Pain Solutions! A local GP recommended I investigate this therapy in late 1999 when I was going through a particularly intense period of pain. I trialled the electrotherapy device and decided to buy a unit for treating myself. Painmasters were not available at this time. Little did I realise that APS Therapy is a microcurrent therapy which is the type of current used in Painmasters. APS Therapy is not identical with the Painmaster as Painmaster patches need to be worn continuously whereas the electrodes for APS Therapy are applied for 32 minutes at the maximum each day. But APS Therapy has been instrumental in giving me wonderful pain relief in a couple of situations where Painmasters were not helpful enough.

IMG_3507

APS Therapy Unit Model MK 1.1 Purchased from APS Therapy Queensland.

For instance in late 2011, pain started to run down my right arm. At night the pain would wake me up. I eventually realised that my arm had been moving in a repetitive action as I used a small scythe to cut back long grass over large areas of our acreage. So I decided to switch to my left arm for this task but after a while that arm also started to become painful. And then everyday activities started to inflame the arms – just lifting dishes up out of the dishwasher, pulling watering hoses along the ground, opening or closing sliding glass doors, lifting shopping bags. At the time I was already on medication to calm down the nervous system as well as anti-inflammatory medication – however it was insufficient for preventing the pain which was now coursing down both arms.

So next I tried to rubbing Dencorub into my lower arms and around the elbows. As I did this I could distinguish large painful lumps and strings of nodules and various sore points. I stopped using any weights when I did arm exercises and changed to gentle arm stretches, I stopped all gardening, I stopped playing the piano, I stopped spending much time on the computer keyboard, I stopped loading and lifting shopping bags … and then one evening I went walking and was really swinging my arms vigorously to see if that would help but all I did was re-ignite the pain so that it kept me awake during the night.

At this point I started to go each week for a session of electroacupuncture. I noticed how and where the acupuncturist put the needles on both of my arms. At the end of each treatment the pain was significantly less however by about another 24 hours the pain was returning in full. It would be too expensive to go any more regularly to the acupuncturist but I realised that if I could get the same delivery of this treatment every day then my arms would have a chance of recovering. However I was not going to use 4 Painmasters, 2 on each arm, for reasons of cost and because I would need to wear them full-time and would need to bandage the ones around my elbows to prevent them lifting off.

So I pulled out the APS Therapy Unit. Each day I would apply the electrodes in specific points along each arm and I would do 16 mins on one arm and then 16 mins on the other – from the top of the arm to a site above the elbow, and from below the elbow to above the wrist. I would turn up the Treatment Level dial on the unit until it felt like the arm was tingling or buzzing and then I would lower the current down again, just below that tingling point, and keep it at that level. By doing this every day for a number of months, the pain gradually diminished and my arms ceased to be sensitive when doing the ordinary household tasks. However I have not allowed myself to go back to using the scythe in the manner I once did. I only ever use it briefly.

IMG_3500

The good thing about the unit is that it comes with an instruction booklet that gives guidelines about where to place the electrodes according to the type and site of the pain. If one needs more instructions on alternative sites for the electrodes one can visit impulse.apstherapy.com and click on the Contents. It is not as difficult to determine where to place the electrodes as it is to decide about the placement of Painmaster patches. It seems that it is possible to use the APS Therapy electrodes in quadrants … by this I mean that if my buttock is inflamed then I can place the electrodes roughly in a square at each corner of the buttock or the area bounded by the shoulder and waist. So it eliminates the problem of trying to find an exact location as is needed with Painmaster patches. Everything inside the 4 corners will be treated.

Elecrodes for APS

Of course there is the initial outlay of a lot of money to buy the APS Therapy unit. I paid A$2080 for the APS Therapy unit (model MK 1.1) in February 2000. And the electrodes (PALS Platinum Blue which are fairly pricey but necessary as other electrodes do not transmit in the same way) need replacing regularly as well as 4 x C batteries (the new Model MK 1.4 uses one 9V battery.) Very occasionally one may need to buy replacement cords. The life of the electrodes can be extended by putting a fine layer of water on the electrode surface before adhering it to the plastic sheet after every session. For the first 3 or 4 times the electrodes are fully hydrated and do not need this. But from then on I dampen each electrode carefully before I place it back on the plastic. I take the further measure of putting the 2 lots of electrodes back into the snaplock storage bag at the end of each session. Also the manufacturers recommend drinking at least 2 large glasses of water to flush out toxins after each session.

