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Patients in pain feel the light

The therapy uses photo energy to help relieve soreness and improve circulation for some people.

COLLEEN JENKINS
Published September 8, 2003

CRYSTAL RIVER - If Howard Moore, 52, had his way, a doctor's prescription for his diabetic peripheral neuropathy would include an order for his wife to massage his feet.

But the jokester knows he'd never get away with that, and Teresa Moore's tender touch couldn't adequately relieve the burning, knife-like pain he suffered for months as a result of his condition.

Luckily for his health and sanity, the Ocala resident has found a treatment that can.

It's called Anodyne Therapy. Created by a Tampa-based company with the same name, the system uses light therapy to release nitric oxide from a patient's red blood cells. Improved circulation and increased sensation often result for people who suffer from the pain of nerve damage.

More than 70 clinics statewide offer the therapy. In mid June, TLC Rehab in Crystal River became the first in Citrus County to use the Anodyne system, according to marketing manager Cindi McDonald.

Thirteen patients, who suffer mostly from shoulder, foot or knee soreness or numbness, are receiving the treatment there, she said.

These local residents and their physicians are clucking happily about the noninvasive treatment, which consists of monochromatic infrared photo energy emitted into a patient's tissue through small pads wrapped loosely around various body parts.

After a month of thrice-weekly, 30-minute sessions, Floral City resident Rosemary D. Head, 65, said she can do things she hasn't done in years. Namely, bending over and touching her toes with the agility of a young girl.

"Look at me!" she said Tuesday afternoon, proudly displaying her regained skill during a visit to TLC Rehab.

Head has peripheral neuropathy, and the nerve damage had slowly stripped her of her balance. She had to use her cane in the shower and to get from the kitchen to dining room with dinner plates, she said.

But her quality of life has significantly improved since her family doctor referred her to the therapy, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1994 and patented last month.

"I've gotten my balance back," she said, noting she combines the treatment with physical therapy for better results. "It's amazing what happens as you come three times a week. It just gets better and better and better."

The positive benefits aren't merely anecdotal. In a study published last year, 48 of 49 patients with diabetic peripheral neuropathy in Colorado had improved feeling in their limbs after six treatments.

All saw improvement after 12 sessions, according to the study, which appeared in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association. The report said increased circulation might reverse neuropathy and thus delay the onset of foot ulcers that sometimes can lead to amputation.

The light therapy has been shown to increase circulation by 400 percent and even restore some lost feeling in the limbs, said Anodyne spokeswoman Kim Stebbings. In contrast, a traditional heating pad, which uses thermal therapy, would produce a 40 percent increase in circulation, she said.

But not everyone reaps the treatment's benefits. Lucia Quintal, a physical therapist at TLC Rehab in Crystal River, estimated the therapy had been successful in about 80 percent of the cases she's seen so far. She's hard pressed to explain why some people see improvements and others don't.

Still, it's an option worth trying, said Dr. Mark Hashim, a pain management specialist in Lecanto who has recommended the treatment for some of his patients. Before the infrared light therapy, Hashim mainly prescribed a blend of medication that might include unpleasant side effects. Narcotics were needed for the worst cases, he said.

"I'd much rather give them the Anodyne Therapy and not have them take expensive medications that can affect their daily lives," he said.

Moore hasn't gotten to decrease his medication, but he hasn't had to increase it either, he said. Before starting the therapy three months ago, the Marion County prison locksmith spent most nights after work sitting at home in agony. The pain was so bad it brought him to tears, he admits.

But Tuesday, Moore didn't flinch as Quintal fastened the pads around both his feet. He sat relaxed for 30 minutes, reminiscing about the bygone days and relating his newfound comfort.

He's climbing trees now to cut down limbs. He can go out after work. He sometimes notices a little pain after a long day, Moore said, but he feels 75 percent better.

"I'm really happy," he said quietly.

So is his wife.

"He's at least 90 percent better," Teresa Moore said. Then she whispered: "He's not nearly as irritable either."

- Colleen Jenkins can be reached at 860-7303 or cjenkins@sptimes.com

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