Can Electrical Stimulation Help My Pain?
The end result of many disease processes, ranging from diabetic neuropathy to nerve damage after back surgery, is pain. In some cases, this pain can be severe to the point that it interferes with all aspects of daily life. The medical profession has made the understanding and treatment of pain a priority over the past decade.
One of the tools available for the treatment of severe pain is electrical stimulation, which is used as a way to obscure pain perception in the nervous system by providing a more pleasant sensation in its place. It works for the same reason we rub our knee after knocking into the coffee table; it simply feels better when you rub it.
Scientists and physicians have recorded the benefits of mild electrical stimulation in the relief of pain for millennia. As early as 15 A.D., Scribonius ordered torpedo fish treatment for pain in general after feeling the benefits for his own gout. Fast forward to the late 1960s when neurosurgeons at Case Western Reserve University implanted electrical leads along the covering of the spinal cord to provide pain relief in a terminal cancer patient.
The technology for spinal stimulation for pain has been available since 1968 and its utility, effectiveness, safety, and cost efficiency has been improved on greatly since that time. Currently, over fifteen thousand spinal stimulators are implanted each year for the treatment of severe pain. Often patients suffer without knowing that they could be a candidate for trial spinal stimulation.
In general, stimulation works best for nerve related pain in the arms or legs rather than mechanical/arthritic pain of the back or neck. An evaluation by a board certified pain specialist is required to determine if you are a candidate to try the device at home. After a brief office procedure to insert the trial lead, patients return to their daily routine controlling the device through an external battery operated power source about the size of an iPod.
Patients use the device for several days and can determine for themselves how beneficial (or not) spinal stimulation is for their pain syndrome. For many patients, spinal stimulation turns out to be a very significant tool in their management of chronic nerve pain, allowing them to more easily meet the needs of daily living.
We have come a long way from the time of using torpedo fish, but the principle is still the same; mild medical grade electrical stimulation of a damaged nerve can indeed ease the perception of pain.