Feature Image of Dr Katinka van der Merwe sourced from:
Dear Pain Matters blog readers,
As mentioned in earlier posts, Dr Katinka van der Merwe (aka Dr Katinka), a Chiropractor at The Neurologic Relief Center (aka Spero Clinic), Arkansas, USA, specializes in chronic pain including complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). Dr Katinka’s novel and non-invasive approach focuses on restoring balance in the autonomic nervous system, with particular emphasis on the vagus nerve (‘the wandering nerve’). As a result, Dr Katinka’s treatments may successfully reduce, and even eliminate, pain and inflammation as well as enhance function and mobility in many CRPS and other pain patients. In doing so, she has literally given back their lives!
Dr Katinka’s unique medical talents for treating chronic pain are amongst the best in the world. Furthermore, Dr Katinka’s compassion and empathy for each of her patients adds a touch of humanity to a field of medicine that (all-too-often) appears disengaged and disconnected with the actual depth of pain and suffering endured by so many chronic pain patients.
This blog post will review 10 CRPS patients who were successfully treated by Dr Katinka. I urge the reader to watch at least some of the YouTube links. Like me, you will (likely) be very touched by their stories of recovery from CRPS.
It is exciting to reveal that 7 of these 10 patients achieved COMPLETE pain relief following Dr Katinka’s 10-week treatment program! Please click on the following table to view a summary of 7 CRPS patients who now enjoy nil pain.
The following 3 CRPS patients enjoyed significantly less pain following completion of Dr Katinka’s 10-week treatment program:
- Debbie (retired), whose pain levels no longer exceed 2;
- Kristin, whose pain levels were 2, post-treatment, compared to 7, pre-treatment; and
- Billi, who was finally able to extend her left leg, post-treatment.
Details of 10 CRPS Patients Successfully Treated By Dr Katinka
1. Carlos’ CRPS Story
Carlos was in a serious auto accident in 2005 that resulted in spinal cord injury and other injuries as well as constant and severe pain for 7 years. He was formally diagnosed with CRPS 2 years later in 2007. His CRPS started in his abdominal area and affected his entire digestive system. His CRPS spread throughout his entire body following TENS treatment.
Carlos had to use a wheelchair and a cane due to severe pain from CRPS. He was unable to eat solid food. Drinking water even hurt. His eyes had a constant burning sensation and he became sensitive to light. Having said that, he was grateful that his vision remained unaltered.
Carlos tried everything to control his pain including pain medications, spinal injections, epidurals and a spinal stimulator implant. Unfortunately, his severe pain levels exceeding 10 continued to torture him.
Despite Carlos having given up on hope and even on life itself, his wife convinced him to see Dr Katinka as a last resort. When Dr Katinka met Carlos for the first time, he was unable to eat more than a couple spoons of chicken broth at a time. The latter even caused hours of excruciating pain for Carlos.
Quoting Dr Katinka,
‘Carlos was white as a sheet, and utterly without hope. His pain was carved into his face for the world to see. He came in with his wife. She told me that she was afraid that Carlos would take his own life if they could not find relief soon. She had convinced him to try just one more doctor. With them that day was their nine-month old baby, Sean. I remember looking at that little boy and trying to imagine his life without his father in it to see him grow up. Carlos finally looked up and said: ‘You can’t help me. No one can help me. I am here because my wife asked me to come.’ ’
Despite his dire state of health, Dr Katinka proceeded with her gentle upper cervical treatment on him. To both of their surprise and for the first time in 6 years, his pain levels dropped dramatically from a 10 to a 3 following her manual procedure of his upper neck area! Carlos finally obtained relief from his constant burning pain within the first 15 minutes of his first treatment! What a pleasant surprise after suffering severe and constant pain due to full-body CRPS for 6 entire years! To top this off, Carlos celebrated this milestone by finally eating a full-course dinner without pain for the first time in 5 years.
He was a changed man when he came back for his second day of treatment. His colour had returned as did his ‘life spark’.
After his 3rd day during Week 1 and after only 3 treatment sessions with Dr Katinka, his pain levels dropped to a 2 … and then to a 1. In fact, some parts of his body were not even sensing pain anymore!
After Week 6 at the Center, he was down to only one pain medication (from several pain medications). Furthermore, his pain levels remained at 1 or 2.
Twelve weeks later, Carlos was completely pain-free.
Three (3) years later, Carlos stated that he was still 99% better, and that he no longer needed any pain medications. This demonstrates the lasting benefits of Dr Katinka’s 10-week pain program.
Almost five years later in 2016, Carlos is still pain-free. He is now working as a pastor and travels all over the world. Whilst he has faced physical challenges since then including gallbladder surgery, he has no sign of CRPS returning.
