Scrambler Therapy

An older man sits in a chair, shoes and socks off and pants rolled up, as a doctor and nurse chat with him

Chronic pain is a common side effect of cancer treatment. Here at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center we offer scrambler therapy as a pain management approach to treat chronic neuropathic pain and cancer pain resistant to other types of treatments.

This non-invasive therapy is FDA approved, drug-free and has minimal to no reported side effects. Studies have shown that it is a safe and effective treatment for pain.

What is scrambler therapy?

Scrambler therapy is FDA approved for the treatment of chronic neuropathic pain that has not responded adequately to traditional treatment such as medication, physical therapy, injections, or surgery.

What pain conditions does scrambler therapy treat?

Scrambler therapy is typically used to treat chronic neuropathic pain, including:

  • Peripheral Neuropathy
  • Idiopathic Neuropathy
  • Diabetic Neuropathy
  • Chemo-induced Peripheral Neuropathy (CIPN)
  • Drug-induced Peripheral Neuropathy
  • Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
  • Chronic back pain
  • Neuropathic pain from chronic diseases
  • Chronic Cancer Pain
  • Failed Back Surgery Syndrome (FBSS)
  • Sciatic and Lumbar Pain
  • Phantom Limb Syndrome
  • Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN)
  • Post-surgical Neuropathic Pain
  • Brachial Plexus Neuropathy
  • Trigeminal Neuralgia
  • Other types of chronic neuropathic pain not listed above

How does scrambler therapy work?

The MC-5A Calmare Scrambler Therapy device provides treatment by using rapidly changing electrical impulses to send a “non-pain” message along the same pain fibers that are sending the “pain” message to the brain. This process changes the message to the brain from “pain” to “non-pain.”

How is scrambler therapy treatment given?

Scrambler therapy is administered by a trained professional who has undergone specialized training in this device and technique. Electrodes are applied to the skin around the affected area of pain. These electrodes will then deliver a mild electrical impulse.

How does scrambler therapy feel?

Initially, you may experience a very mild sensation that feels like a pinch, bite, or prickle. As the dose is gradually increased, you will feel a sensation like a vibration, buzz, hum, or pulse.

This treatment is not painful. We are sending a non-painful message. Any pain or discomfort should be immediately reported to the nurse so adjustments can be made.

How long is scrambler therapy?

Initial scrambler therapy is given daily for 10 to 12 days, over a two week period, with two days off for the weekend. Depending on the results of your therapy, fewer or additional sessions may be recommended.

Each session is usually 30-45 minutes on the machine once electrodes are placed. You will be scheduled for a one-hour appointment each day. Your first therapy day may run a little over since it will be your first meeting.

What can scrambler therapy not do?

Scrambler therapy cannot cure or correct the underlying condition that is causing the pain. It treats chronic neuropathic pain as a separate and distinct problem by changing the message the nerves are sending to the brain from pain to non-pain.

It cannot eradicate your pain forever. Eventually, your pain will return, usually in one to six months. That time frame may vary based on your response to therapy. When pain reoccurs, we can then provide booster therapy. This treatment is usually two or three additional sessions to regain previously experienced comfort levels.

Can anyone get scrambler therapy?

Scrambler therapy is not recommended if you:

  • Have implanted electronic devices such as a pacemaker, automatic defibrillator, spinal cord stimulator, bladder stimulator, implanted pain pump, implanted cochlear implant, neurostimulator, etc.
  • Have epilepsy or a seizure disorder.
  • Have any ferrous metal in your body such as vena cava clips, aneurysm clips, certain metal coils or stents, etc. Typically, if you are not eligible to receive an MRI, scrambler therapy is not an option either. Of note, most metals used in orthopedic surgery and for IV ports are safe.
  • Are pregnant.

Make an appointment for scrambler therapy

If you would like an appointment at the Scrambler Therapy Clinic, you can ask your provider to send a referral.

Referral process

MUSC Health providers

MUSC Health providers may place a referral to the AMB Scrambler Therapy Clinic.

Providers outside of MUSC Health

Please have your provider send a referral with supporting medical records to:

  • Fax: 843-876-0231 (Attention: Scrambler Therapy Clinic / Carol Hipple, RN)
  • Clinic Phone: 843-792-9564
  • Hollings Cancer Center general scheduling and message line: 843-792-9300

Currently, most insurance companies are not covering the cost of this therapy.

References

Inside the Scrambler Therapy, a Noninvasive Treatment of Chronic Neuropathic and Cancer Pain: From the Gate Control Theory to the Active Principle of Information

Marineo G. Inside the Scrambler Therapy, a Noninvasive Treatment of Chronic Neuropathic and Cancer Pain: From the Gate Control Theory to the Active Principle of Information. Integr Cancer Ther. 2019 Jan-Dec;18:1534735419845143. doi: 10.1177/1534735419845143. PMID: 31014125; PMCID: PMC6482660.

Cutaneous Electroanalgesia for Relief of Chronic and Neuropathic Pain

Smith, J., Wang, E., and Loprinzi, C. Cutaneous Electroanalgesia for Relief of Chronic and Neuropathic Pain. N Engl J Med 2023;389(2):158-164. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMra2110098.

Safety of Scrambler Therapy: A Systematic Review of Complications and Adverse Effects

Wang, E. Limerick, G., D'Souza, R., Lobner, K., Williams, K., Cohen, S., and Smith, T. Safety of Scrambler Therapy: A Systematic Review of Complications and Adverse Effects, Pain Medicine, Volume 24, Issue 3, March 2023, Pages 325–340, https://doi.org/10.1093/pm/pnac137.