Chronic pain can be extremely debilitating for long-term pain sufferers. In such patients, when all varieties of treatment, from oral medicines such as NSAIDS (pain killers) and steroid injections to physiotherapy and surgical treatment fail, the role of digital pain management comes into play. The patients in whom pain persists even after a surgery are those who can benefit immensely by digital pain management. Digital pain management is one of the latest innovations in surgical technologies to treat chronic pain. Conditions which might benefit from digital pain management can include failed back surgery, neuropathies, radiculopathy, phantom limb, and other chronic pains.
Digital pain management consists of installing a small spinal stimulation device known as a Dorsal Column Stimulator or Spinal Column Stimulator into the epidural space which surrounds the spinal cord. Spinal cord stimulators deliver low voltage electrical currents to stimulate the spinal cord and block the sensation of pain. Electrical stimulation is delivered through an implanted lead in the epidural space superficial to the spinal cord; this lead is connected to the receiver that receives energy through an external source.
Stimulators activate the body’s pain inhibitory system and help block incoming pain transmission from the peripheral nerves and spinal cord. Generally, a short trial is given before permanent implantation of the device. If the trial of 5 to 10 days is successful and the patient starts feeling significant relief in the pain during the trial period then permanent implantation is considered. It’s a minor surgical procedure without many complications. For several years, Dr. Hayden has specialized in the insertion of these medical pain management devices.
Patients who have stimulators implanted should not subject themselves to MRI scanning, ultrasound or diathermy for fear of damaging the device. At airports, during security checks, patients with implanted stimulators need to carry a certificate indicating its presence. Another less-invasive method of pain management is TENS i.e. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. It is an external pain management system through which electrical stimulation is transferred to the skin. TENS is a small device which is easily portable and does not require implantation as is the case with stimulators. It is often observed that TENS gives great results in acute pain and is recommended frequently by doctors and physiotherapists.
Penned by Dr. Rachita Narsaria, M.D.