ccording to SOCH Pain Management Specialist Michael Yu, MD, that is exactly what happens for patients who have had spinal cord stimulation, a procedure to treat acute, long-standing pain that has not responded to other types of therapies.
Chronic pain is defined as pain that exists one month longer than expected, persists more than six months after an injury, reoccurs periodically over six months or continues for an indefinite length of time.
One type of chronic pain is called neuropathic pain.
ccording to Dr. Yu
, this type of pain occurs following damage to the nervous system through injury, disease or localized trauma such as an infection or injury.
For some patients, it is a continuous, burning or intense stabbing pain that continues night and day without relief.
or others, it is intermittent but severe.
"Chronic pain can become the focal point of a person's existence and lead to a reduced quality of life," said Dr. Yu
."Spinal cord stimulation is showing promise for providing relief for some of these people."
A spinal cord stimulator is similar in look and function to a pacemaker that is used for the heart.
According to Dr. Yu
, to have a spinal cord stimulator implanted requires a minor outpatient procedure where he
will implant an electrical lead in the epidural space above the spinal cord.
e will also implant a device called a receiver just below the belt line.
Once the system is implanted and programmed, the patient typically feels a gentle tingling or massaging sensation in the area that was painful.
"Spinal cord stimulation works by using low-intensity pulses to trigger nerve fibers along the spinal cord," Dr. Yu
"The stimulation of these nerve fibers diminishes or blocks the intensity of the pain message being transmitted to the brain.
implanted generator produces the electrical pulses, and the lead delivers these pulses to the spinal cord through small electrodes."
Patients who are interested in spinal cord stimulation can try this therapy on a trial basis to determine effectiveness before the device is permanently implanted."For patients who want to try it out first, I will have them come in for a short, outpatient procedure where I will insert the lead using a small needle," said Dr. Yu
."The patient is given local anesthesia, and remains awake so that he
is able to report what feels better or worse as I move the lead to a variety of locations in the space over the spinal cord.Then, instead of implanting the generator device beneath the skin, the patient will wear the generator on a belt for several days.
If the patient experiences significant pain relief, then the device can be implanted."
While spinal cord stimulation is an exciting new option for people with chronic pain, it is typically not used as the first line of defense.
r. Yu, who works closely with his patients' primary care physician and other physician specialists, will usually recommend less invasive therapies first.
hese include exercise programs, physical therapy, over-the-counter pain medication, relaxation techniques and behavioral modification therapies.
If these strategies prove ineffective, he
may prescribe pain medication.Another treatment he
will use is a nerve block, which involves the injection of a local anesthetic and/or steroids directly onto the nerve serving the painful area.
"When medication or nerve blocks don't work, spinal cord stimulation is the next stage of treatment, and it could serve as an alternative to having major surgery," explained Dr. Yu
, who says it can also be used for patients who have had surgery that failed."The objective of this therapy is to help a patient reduce their intake of pain medication and to reduce the pain to a manageable level so that the patient can return to a more normal lifestyle."