This brings me to another example of how APS Therapy has been more helpful than Painmasters. I get into more difficulty going on a holiday than most other times because I have created an optimal zone with specific seating and bedding in my own car and at home. Take me out of this zone and the pain flares up! So I decided to purchase the other lightweight model so that I could travel with less pain. This model is the APS MK 4, which cost me A$1960 in Dec 2013 from apstherapy.co.nz plus Customs Duty – as APS Therapy Queensland was no longer in business. There is a slight difference between my APS MK1.1 and APS MK4 – I need to watch that the treatment level does not continue to creep up after I have set the dial on the MK4 and changing the MK4 battery is fiddley as it is an awkward place. The APS MK1.1 also has a timer dial with settings of 4 mins, 8 mins, 16 mins.

IMG_3515

APS Therapy Model MK4 with lightweight carry case

I realise the APS Therapy unit is expensive and I would only recommend it to people who have chronic pain in multiple areas (See My Disclaimer) as it would be wiser to start with buying a Painmaster. Chronic pain sufferers would understandably want to trial the APS unit first and that may not always be possible.

After months of using the APS Unit I have made several important discoveries for treating myself

  • the lower the treatment level when the tingling in the body starts, the more substantial the pain condition in that site
  • it is better to keep the treatment level lower and extend the length of the session in that site than to turn the treatment level up
  • if the pain in one site has become extremely strong then I shift the electrodes around in one general area to get maximum pain relief e.g. first I might put the electrodes in a quadrant on the buttock with the black electrodes at the top and the red electrodes below near the top of the legs (for 8 mins), secondly I might do a quadrant on the lower back with the black electrodes on the left and the red on the right (for 8 mins), thirdly I might do the hips in 1 or 2 ways  as shown here from the booklet(for 8 mins), and fourthly I might do the first step again if that was the position where the treatment dial could only be turned up a small amount before reaching the tingling point (for the final 8 mins)

    From the User Manual p 32

    Examples of 2 ways of treating hip from the User Manual p 32

The one drawback for me with APS Therapy is that if e.g. I have strong pain in my buttock and I treat it in the method I described above, I then cannot go and do a lot of sitting as that will gradually undo the benefit of the treatment. (This highlights the marvellous capacity of the Painmaster to allow me to sit in a chair that would otherwise activate the pain.) It partly explains why I fell away from using the APS Therapy for a long time. I also did not benefit as much when I was first learning how to treat myself as I did not understand how crucial it was for the electrodes to be hydrated. And the other thing I have discovered is that the general rule of of starting most sessions by treating the spinal column first for 8 mins or more is wasted time in my case, time that would be better spent on the actual site of the pain.

So APS Therapy has given me wonderful peace of mind that at the end of the day I have the power to bring down the level of pain wherever I might be experiencing it, so that I can get a reasonable sleep. In general I use the Painmasters for lower back/buttock pain and APS Therapy on other sites – I still need to use specific medication for headaches. I can sometimes go without using APS Therapy for a number of months until pain re-asserts itself in some part of my body (besides my buttocks or head). But I can easily understand why this microcurrent therapy won a Gold Medal in 1998 for best medical invention at the International Invention Show in Geneva, Switzerland. How I wish the efficacy of microcurrent to treat pain would get the recognition it deserves throughout the medical profession!

