While some people live with some degree of pain, those with chronic pain may struggle to complete even the simplest activities of daily living, severely impacting their quality of life. A relatively new therapy—neuromodulation—can greatly alleviate discomfort for chronic pain sufferers.
Neuromodulation devices work by delivering gentle electrical impulses to the spinal cord or peripheral nerves, helping decrease pain by blocking pain signals from reaching the brain. Instead of experiencing chronic painful sensations—aching, stabbing, sharp, burning, or electric pain—patients receiving treatment feel pain relief or a soothing tingling or numbness in the affected area. With this precise technology, we are able to target the exact areas of your 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 a level of the spinal cord. This type of therapy can capture larger painful areas. Over the past several years there have been advancements in this technology, making it capable to treat different pain pathways and allow for different neuromodulation waveforms, such as tonic, high-frequency, and burst stimulation, to be tailored to the individual patient.
- Dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neuromodulation targets pain in very a specific location, such as chronic foot, ankle, or knee pain. It’s appropriate for patients who have had surgery in those areas, as well as those who don’t want joint replacement surgery. It’s also appropriate for those with chronic abdominal pain after hernia repair surgery, chronic pelvic pain, or painful peripheral neuropathy.
- 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?
The treatment can relieve a variety of painful conditions, including:
- Chronic regional pain syndrome (CRPS) previously known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) or causalgia
- Post-laminectomy pain syndrome, commonly known as “failed back syndrome”
- Chronic post-operative pain (after knee replacement, hip replacement, & foot/ankle surgery)
- Chronic neuropathic pain, such as nerve pain, sciatica, diabetic nerve pain
- Chronic pelvic and testicular pain
Ideal candidates for this therapy are those:
- With chronic pain, defined as pain for more than three months
- Who have tried several medications or injections and continue to experience pain
- Who don’t qualify for surgery or don’t want to have more invasive surgery
- Have had surgery and continue to experience pain
Treatment with neuromodulation devices involves minimally invasive surgery, and patients will be up and walking that same day. What is unique about neuromodulation is that patients are able to trial the therapy first before having surgery to determine if it will work for them. Before proceeding with device implantation, we like to see at least a 50-percent reduction in pain and functional improvements during the trial. Anticipated improvements during the trial period include increased walking tolerance, improved ability to perform activities, and improved sleep.
Neuromodulation can help those suffering from chronic pain by significantly decreasing pain levels and improving their quality of life. Additionally, it may also decrease the use of chronic steroids and opioid pain medications. While it is not a “cure all,” neuromodulation is a powerful tool in our pain management tool box that can provide meaningful pain relief and improved function.
To learn if neuromodulation will work for you, speak with your local interventional pain medicine doctor.
Dr. Ali Valimahomed is a board-certified interventional pain medicine physician at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold, NJ. He can be reached by calling 866-CENTRA7.