By Louis Noto, MD
People with chronic pain in the arms or legs may find it hard to remember what life was like before the pain set in. Chronic pain can disrupt just about everything – work, family time, recreation and sleep. It can also be hard to treat.
Some people have found relief in a small, implantable medical device that delivers mild electrical pulses to the spinal cord, interfering with pain signals before they reach the brain. Called a spinal cord stimulator, the device sends energy to the nerves in the body affected by the pain. The patient feels a tingling sensation rather than the pain signals from the painful area.
The device is a quarter of an inch thick and about the size of a pacemaker. It comes with a small, handheld remote control. The remote is programmed to target a certain area of the body.
The patient can use the remote to turn the system on and off and adjust the level of stimulation to provide optimal pain relief. Motion sensors change the stimulation based on whether someone is lying down, sitting or standing and moving.
Minimally invasive procedure
Individuals who have tried other treatments with inadequate results may qualify for a short-term trial of the device. The trial does not require implantation.
If the trial indicates that they are eligible for the device, patients undergo a relatively minor outpatient surgical procedure to implant it under the skin. They also receive information and education about how to use the system.
Patients with the device can travel anywhere and participate in recreational activities, including swimming. They can also undergo magnetic resonance imaging, which is not the case with all implants.
The spinal cord stimulator has few side effects. If it doesn’t work effectively or is no longer needed, it can be easily removed.
Results may be significant
While the treatment does not work for everyone, most patients report a significant reduction in overall pain, as well as an increased ability to participate in normal family and work activities. Many are also able to reduce or eliminate the use of pain medications.
This simple device can lead to a dramatic improvement in quality of life and greater personal control over managing pain. People who do well with it often do extraordinarily well.
To view a video about this topic, visit ProHealthCare.org/SpinalCordStimulatorVideo. To learn more about pain management options, visit ProHealthCare.org/PainManagement.
Louis Noto, MD, specializes in pain management and is board-certified in anesthesiology and pain management. He provides pain management services at the Oconomowoc Physician Center and at ProHealth Waukesha Memorial Hospital.
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