IMG_3518

The portable lightweight MK4 (right) compared to the MK1.1(left)

 

 

Advertisements

Mastering pain (part 2)

I have become so confident about the effectiveness of the Painmaster™unit that if I am not experiencing great pain relief then I know that it must be because I need to find a different place to put the electrodes (patches). For years I had constant pain in one site on my right buttock with pain extending from there down the right leg into the foot. So originally I could put the Painmaster on the same spots. I used a permanent pen to mark the spots until they were indelibly printed on my mind. (Refer to Mastering pain -part 1)

original position of small round electrodes

   

Nowadays it’s a much more complex issue as the pain has moved and keeps moving to involve other nerves and muscles. Different activities will cause certain areas to become inflamed, e.g., when I garden and do a lot of bending or when I sit too long at the computer. Going on holidays can become a nightmare because I’m sitting in all kinds of chairs which have varying degrees of softness/hardness and have varying angles for the fulcrum between my lower back/pelvis and my legs.The pain can completely flip over to the left side too.

The distributor for Painmaster in Australia and New Zealand has recently produced some great videos that show the versatility of the unit, for instance this video shows how hip pain can involve different areas and how one can move the patches to get the best relief for an individual’s specific hip pain. I want to share with you some of the different places where I put the patches when the pain moves but is still within the buttock and lower back region. I hope this encourages you to experiment with the Painmaster if you are not getting satisfactory results.

position 1
            position 3

position 2

The dominant images (below) from the Painmaster brochure and packaging shows 2 patches either side of the spine.It is probably the best position for treating pain which emanates from the vertebrae, a common place of damage and pain.

across spine   vertebrae pain          cropped image on Painmaster box

Another video produced by Painmaster Australia New Zealand shows the general principle for treating back pain. It also describes my preferred way of getting pain relief. I put one electrode on one side of the spine and the other electrode on the opposite side of the spine. In this way if I am getting a lot of pain around the spine I can calm the nerves and muscles separately on each side of the spine.

2 patches

This is also the set-up I use with 2 Painmasters when I am going to travel long distances on a plane whether the pain is already strong or not. (Painmaster recommends not using more than 4 units at a time.) It seems that my sacrum becomes jammed when I sit for hours in the same seat. I visualise the sacroiliac joints and position the patches close by and then determine where to put the connecting patches to the most painful spot on each of the buttocks. If the pain shifts slightly I can move the patches around until I can sense that the pain is diminishing.

sacroiliac joints

Keeping 2 electrodes over the left and right sacroiliac joints whilst varying the position of the connecting electrodes

electrode above waist

 

For good measure I include this diagram of putting one of the electrodes above the waist. I realised that the muscle running parallel to the spine was tight and painful when a very good massage therapist showed me its link with the strong pain I was experiencing in the top of my buttock.

 

Painmaster Australia New Zealand also provides a great video for placement of patches for lower back pain which might be more helpful than my explanation.

So if you are not experiencing good pain relief using a Painmaster …

  • even though you have read the brochure provided with the product,
  • even if you have looked at all the information and videos on the Painmaster website,
  • even if you have rung the help line – Call Us To Talk To An Expert –                          (in Australia) on 1300 558 252 

                          …  then don’t be afraid to experiment.

electrodes on two most painful points

 

 

 

 

 

 

put electrode where it really hurts

 

 

 

 

Of course I understand that feeling of anxiety about finding the optimum site for the electrodes as soon as possible. I can still get in a terrible mess with lower back pain, especially when I go on a holiday. I might try all the usual places trying to bring the pain level down but still be unable to make any significant impact. I prod all over the the soft and bony parts of the buttock trying to determine the worst places. Sometimes the pain needs to get very strong so that I can’t miss the chief offending spot and at last can set about obtaining pain relief.

I have never encountered another product that takes away the pain while one is actually engaged in the activity or position that is normally guaranteed to escalate the pain. So of course I am an absolute fan of the Painmaster!

But I do acknowledge that not everyone will get the pain relief from a Painmaster that they so desperately desire so I mention my Disclaimer again. I have not yet been able to find a way of using the Painmaster that makes a significant difference to the headaches I get, even though I know they are stemming from my shoulder and neck.(P.S. Don’t put Painmasters on your head! Or the front of the throat where the pulse can be felt!)

