The VCU School of Nursing’s Center for Biobehavioral Clinical Research is supporting one of the first pilot studies in the nation to compare Scrambler therapy, a non-invasive technology for treating chronic pain, against placebo treatments in individuals with low back pain. Angela Starkweather, Ph.D., RN, associate professor in the Department of Adult Health and Nursing Systems, is the principal Investigator of the study team.

Persistent low back pain is one of the nation’s most expensive medical conditions and a leading cause of disability. Even when individuals with persistent low back pain receive current treatments, over 80% will continue to report problems with pain and functioning a year later. A major factor that interferes with the ability to effectively alleviate persistent low back pain is enhanced pain sensitivity, an altered state of pain processing that develops from modifications in the expression of pain sensitivity genes which ends up causing more efficient pain signaling and greater pain perception.

Scrambler therapy, a non-invasive bioengineered-based method of pain treatment, was designed to interrupt the mechanisms of enhanced pain sensitivity by transforming, or scrambling, the pain signaling messages initiated by injured nerve fibers. While Scrambler therapy has been used to successfully treat several challenging chronic pain conditions, it has never been compared with sham (placebo) treatment. In addition, no investigators have examined the influence of Scrambler therapy on genetic mechanisms of pain sensitivity.  The study incorporates measures of pain sensitivity and expression of pain sensitivity genes which will provide objective data on the effects of this treatment in addition to the individual’s subjective pain experience.


Pictured left to right are Brett Weigel, accelerated master’s student and research assistant; Brittni Trofont, research assistant; Angela Starkweather, principal investigator; and Lauryn Esposito, research assistant.

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