(Carlos was interviewed 3 times by Dr Katinka – twice during his 10-week pain treatment program and a third time 3 years after his successful treatment for CRPS.)
2. Brock’s CRPS Story
Brock suffered CRPS for 10 months following a broken ankle in January 2015. Brock was bedridden for 10 weeks due to excess pain from CRPS that also spread to his other leg. Brock was on crutches for 7 months. By now, his CRPS-affected leg comprised mainly of skin and bone, with only a little bit of calf and thigh remaining. The bulk of his muscle mass in his CRPS-affected leg was gone. Somewhere along the way, Brock also lost his job. Needless to say, CRPS significantly changed his life for the worse in every conceivable way.
In addition to ‘tonnes of medication’, he had 4 sympathetic nerve blocks. Unfortunately, this did not offer the pain relief that Brock needed in order to function properly.
When asked about any neck injuries by Dr Katinka, Brock confirmed that, in fact, he did have a prior neck injury prior to developing CRPS.
Brock described his first treatment during his trial week with Dr Katinka that involved gentle hands-on upper cervical manipulation as follows (quoting):
‘…completely painless, … I’ve had no side effects … no pains from the treatments … Nothing … Amazing.’
Dr Katinka asked him, ‘So your pain level right now is?’
Brock answered, ‘I’m a zero … zero.’ (He laughs.)
Dr Katinka enquired, ‘How does it feel?’
Brock happily replied ‘I’m smiling for the first time in a long time. I haven’t been at a zero in almost a year now … and I’ve been amazed … 5 seconds into the first treatment … I was pain-free.’
Dr Katinka stated, ‘I’m so excited!’
Brock chuckled, ‘Me too … me too!’
3. David’s CRPS Story
David suffered CRPS in his right foot for almost 3 years following right foot surgery to remove a bunion and straighten out a ‘hammer toe’. This was followed by a second surgery to remove a nerve from his right foot due to pain. After these surgeries, David started having severe pain and swelling in his CRPS-affected right foot.
Post-CRPS, David walked with a cane, crutches and/or used a wheelchair due to pain. He has his own wheelchair ramp built behind his house. David was no longer able to drive or do anything else. David was afraid to move for fear of making the pain worse than it already was.
As a result of the severe and unrelenting pain, David became extremely depressed. Quoting David,
‘Depression … got so bad that, twice, I took very seriously about taking my own life … but … [my wife] … told me that there is only one that can give live and one has the authority to take life…’
Whilst his CRPS did not spread, his severe pain levels ranged from 11 to 13 (out of 10).
Quoting David, ‘The pain medications just numb the pain. You have to keep it up, you’re drugged out … can’t do anything … your life is gone.’
In addition to morphine, Oxycontin and Hydromorphone, David also tried nerve blocks, without success.
On his first day at the Center, Dr Katinka asked David to lie on the treatment table for a diagnostic test. As she chatted to David, Dr Katinka applied pressure to his neck and underneath his skull. As she continued to apply gentle pressure in this area, his pain levels started to decrease dramatically until they reached a 2! The pain levels did not, however, stop there. Instead, they dropped even further as Dr Katinka continued to apply gentle pressure. Guess what happened next?? David’s pain levels were finally at zero! Imagine that!! Zilch pain!! Wow!!
After completing his trial (first) week at The Neurologic Relief Center, his right foot no longer appeared red and swollen.
Five (5) weeks later at the Center, David finally enjoyed complete pain relief and his right foot was not swollen. David’s story of recovery from CRPS in his right foot is nothing short of amazing!
During his last 2 days at the Center, David intentionally left his walking cane in his motel room. He was now able to walk on his own 2 feet without pain.
David’s wife, Debbie, said to Dr Katinka, ‘You have … a special heart for people in chronic pain, and it shows.’
Dr Katinka answered softly, ‘Thank you. I do. Especially RSD…’
Before seeing Dr Katinka, David was in so much pain and pain-induced stress. Now that his pain, and the stress relating thereto, was gone, David is finally looking forward to going fishing again on his own fishing boat.
David finally has his life back! What could be better than that??
4. Madi’s CRPS Story
Madi, a teenager from Arkansas, sustained serious injuries including a fractured arm in a roll-over car accident 6 years ago when she was only 13. Thereafter, Madi developed CRPS in her fractured arm that spread to her middle to lower part of her back as well as her entire left leg. Her pain was sometimes so severe that she had difficulty walking.