However I can assure you that I have found a couple of other ways to significantly alleviate chronic pain which may  help you. So this is not the end of my story …

Microcurrent units

If you have discovered that Painmasters deliver the pain relief you need you might like to consider a more permanent form of microcurrent therapy. Here are 4 units I have some experience with: Micro 300, Micro 400, Micro 850 and MicroPlus.

different microcurrent units

different microcurrent units

In 2004 I went back studying after a very long break. I had no means of pain relief other than exercise and low-level medication. The few years in Auckland when I was able to purchase a continual supply of Painmasters had long faded away. I realised that attempting the course might bring about a nightmare of pain (mostly from the need to sit at computers) and so I went to the internet and typed in ‘micro current’ in the wild hope that there might be something out there that mimicked a Painmaster.

I was thrilled to discover on http://www.medcareservice.com a device called a Micro 300. This website no longer leads to the page on the Micro 300  device but the same unit can be seen at

http://www.3dhealthstore.com/micro-current-300.html

It was going to cost me more than $100 as well as postage from the U.S. It was a big event 10 years ago to order something online and arrange payment for it while living a whole ocean away from the source. I don’t know how many times I read and reread all the information on the site before I took the plunge – a plausible explanation was given on the website as to how microcurrent could address pain. When the case arrived I was nervous all over again in considering how to adjust the settings to achieve something similar to the Painmaster device. After reading the Micro 300 booklet I chose some settings and switched it on. After only a couple of days of experimenting I found the optimal settings and I was in business! All the different seats in lecture halls, tutorial rooms, library and cafeteria as well as computer chairs no longer seemed an insurmountable problem.

trying to make sense of technical specifications

wondering which technical specifications would match a Painmaster

When you remove the settings cover there are a number of choices to make. I can recommend the following selection however you could track some different settings to come to the optimal solution for your own pain condition. Just note that the MicroPlus has a second dial on the outer surface which I generally set in the range of 0.5 to 1.3 ( the lower end of the spectrum).

different settings to suit chronic pain

examples of settings that suit chronic pain

The Micro 300 model has now been replaced by the Micro 400 model. However Medcare Service no longer sells those models or posts to Australia. This forced me to search again and I found Llhasa OMS, a company which has always provided a very good service and you can arrange by email to have the unit posted to Australia. The units themselves come in hard black cases and mostly seem to be made in Taiwan even though they are sold globally. The case also comes with a battery and lead wires  as well as electrodes – I have not found these electrodes to be very durable. All the units have a small flashing light to show the battery is working.

The one which has become my main backstop is the Biomedical Life Systems Micro Plus which I have ordered from Allegro Medical – https://www.allegromedical.com– in the electrotherapy menu. I emailed them and they arranged to post it economically to Australia using DHL.

Lhasa OMS offers the Micro 850 (http://www.lhasaoms.com/Microcurrent-Units.html) at a very reasonable price. In many years of ordering I have only hit one snag  because there are 2 different models of the Micro 850, one offering a 10, 20, 40 minute length of current, another one providing a C(Continuous) 20, 40. The timer needs to be Continuous to address chronic pain so check this out when you email your order.

chronic pain requires the C (Continuous) setting on the Timer

chronic pain requires the C (Continuous) setting on the Timer

Of course whichever microcurrent unit you purchase there are still going to be occasional dramas and costs. You will regularly need to purchase new electrodes and lead wires as well as 9V batteries. You can try buying a recharger for a rechargeable 9V battery but I found that they never lasted more than 12 hours which was too troublesome. Eventually any microcurrent unit will expire after a few years of continuous use. The hard plastic cover for the settings and battery may also fall off.  Not to mention dropping the whole unit onto concrete floors! As a woman, I found I needed to dress in skirts or pants which ideally had a pocket so that the unit could rest in the pocket while the lead wires were threaded under the clothing. Although a microcurrent unit is a health device I always feel it is better to remove it before passing though airport screening and then reapply it before boarding. I just don’t want to make public explanations as to why I’m wearing something that looks like I’m wired to explode.

Purchasing the accessories can be time-consuming but here are a few tips for electrodes and leads if you don’t want to order them from overseas.

