Stopping joint pain with new therapy at Penn Highlands Healthcare

Dr. Christopher Varacallo is using Iovera cryoanalgesia, an innovative non-opioid therapy to decrease the use of pain medication prior to surgery.

When you meet Barbara Palumbo, you would never guess that she is a bionic woman. The Clearfield resident has had many joints replaced including her hip — twice, ankle and tibia. After living with intense pain in her left knee for nearly six years due to multiple bone fractures below the knee, last spring she consulted with Dr. Mark A. Nartatez, an orthopedic surgeon with Penn Highlands Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Clearfield. Dr. Nartatez recommended total knee replacement surgery and found Ms. Palumbo to be a perfect candidate for Iovera cryoanalgesia therapy. He then referred her to another physician in the practice, Dr. Christopher P. Varacallo, who practices interventional orthopedics and sports medicine, for the Iovera procedure.

Iovera cryoanalgesia is an innovative non-opioid therapy used to decrease the use of pain medication prior to surgery and assist with functionality following surgery. It uses the body’s natural response to cold to treat peripheral nerves, without destroying the nerves, and immediately reduce pain — without the use of drugs. Treated nerves are temporarily stopped from sending pain signals for 90-120 days, followed by full restoration of function.

Three weeks prior to Ms. Palumbo’s surgery with Dr. Nartatez, she met with Jolene Stell, a certified physician assistant with Penn Highlands Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, in Clearfield, and then Dr. Varacallo who performed the minimally invasive Iovera procedure to freeze the nerves in her knee to numb the pain.

“Jolene has been my cheerleader from day one and kept urging me to keep fighting. I walked out of that building without any pain,” said Ms. Palumbo. “I was in and out of the office in an hour or less.”

Using cold to relieve pain dates back to the days of Hippocrates. Modern cryoanalgesia has been trusted for treating pain since the 1950s. The physicians and staff at Penn Highlands Orthopedics and Sports Medicine have been using the Iovera cryoanalgesia therapy for people prior to total knee replacement surgery with impressive results. The ultrasound-guided system delivers precise, controlled doses of cold through a portable handheld device. This treatment is safe and causes no damage to surrounding tissues — most importantly it eliminates the need for opioids to control pain prior to the surgery.

“We try to avoid the use of strong pain reducing drugs as often as possible,” said Dr. Varacallo. “Iovera is an effective therapy that does not produce some of the side effects associated with opioids.”

Iovera is approved for any peripheral nerve. In the past three years, Dr. Varacallo has performed more than 2,000 Iovera procedures to treat pain in the shoulder, hip, knee, foot and ankle.

“We use it pre operatively prior to total hip replacements as well in DuBois,” he added.

Ms. Palumbo shares her positive Iovera experience with others. “I recommend the Iovera therapy to all of my friends,” she said. “I tell them, ‘don’t be afraid of it; it really does work.’ Dr. Nartatez replaced my knee in May, and I have not had one bit of pain since I had the injection in late April.”

Iovera therapy is currently offered at Penn Highlands Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in DuBois and Clearfield as well as Penn Highlands Interventional Pain Center — St. Marys.

To learn more about Iovera therapy, contact Penn Highlands Orthopedics in DuBois at 814-375-6200 or Clearfield at 814-768-2067.

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