02 Apr Will Gadgets Stop the Pain?
We use medication, surgery, heat, cold, acupuncture, massage, meditation, diet, counseling and even prayer to reduce pain. But it’s 2019. Move over and give the gadgets a turn.
The field is broadly known as medical technology and it’s a field bursting with new ideas and startling results. From the high-tech prosthesis used by world-class athletes to digital hearing aids to nearly instant new “thermometers” used in the doctor’s office, gadgets are coming to the rescue. Let’s review a few new and exciting gadgets that can help chronic pain sufferers.
High-Frequency Spinal Cord Stimulation
High frequency what?
If you have never heard of this, you are not alone. Techniques of “neuromodulation” were first developed in the 1960s, but just like the radio and the computer, changes were needed to right-size the equipment and fine-tune the techniques.
Now, almost sixty years, the North American Neuromodulation Society (established in 1994) still sees fit to remind us on its fact sheet (at No. 10 on the handout) that neuromodulation “is not science fiction.”
Good to know.
OK, What is it?
The basic definition of high-frequency spinal cord stimulation is the application of high-frequency pulses to nerve endings that disrupt the pain signals going to your brain.
This is done by use of microelectrodes that are placed either near the spinal cord or near the area where the pain originates. The electrodes are wired to a pulse generator, which is operated by a handheld device.
When pain flares up, the patient turns the pulses on or turns them higher. The pain is still there. It hasn’t been touched, but the nerve no longer sends all of the pain signals to the brain. The patient doesn’t feel the pain or the pain is significantly reduced.
Instead, the patient might feel a slight tingling sensation or the patient might feel nothing at all. A recent study conducted by Boston PainCare found significantly lower use of opioid pain medication in patients with SCS (spinal cord stimulation) implants.
The So-Called Electric Aspirin
Instead of implanting electrodes under your skin or near your spinal column, patients who suffer from cluster headaches might use the so-called “electric aspirin.”
A San Francisco-based company, Autonomic Technologies, Inc., (ATI) is developing a handheld device that is similar to high-frequency spinal cord stimulation. The target, in this case, is the sphenopalatine ganglion, which is a bundle of facial nerves that are associated with cluster headaches.
These headaches are so severe that standard treatments hardly affect them at all. They are often impervious to standard pain medication.
Typically, cluster migraines come in bunches — one or two a day from two to 10 weeks. They are incapacitating migraine-type headaches that also result in hypersensitivity to light, touch, and smell, and can include nausea and generalized weakness, as well.
What if relief was a push button away? The company is still running clinical trials for the device that will include a permanent implant of a small nerve-stimulating device in the upper gum of the most commonly affected side of the head where the headaches occur. The patient, when a migraine strikes, would then hold a handheld device near the cheek to activate the pain-blocking process.
Anywhere, Anytime Heating Pad
Anywhere, anytime heating pads are available in stores. And, guess what? They also work through nerve stimulation.
The over-the-counter variety doesn’t require implants of any kind but works by generating pulses through the skin. Simple enough, the device sticks to a small heating pad that you attach by adhesion to your skin on the area that hurts. With these devices, you can press a button to increase the heat or to lower it, as needed.
Evidently, neuromodulation is here to stay and could become a critical alternative for pain management. With the risks of addiction and overdose looming over the use of opioid medication, high-tech options might be able to answer the call when it comes to safe pain management.