Alpha First Aid – in booths at Westfield shopping centres – sell the most common lead wire which fits into the Micro 400 and Micro 850

http://physioworks.com.au/online-store – under TENS Machines – sells electrodes.

http://whiteleyallcare.com.au sell PALS Valutrode Electrodes as well as less expensive AllCare Electrodes as well as the Lead for Allcare TENS (Product Code: ACTENLEADMK5) which is compatible with the Micro 400 and the Micro 850. The way to order to order these products is via www.myphysioshop.com.au.

By searching for a good price I have most recently ordered replacement electrodes from OPTOMO at https://www.optomo.com.au/category/tens-machines/

At the moment I have put the units into a cupboard and am enjoying the freedom of using Painmasters after a gap of 15 years (See  Mastering pain (part 1). No longer do I need to fiddle with settings, check the battery, purchase accessories online or deal with long wires bunched up underneath clothing. I can wear dresses! I can travel! I have proven to myself over and over that the level of microcurrent in a Painmaster – the original model provided up to 20μA (microAmps) and the latest model says 2.7 vDC @ 49μA  –  is a perfect match for removing the sensation of pain. I am so convinced about this Painmaster MCT patch that if I am not experiencing freedom from pain then I only need to move the patch to a slightly different place on my body. Maybe if I have strong pain occurring in a number of places – my shoulder as well as my buttocks – or if I cannot afford to use more than 2 Painmasters at a time, I will get out one of the above microcurrent units and use it in conjunction with a Painmaster.

Buying one Painmaster is a simple investment in finding out whether your pain responds to microcurrent. If it does then you can consider buying one of the microcurrent devices I have described.( Disclaimer) If it doesn’t work then you may not have the same kind of chronic pain as myself. But you have not wasted your money as it doubles as a device for sports injuries, for tennis elbow, for lower backs that ache from lots of lifting or for necks that ache from working at the computer…

Some doctors are sceptical that such a small current could make any noticeable improvement.

I am not saying that it cures chronic pain.

But I am saying that as long as I am wearing the patch in the correct site then it will render the pain negligible.

Doctors may want you to increase the settings on a microcurrent unit to milliamps in the belief it will give you a better outcome

BUT

 the use of a microcurrent for reducing pain is a surprising and wonderful example of how

less is MORE!

Mastering pain (part 1)

In 1995 my husband wanted me to come with him to France. Since 1989 I had virtually stopped sitting – because of strong pain radiating from my lower back into one leg. The trip from New Zealand via the US would involve unthinkable hours of sitting. And yet I said Yes! Deep inside myself I felt that God would make it possible. But how  would I handle the ordeal?

My mother wrote to say that I should go to a pain clinic to see if there was any other medical intervention available. This seemed unlikely as I had recently passed though a pain clinic at  a major hospital where they had told me I was already taking the appropriate medication and performing an exercise regime which should give me maximum pain relief! So I made an appointment at a private pain clinic. The new doctor first tried injections into the spine with no results. Nothing else he suggested provided pain relief.

With time running out he said I could trial a new therapeutic device that had been issued by an American company. He was offering it to patients who didn’t respond to other treatment to see whether he could recommend it in his practice. The device was called a  Painmaster™  which had two electrodes joined by a wire.  He suggested placing one electrode at the site where the nerve  exited the L5S1 joint and placing the other at the lower end of the piriformis muscle (which felt like a burning rock at the time).

old Painmaster brochure front

old Painmaster brochure front

In less than an hour the pain did not just get lulled, tricked, diverted, managed or become more bearable – the pain actually ceased! And the longer I sat on my rump the more the whole area felt comforted and soothed – way, way down. When I got onto that plane and sat there  hour after hour, I kept expressing amazement to my husband that my buttock felt so NORMAL.  After all those years, all that constant throbbing, all those tears, all the tablets, all that exercise, all the doctor appointments and all those physical therapy treatments I cannot explain how grateful I felt to God and to the people who had invented and produced the device.

I still could get terrible headaches but now I had found the way to take part in so many activities that involved sitting.  Of course I went back to the original hospital pain clinic and told them how the Painmaster  completely calmed the buttock area in the hope that it might lead to a more permanent solution for many others. I was staggered to be told that it was probably only something specific to my body – even though I showed the doctor the brochure which explained how the Painmaster set up an electrical microcurrent that addressed acute pain, sport and work injuries, and post-surgical rehabilitation in clinical studies.