Madi tried many different pain treatments including nerve blocks and lumbar blocks. She has 2 stimulators surgically implanted in her back as well as a pump. Sadly, the 2 stimulators did not reduce her pain levels at all. While the pump offered some relief from her pain, it did not offer the amount of pain relief that she had hoped for or that she needed in order to function properly.
Madi underwent a chemical ablation (ie Phenol neurolysis) to burn her sympathethic nerve. Sadly, this medical procedure only made her pain worse. Madi took medication to help her sleep through the night despite the pain.
Madi felt guilty for being in pain all the time. She felt like a burden to her family.
Understandably, Madi was sceptical about seeing Dr Katinka for the first time. After all, no one else had been able to help her since her serious car accident 6 years ago.
However, Madi’s doubts quickly vanished after her first appointment. When Dr Katinka performed a diagnostic test involving a gentle and non-invasive upper neck manipulation, Madi’s pain levels dropped to zero for the first time in 6 years since her car accident! Wow!! This 100% pain relief lasted for an entire 40 minutes.
Needless to say, after her first day at the Center, Madi was eager to return for more treatments! Even after 2 weeks (including during her YouTube interview), Madi stated that her pain levels were nil! This is great news!
In closing, Madi’s mom said (quoting),
‘There is no amount of money that could ever give us what we have now, and it’s [Dr Katinka] that gave us that … And we talked about how her pain was locked, and how [Dr Katinka had] the key that unlocked it and made it go away…’
(Madi had just completed 2 weeks of her 10-week pain program at the Center when this interview was done.)
5. Scott’s CRPS Story
Scott suffered from CRPS for 2 years following carpal tunnel surgery to his right hand. Scott’s pain extended from his fingertips in his right hand up his right arm and to his neck. His pain levels in his right hand were excruciating and would always reach 8 to 10 by afternoon. Consequently, by the end of each day, he did not want to do anything at all.
Scott’s daily pain medications included massive amounts of Gabapentin and Ibuprofen. He also tried numerous nerve blocks as well as 5 ketamine infusions. While the effects of the first ketamine infusions seemed promising, the actual pain relief offered by the remaining 4 ketamine infusions lasted only 2-3 weeks each.
After only 4 days of treatment with Dr Katinka, the pain from Scott’s right wrist to his neck vanished. While there was some lingering pain in his fingers in his right hand (with pain levels at 1), this was significantly more tolerable than before.
During her gentle hands-on upper cervical manipulation, Dr Katinka confirmed that the right side of Scott’s neck had felt a bit abnormal. Dr Katinka’s chiropractic treatment of Scott’s upper cervical area aimed to ease the pressure on his vagus nerve. In so doing, she increased the activity of his vagus nerve.
Research by Dr Kevin Tracey shows that increased efferent vagal activity can lead to drastically reduced localised inflammation (Walker & Drummond, 2011). This would, of course, include any inflammation in David’s CRPS-affected right hand including fingers. Decreased inflammation often leads to less pain, and in some cases, nil pain.
And this is exactly what happened to Scott during the upper cervical procedure!
In response to her question, ‘What is your pain like?’, Scott replied,
‘Right now it’s a zero.’
Dr Katinka said, ‘Zero! That’s awesome!‘
When Scott was asked whether he had ever experienced nil pain in the past 2 years, he replied that until now, the only time he could not feel his pain was during sleep.
6. Barbara Wall’s CRPS Story
Barbara Wall worked as a registered nurse for 25 years. In 2005, Barbara suffered a broken neck due to a severe injury to her cervical spine as well as other injuries. She was also diagnosed with full-body CRPS. Thereafter, Barbara was forced to quit nursing in order to focus on her health issues and constant pain resulting from CRPS, her broken neck and other injuries.
Barbara underwent daily physical, occupational and pool therapy. In addition, she was offered various pain medications, numerous stellate ganglion blocks, lumbar sympathetic blocks and cervical epidural steroid injections, without any success.
Following a successful spinal cord stimulator (SCS) trial, Barbara received an SCS implant. This finally offered some pain relief enabling Barbara to continue with daily physiotherapy plus 2 hours of pool therapy.
Barbara describes 10 years of full-body CRPS as ‘mind blowing, traumatic, overwhelming, and most of all changing’.
Then one day in June 2015, Barbara’s CRPS worsened when she ‘made a simple movement with [her] neck and felt a horrible pop with lightning pain … the pain was intense’. Barbara’s SCS was no longer able to provide pain relief leading to weeks of sleepless nights. Tests finally revealed that 2 of her discs in her neck were so badly damaged that her SCS paddle had shifted to the right, rendering it completely ineffective on the left side. Corrective surgery was considered too risky as it could make her CRPS even worse.
