By Erica Gadbois
When we’re kids, injuries are pretty commonplace. Generally, they happen, they heal — which, granted, isn’t always easy or fun — and they’re filed to memory. Sometimes, though, even seemingly straightforward injuries can become anything but.
A few years ago, Mya Beecher, now 15, broke her ankle. Then, she hurt it again. “Instead of relying solely on my crutches this time around, I got a knee scooter,” she recalls. “From this, I had a lot of pressure on my knees.” Even after Mya’s ankle healed, the pain in her knees didn’t stop. She tried treatments including physical therapy, sports massage, visits to the chiropractor and acupuncture. “Some granted brief relief, but did not help in the way that I hoped,” she says.
In March 2019, seven months after her knee pain began, Rady Children’s pediatric rheumatologist Robert Sheets, MD, diagnosed her with complex regional pain syndrome. This form of chronic pain often affects an arm or leg and causes pain beyond the average healing period and expected levels.
Manifesting in two forms — type 1, which happens following sickness or injury that did not cause nerve damage in the area affected, and type 2, which happens after a specific injury — CRPS is not very well understood within the medical and scientific communities. However, while opportunities for research into the condition’s cause and process abound, supportive evidence for early diagnosis and intervention in relation to long-term outcomes is strong. With that in mind, Mya’s physician referred her to the Children’s Specialized Hospital Chronic Pain Management Program at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego.
Offering an approximately 28-day inpatient option, as well as an outpatient option with telemedicine services, the program provides children and adolescents facing chronic pain conditions with tailored care plans built to improve their day-to-day function, build self-awareness, develop coping mechanisms and reduce levels of pain. “We want our patients to regain functioning and learn coping skills, but we also want to make sure that relief lasts,” explains Anke Reineke, PhD, BCB, the program’s director. “Our main focus is on ensuring patients leave the program with tools that work for their unique needs and help them stay well, and manage and alleviate any relapses or flare-ups, for their lifetime.”
Mya enrolled in the inpatient option and was met with a team of care providers. Her treatment plan integrated physiatry; psychology; and physical, occupational, recreational and aquatic therapy. Full days of work started immediately, and Mya’s care team plotted out activities that forced her to experience and tackle her pain head-on. “The first few days took a lot to get used to. It was very draining, mentally and physically,” she says.
Dr. Reineke concurs. “We start encouraging patients to participate in activities that highlight their pain right away, and it’s very challenging. However, that’s where we can start enacting meaningful change. While they’re working through these challenges, we also help them adjust their focus and learn to control their own pain instead of pain controlling them. Because we run our entire program without using any opioids or pain medications, they are wholly tuned in with their pain, and their connections to their minds and bodies. This combination of mental and physical effort disturbs the pain cycle, and patients can adopt a holistic and personalized approach to pain management.”
Soon, Mya started feeling results. “The mix of mental and physical health support helped by strengthening our mental states as well as our bodies, [and] I started noticing improvements when I was able to move with more ease a couple of weeks into the program.” And, despite them assigning her some lofty challenges, Mya gained comfort and support from her care team. “My favorite part of the program was the kind-hearted people,” she notes.
As an official chronic pain program graduate, Mya has maintained control of her pain. Although current circumstances have turned her attention toward indoor-friendly hobbies such as reading and video gaming, she enjoyed a return to sports and acting after completing the program, and looks forward to getting back on the field and stage as soon as possible.
Published July 2020