Spinal Cord Stimulation: Non-Invasive Control Over Your Chronic Pain
What Can Chronic Pain Look Like?
Chronic pain is often a debilitating condition that makes work, eating, exercising, or other daily activities difficult. Chronic pain may be caused by sciatica, failed back surgery, complex regional pain syndrome, arachnoiditis, spinal cord injury, or multiple sclerosis, among other conditions, drastically affecting one’s ability to be active. As a result, those with chronic pain may be at risk for complications related to reduced mobility, such as depression, weight-gain, and medication overuse.
While acute pain is useful for the body to prevent further injury, chronic pain may arise when the body’s typical response to an injury lasts longer than it should. This is caused most commonly by a traumatic injury to the nerve; a damaged nerve may send pain signals to the brain, even when there is no injury occurring. This pain signal travels from the site of pain through the spinal cord and into the brain. The brain then interprets this signal as pain.
Symptoms for chronic pain may vary widely, depending on the cause – from a sharp, shooting pain to a burning, throbbing pain. Patients will often know when they should seek medical attention for their chronic pain, as the pain experienced will last much longer than it should and will likely cause disproportionate discomfort, making even a light touch excruciatingly painful.
Who Is Qualified to Help?
A primary care provider will typically recommend intervention when the pain begins to interrupt one’s daily activities and does not improve with rest. A primary care provider may initially evaluate ongoing pain, but after 3 to 6 months, patients may be referred to a pain management specialist, like Dr. Kohler at Ospina Medical.
Often, the first attempts to manage chronic pain begin with lifestyle changes, like weight management, regular physical activity, and healthy sleep habits, though chronic pain may make these changes difficult to achieve. For this reason, many doctors are quick to recommend prescription medicine, including opioids, which have the potential for abuse, or risky, costly, and invasive surgeries.
Neuromodulation: An Alternative Approach to Treating Chronic Pain
At Ospina Medical, we are proud to promote a non-invasive pain relief approach to chronic pain management that avoids many of the downsides that other options pose: neuromodulation. The neuromodulatory technique operates on the basis of interrupting pain signals sent by problematic nerves before they reach the brain. Spinal cord stimulators are common neuromodulators that achieve pain reduction by intersecting pain signal transmission to the brain via the spinal cord with electric pulses generated by the stimulators.
A spinal cord stimulator includes a stimulating wire, or electrode, that is connected to a control unit (often called a generator). The electrode is placed over the spinal cord, where a mild electrical pulse is applied. The patient typically does not feel this. To ensure that the spinal cord stimulator is comfortable and adequately reduces the patient’s pain, the stimulator is placed on the surface of the skin for about a week, during what is known as the trial period. Here at Ospina, this is where we come in. If we find a spinal cord stimulator to reduce a patient’s pain by more than 50%, we can suggest the patient moves forward with the implantation.
Success with Stimulation
Even a modest amount of pain relief can be life changing, enabling daily activities to be performed with less pain; however, it is important to remember that a spinal cord stimulator does not heal the source of pain. Instead, the device helps to simply mask the sensation. For this reason, spinal cord stimulators may not be an effective method of pain management for everyone. If someone who has received an implant ever believes they would be better off without it, the electrodes may be easily removed with minimal risk of complications to the spinal cord and nerves. Overall, though, spinal cord stimulators have been proven to be very effective, improving the chronic pain in anywhere from 55% to 80% of patients. If you experience chronic pain that is poorly managed by other methods and wish to avoid harmful opioids and surgery, spinal cord stimulation may be an option for you!
Written By: Andy Garcia
Edited By: Camden Rowe