Spinal Cord Stimulation: Improved Treatment Helps Relieve Chronic Pain

October 20, 2013 12:09 AM

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File image (Credit: iStockphoto)

File image (Credit: iStockphoto)

By Julia Cruz, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Correspondent

Gloria Bradley is all too familiar with the discomfort of back pain. For years, the 75-year old retired real estate broker from Mystic, Connecticut dealt with constant pain and burning sensation in her back and legs. Multiple surgeries and multiple prescriptions did little to relieve her suffering.

“First I was taking Oxycontin, then Hydromorphone. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t pull up words. I was in so much pain and misery, I felt I didn’t have a life,” recalls Bradley. “I just wasn’t getting any better.”

File image (Credit: iStockphoto)

File image (Credit: iStockphoto)

Disappointed with the results her local doctors were getting, Gloria came up to Boston for a second opinion from Dr. Jeffrey Arle, Associate Chief of Neurosurgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

“I was so impressed with Dr. Arle,” says Bradley. “His work was the answer to my problems.”

Dr. Arle recommended spinal cord stimulation – a treatment that uses a device implanted beneath the skin to send electrical signals to the spinal cord to control chronic pain.

“It communicates through the spinal cord to shut down the cells that are sending pain signals,” notes Dr. Arle.

The spinal cord stimulator comes with a remote control that patients can use to increase or decrease the strength of the signals, or switch the patterns of stimulation.

“It’s a funny feeling – like Jello wiggling in my nerves,” says Bradley. “But the pain has decreased tremendously.”

Spinal cord stimulation is not a new technology, but it has vastly improved in recent years. Batteries have become smaller and last longer and the electronic paddle leads have more contacts and channels on them, improving coverage and increasing the device’s programming capabilities.

“Some of the electronics used in spinal cord stimulation even came out of research by the auto industry,” notes Dr. Arle. “Some recent versions actually adjust automatically to patient position. If the patient changes position and stands up from a seated position, the program can automatically change to accommodate the new position.”

One of the unique features of spinal cord stimulation is that it can be tested in the patient to see if it works before the actual implantation occurs.

“It’s one of the only things I know of in medicine where you can try it before you receive it medically,” says Dr. Arle. “Patients get a very good sense of how it feels and know if it’s working before implantation. And if it doesn’t work, the wires are simply pulled out painlessly in clinic.”

The cost of spinal cord stimulation has been shown to be less than conventional pain medicine treatments. And unlike past versions of the therapy, efficacy is very high. According to Dr. Arle, approximately 80 percent of his patients using spinal cord stimulation claim at least 50 percent relief or more.

That’s good news for the roughly 100 million people in the US that are in some kind of pain on a daily basis. People like Gloria Bradley, who has cut way back on her pain meds, no longer needs to carry a pillow around to sit on and is back behind the wheel of her car.

“It was worth the trip to Boston,” she happily notes. “This has helped give me my life back.”

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted November 2013

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