I set about ordering Painmasters for myself to wear all the time. The original device only lasted for 3 days but it was reasonably priced at the time – about the same as one visit to a physiotherapist. If I did not wear the device then the pain would return. All that mattered to me was that it actually mastered pain.

However the trial supply of Painmasters eventually dried up, we moved back to Australia and I had to learn to manage the situation again – I will tell more about this later. Only recently in 2011 I was again facing a long flight from Australia to France and managed to hunt down the Painmaster makers by internet and they provided me with some upgraded samples that they were in the final stages of modifying. Once again the device performed perfectly and allowed me to be confident that I could manage the trip.

The new Painmaster has been launched from the U.S. (http://painmasterglobal.com) and is now being marketed in

On these websites there are medical articles which detail the science behind the effectiveness of the Painmaster for various types of pain and injury. I can only attest that this device has definitively been effective for the chronic pain I have suffered in a number of sites on my body (not my head).

new Painmaster packaging

new Painmaster packaging

It is not a big risk to purchase just one Painmaster to find out whether this type of microcurrent therapy will work for your own chronic myofascial pain (see my Disclaimer).  If you have tested it and it works then you will be able to consider purchasing more or trying another more permanent microcurrent device. If it doesn’t work then sooner or later you can use it for another painful situation such as a sprain.

In a future post – Part 2 – I will compare how well a few other therapeutic devices master pain. Don’t let a bad experience with some pain specialist master your thoughts.

Electrotherapy for chronic pain

The biggest breakthrough I have had with reducing pain has been through electrotherapy.

Some doctors jump to thinking I am referring to TENS therapy. When I was experiencing severe pain in 1991 I trialled a TENS machine. It only produced another sensation on top of the pain. I tried once again a few years later with exactly the same results. I am unequivocal that for my type of condition TENS produces no benefit. If it is working for you then your condition or your pain differs from my chronic myofascial pain.

A lot of new devices using electrical current have emerged more recently. The difficulty as a patient is finding how to gauge their suitability without being able to personally trial them before making a decision to buy. This can be an expensive exercise because the various claims for pain relief are so tempting.

I will tell you what I have found to be effective in reducing pain. The first discovery was a very reasonable price and was so helpful that I would have been prepared to pay a lot more. This set me off on the path of using electrotherapy and I now have 4 therapeutic devices which I use according to different situations or different parts of my body. One is a unit which lasts 300 hours before it needs to be totally replaced and the other 3 involve the on-going cost of purchasing lead wires, electrodes, batteries. I will describe and assess some of the strengths and weaknesses of the 4 devices so that you can decide according to your own circumstances if any are suitable.

There is actually a website http://www.electrotherapy.org/ which has a medical basis and provides research articles for the different modalities of electrotherapy. I wish I had known about the studies and the publications that are listed on this site. Perhaps some of the doctors would not have reacted with such scepticism when I told them about the wonderful pain relief I obtained from the first electrotherapy unit I used. Only about 5 years ago I asked a specific pain specialist whether he or his colleagues at a pain clinic had ever encountered any medical literature that suggested  microcurrent was an effective way of treating chronic pain. He was very dismissive, said that the device was likely to have produced a placebo effect and challenged me to find the medical proof myself! It is a strange world when patients need to convince doctors through accessing and filtering the research themselves.

This is partly the driving force behind this blog – if I had only listened to the doctors (and most have been very compassionate) there really was very little that could be done about the pain besides management with medication and exercise. I am very grateful to avail myself of these two methods but I would have led a very diminished life if that was all there was on offer.  I will write about exercise at a later date as it is a significant tool in pain reduction.

Actually no one thing, even electrotherapy, is THE answer to pain. It’s like having a toolkit and I bring out of the kit whatever helps most with whatever I am trying to do… as I write this I am standing up because I want to avoid aggravating the pain in my right buttock – it’s the oldest trick in the kit, common sense tells me to avoid sitting!