Barbara’s pain levels were at 8 out of 10 when she met Dr Katinka for the first time on 12 October 2015. These pain levels dropped to 4 after her first non-invasive, drug-free and painless treatment with Dr Katinka.
Following completion of Dr Katinka’s 10-week pain program, Barbara’s pain levels are now zero most of the time. Barbara was also able to stop all of her pain medications.
‘…there is hope in hopeless situations. Even with my continued spine issues and the need for surgery on my cervical spine, I have been able to maintain low to no pain with my RSD. I cannot tell you how amazing it is after ten years of chronic pain to actually sleep throughout the night, to not feel like you are burning from within…’
7. Brenda’s CRPS Story
Brenda suffered from CRPS since January 2010 and her pain levels used to range between 8 to 10 ‘pretty much all the time’.
After 4 weeks of non-invasive treatment at the Center, Brenda no longer takes any pain medication. Best of all, Brenda no longer has pain.
(No other details were provided during this short 1-minute YouTube interview.)
8. Debbie’s CRPS Story
Debbie suffered from CRPS for 12 years following a surgical procedure in March 2004. The anesthesiologist had hit a nerve while numbing her frozen shoulder. As a result of severe pain due to CRPS, Debbie was no longer able to work. She also became hypersensitive to clothing including sleeves.
Debbie took many different pain medications including Lyrica and Gabapentin. She also underwent a spinal cord stimulator operation for her pain.
Debbie received frequency specific microcurrent and other non-invasive treatments at the Center from the end of February to May 2016.
Post-treatment at the Center, Debbie feels as if she ‘has a new lease on life … a second chance’. Debbie and her husband were finally able to go on a 3-week road trip that included many rigorous activities such as 5-mile walks.
Debbie’s pain levels are now minimal and no longer exceed 2. Debbie added that she no longer needs Lyrica, Gabapentin nor any other pain medication. She has not turned on her spinal cord stimulator since February 2016.
In Debbie’s words, ‘It’s just amazing!’
(This interview occurred 6 months after Debbie’s successful treatment for CRPS at the Center in 2016.)
9. Kristin’s CRPS Story
Kristin from Pennsylvania suffered from full-body CRPS for 9 years after injuring her T-spine at work.
Kristin tried many different treatments including a spinal cord stimulator trial. However, the spinal cord stimulator had to be removed urgently due to the pain that it caused. Sadly, during its removal, ‘they really yanked on it’. This may have injured the lining of her spinal cord, making her pain worse.
After that, Kristin had numbness and tingling in both hands and arms, both feet and legs as well as on the left side of her face. There was also increased burning pain and she bruised more easily. She couldn’t work anymore due to CRPS. Kristin could only sit and watch TV as well as sleep in the same recliner for years. Sleeping in her bed was no longer a comfortable option.
After treatment by Kr Katinka, Kristen stated, ‘It’s basically been like a miracle. It really has. … The first day, you were able to get rid of pain that I had in my mid back for 9 years.’
Overcome by emotion, Kristin started crying. She continued, ‘I have so much less pain now … my RSD symptoms are still there … but cutting down on medication … I came in at a 7 and today I am leaving at a 2.’
She added, ‘It was definitely worth the 1,200 mile trip that we need, and the money, to come and see you … [Dr Katinka] is the best!’
(Kristin was interviewed on her last day at the Center after completion of Dr Katinka’s 10-week pain program.)
10. Billi’s CRPS Story
Billi is a mother and a flight attendant who can no longer work due to pain from CRPS. Her CRPS affected her entire left arm including hand, wrist, arm and left shoulder for the past 4 years. Billi’s pain levels averaged 3 to 4. Different factors affected her pain levels including daily temperature and activities. Sometimes Billi woke up without pain. However, as soon as she got up and moved around, her pain levels spiked.
Billi tried many pain treatments including bioenergy healing, biofeedback, acupuncture and lumbar injections.
One day, Billi accidentally fell backwards while going down some stairs in Paris, France. This resulted in a hyperstretched nerve in her left leg that prevented her from extending out her left leg while walking.
Amongst different treatments offered at the Center, Billi had frequency specific microcurrent on her left leg. After this treatment, Billi was finally able to stretch and extend out her left leg while sitting and walking.
When asked what CRPS took away from her, Billi replied that CRPS took away her entire life including her beloved job as a flight attendant. She added that she would love to go back to her job. CRPS had also drastically changed her role as a mom.
Dr Katinka added, ‘Our goal is so much bigger than getting you out of pain. It’s getting you back to your life.’
Billi started to weep softly upon hearing these kind and compassionate words. Touched by Billi’s tears of hope and gratitude, it didn’t take long for tears to also start welling up in Dr Katinka’s eyes.
