Last updated: April 2023
More than 80 percent of people with neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMO) experience significant pain. This may be pain related directly to NMO or another co-occurring issue. Pain can impact a person’s quality of life and well-being. Physical, mental, and emotional health can all be affected. In some cases, pain may worsen symptoms of depression or anxiety.1-4
What is scrambler therapy?
Scrambler therapy is a treatment used to reduce pain caused by a variety of conditions. In recent years, researchers have started to study how it may help some people with NMO.1
Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat pain, some consider it a type of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy. TENS machines can be used at home for a variety of different conditions, such as arthritis, migraines, and fibromyalgia. TENS machines send electrical signals to block the perception of pain.1,2,5,6
However, scrambler therapy is a little different. It focuses on a specific nerve pathway and attempts to change how the body perceives pain.5
Instead of blocking pain signals, scrambler therapy tries to confuse the brain. Devices that deliver this therapy send “non-pain” signals. Instead of stopping communication between the nerves, it sends signals that tell the brain it is not experiencing pain. Scrambler therapy attempts to retrain the brain into perceiving pain signals differently. By doing this, it may be possible to decrease pain perception and improve symptoms.1-3,5
What is scrambler therapy used for?
In recent years, scrambler therapy has been used for a variety of reasons. It has been used to treat nerve pain (neuropathy) related to chemotherapy in people with cancer. It has also been used to treat chronic back pain, different types of nerve pain, pain after surgery, and more. Experts have now started looking at how scrambler therapy may improve pain in NMO.1,5
How does it help people with NMO?
Currently, pain control in NMO is not perfect. Pain in NMO can be related to nerve-related pain, spasming muscles, or other co-occurring conditions. There are different treatment options based on the underlying cause of the pain. Some of these include drugs used to treat depression, anti-seizure drugs, muscle relaxants, and general pain relievers like opioids.2-4
However, these options do not provide much relief for most people with NMO-related pain. Plus, they can cause a variety of side effects. Some pain relievers, like opioids, can be addictive. Scrambler therapy does not require any drugs and has few side effects. It is also safe for most people to use.2-4
One study compared scrambler therapy to fake (placebo) therapy. Although the study was small, those who received scrambler therapy had significant improvements in pain after 10 sessions that were each about 30 minutes long. People receiving this therapy also had fewer depression-related symptoms after treatment. The pain relief from therapy continued for about a month after treatment. However, the effects began to wear off roughly 2 months later.2,3
Although it may be short-lived, scrambler therapy may be an option for reducing NMO pain. Treating NMO pain in safe and effective ways can help improve quality of life, reduce mental health distress, and more.2-4
What happens during scrambler therapy?
First, small, sticky pads will be placed on your body around the area you are experiencing pain. The pads deliver electrical signals and will be hooked up to a machine. Your doctor or a trained professional will lead the treatment. Treatment sessions usually last 30 to 45 minutes. Most people will get 10 to 12 sessions of treatment over a 2-week period. You may have discomfort during scrambler therapy, such as a slight pinching and vibration sensation at the site of the electrode pads.1
Pain relief from scrambler therapy is not always permanent. Most people need to come back for more treatments every few months. Your doctor can help determine the best schedule for you.1
What are the side effects?
There are few side effects of scrambler therapy. However, it may be possible to have low blood pressure or weakness after treatment. This may worsen if you take certain drugs, such as muscle relaxants. Before starting scrambler therapy, tell your doctor about all drugs and supplements you take.5
Things to know about scrambler therapy
Scrambler therapy needs to be done by a trained expert. Your doctor may specialize in it or be able to refer you to someone who does. It should not be done at home or on your own.5
Some people cannot undergo this type of therapy. This includes people with pacemakers or other electrical devices in the body. Also, some drugs may interfere with how well the therapy works. Tell your doctor about any medical issues or concerns you have before treatment.2
Scrambler therapy may not be covered by health insurance, and each session can cost several hundred dollars. Talk with your doctor or insurance provider before starting this therapy to avoid any surprise medical bills.3
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