Some people living with chronic pain may struggle to complete even the simplest activities of daily living, impacting their quality of life. A relatively new therapy—neuromodulation—can greatly alleviate discomfort for chronic pain sufferers.
Neuromodulation works through implantable devices that deliver gentle electrical impulses to the spinal cord or peripheral nerves, decreasing pain by blocking pain signals from reaching the brain. Instead of experiencing chronic painful sensations, patients feel relief or a soothing tingling or numbness in the affected area. With this precise technology, we can target the exact areas of pain.
Types of Neuromodulation
There are several types of stimulation, which vary in device location, electrical waveform, and intensity:
- Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) treats painful sensations at the back, neck, legs, and arms by blocking pain at the spinal cord. This type of therapy can capture larger painful areas. Advances in this technology have made it possible to treat different pain pathways and allow for different waveforms to be tailored to each patient.
- Dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neuromodulation targets pain in a specific location, such as the foot, ankle, or knee. It’s appropriate for patients who have had surgery in those areas, and for those who don’t want joint replacement surgery. It also may help those with chronic abdominal pain after hernia repair surgery, chronic pelvic pain, or painful peripheral neuropathy (pain that most often occurs in the hands or feet due to nerve damage).
- Peripheral nerve stimulation (PNS) targets a specific nerve to relieve pain locally. This can be helpful in treating post-stroke shoulder pain or nerve damage after an arm or leg injury.
Can Neuromodulation Help You?
Ideal candidates are those who have tried medications, injections, or surgery for chronic pain (defined as pain for more than three months) without relief. The treatment can relieve pain for a variety of conditions, particularly:
- Chronic regional pain syndrome (CRPS)
- Post-laminectomy pain syndrome, known as “failed back syndrome”
- Chronic neuropathic pain, such as nerve pain, sciatica, or diabetic nerve pain
Treatment with neuromodulation devices involves minimally invasive surgery, and patients are up and walking the same day. Neuromodulation is unique in that patients are able to trial the therapy first to determine if it will work for them. Before proceeding with device implantation, we look for at least a 50 percent reduction in pain along with functional improvements during the trial. Anticipated improvements include better sleep and an increased ability to walk and perform activities.
In addition to decreasing pain, neuromodulation may also reduce the need for chronic steroids and opioid pain medications. While it’s not a “cure all,” it is a powerful option in our pain management toolkit that can provide meaningful pain relief and improved function.