(This interview was done at the end of Billi’s first week at the Center, with more treatments planned and further progress expected for Billi.)
Dr Katinka strongly emphasizes that The Neurologic Relief Center (aka Spero Clinic) does not aim to:
- Numb the pain;
- Use calmare;
- Use ketamine; or
- Claim to cure CRPS.
Instead, the Center aims to re-balance the central nervous system (CNS), and in particular, the autonomic nervous system including the parasympathetic nervous system (i.e. the vagus nerve). This will allow for optimal healing from within the body. Once the autonomic nervous system balance is restored and vagal outflow increases, reduced inflammation, significant and/or complete pain relief as well as improved function and mobility may arise.
Dr Katinka’s non-invasive treatments for neuropathic pain and injury to the spinal cord include an upper cervical procedure to stimulate the vagus nerve – see below – and frequency specific microcurrent.
Patients who respond positively to the non-invasive treatments via a dramatic decrease in their pain levels during their first week (‘trial week’) at the Centre are invited to complete the 10-week pain program.
Upper Cervical Procedure To Stimulate The Vagus Nerve
Dr Katinka believes that CRPS is like ‘a perfect storm’ that may arise in the presence of an underactive vagus nerve. This may occur following a neck or tailbone injury that could compromise its function. In other words, Dr Katinka believes that an injury to the CNS that could affect the vagus nerve is a major risk factor (amongst other factors) for CRPS in some patients.
Dr Katinka’s gentle hands-on upper cervical diagnostic procedure is performed on each CRPS patient during the first day of the ‘trial 1-week’. During this diagnostic test, CRPS patients are requested to lay on the treatment table. This non-invasive and painless procedure enables Dr Katinka to diagnose whether an underactive vagus nerve exists.
In Dr Katinka’s experience, most, if not all, CRPS patients present with a hypoactive vagus nerve. Furthermore, in her opinion, unless the problem in the CNS (being an underactive vagus nerve) is properly addressed, many may never get to the bottom of CRPS. In other words, if one only treats the symptoms of CRPS including pain (via pain medications, ketamine, spinal blocks, spinal cord stimulator, etc), instead of addressing the actual cause for these symptoms (such as an injury in the CNS that affects the vagus nerve), one may never be able to help CRPS patients.
Dr Katinka’s gentle manipulation of the patient’s upper cervical region often results in stimulation of the vagus nerve. In turn, this can reduce localized inflammation almost immediately that may lead to pain relief. These manipulations are repeated throughout the 10-week program, as necessary.
Thanks to Dr Katinka and her team, many CRPS patients are finally able to enjoy their lives without pain, while many more CRPS patients benefit from reduced pain and increased function and mobility.
Often dreams become reality at The Neurologic Relief Center (Spero Clinic), Arkansas, thanks to Dr Katinka and her team!
Blogger, Pain Matters (in WordPress)
Other Pain Matter Blog Links and References of Dr Katinka
Putting Out the Fire: A Brand New Approach to Treating RSD/CRPS (guest blog post, RSDSA website (12 April 2016)
Academic References on the Efferent Vagus Nerve, Inflammation, Pain, etc
Walker, Sabina, Drummond, Peter D. Implications of a Local Overproduction of Tumor Necrosis Factor-α in Complex Regional Pain Syndrome [Review Paper]. Pain Medicine (Dec 2011); 12(12): 1784–1807 (24 pages).
Patient YouTube Links and References of CRPS Patients
- Carlos’ CRPS Story
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYE0aW1cTh8 (23 January 2015)
https://youtu.be/tC_JyDfvexM (8 June 2011)
Putting Out the Fire: A Brand New Approach to Treating RSD/CRPS (guest blog post, RSDSA website (12 April 2016)
- Brock’s CRPS Story
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MU7ggYcdJO4 (21 December 2015)
- David’s CRPS Story
Groundbreaking CRPS Treatment by Dr Katinka
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWIaMBhcvA0&sns=em (30 October 2015)
- Madi’s CRPS Story
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVqSGHwmf-E (7 August 2015)
- Scott’s CRPS Story
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3p1dOOHDuio (28 May 2016)
- Barbara Wall’s CRPS Story
My Journey Back to Health: Barbara Wall and RSD (3 May 2016)
- Brenda’s CRPS Story
http://seeingyouwell.com/testimonials/ (a 1-minute YouTube)
- Debbie’s CRPS Story
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxgG6RfcrRY (27 October 2016)
- Kristin’s CRPS Story
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltc8fUKhmZM (30 May 2016)
- Billi’s CRPS Story
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TpMSqe_aXk0 (20 March 2015)