Taking spinal cord stimulation to the next level
Digital Health Millions of people endure the agony of chronic pain caused by injuries or operations, but new nerve stimulation technology could offer some welcome relief.
Sufferers of chronic pain are being urged to try the latest spinal cord stimulation technology which uses electrical impulses to target specific parts of the body such as the ankle or knee.
According to the charity Action on Pain, around one in seven people in the UK experience the physical and emotional impact of debilitating chronic pain.
Many sufferers manage their discomfort with powerful drugs that can make it difficult to live a normal life.
Help could be at hand from a health technology company which has developed the next generation of neurostimulation, that targets the dorsal root ganglion (DRG)
The DRG is a bundle of nerves which sends pain messages to the brain and acts as a gatekeeper, controlling the sensations that enter the spinal cord. There is a DRG connected to every vertebra.
DRG stimulation involves placing tiny leads into the spine under the skin which send electrical pulses through specific areas of the DRG and effectively blocks pain signals from reaching the brain. The leads are connected to a small battery unit controlled by the sufferer.
One in seven people in the UK experience the physical and emotional impact of debilitating chronic pain
The technology is increasingly being used to alleviate pain as a result of surgical intervention, post-hernia repair, post-amputation, and damage to the peripheral nerves. It does not remove the pain completely but creates a tingling sensation and can reduce discomfort by between 50 per cent-80 per cent.
Dr Ganesan Baranidharan, a pain management consultant at Leeds Teaching Hospital’s NHS Trust, wants DRG stimulation technology to be more widely adopted in the UK. It is already used extensively in Europe, particularly in Belgium and the Netherlands.
“The DRG acts like a bouncer in a night club, every nerve in the body must go through it,” says Dr Barani. “The technology has improved immensely. The leads are smaller and the electricity current needed to treat the pain can be lower.”
He hopes the new generation of DRG stimulation will reduce the need for sufferers of chronic pain to take strong drugs which can leave people too drowsy to perform at home and work.
“Many people get side effects from taking anti-nerve medications and often sufferers must choose between putting up with their pain or taking the pain relief and being unable to live normally.”
There are risks from DRG stimulation. The leads can break off in the body and there is a small chance of infection, although as the technology has improved the number of problem cases has reduced significantly.
There is scientific evidence that the technology works. The ACCURATE study of complex regional pain syndrome patients in the United States revealed that in a 12-month period a significant number of patients (74.2 per cent) receiving the DRG stimulation achieved meaningful pain relief. This compared to 53.0 per cent for those receiving traditional spinal cord stimulation.
"My patients are enjoying a better quality of life" - Dr Barani
“The introduction of this technology at my practice has made a huge difference,” says Dr Barani. “My patients are enjoying a better quality of life because they are in total control of managing their pain without strong medication.”
DRG stimulation is available on the NHS and is regulated by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). However many private health companies do not provide the treatment because their policies do not fund chronic pain conditions.