Pain management, a specialty virtually unknown only a few decades ago, is now one of the most in-demand specialties in today’s world of medicine. With areas of healthcare improving success rates every day, patients are overcoming life threatening conditions, but are often left to cope with debilitating chronic pain. In the first part of this series, we discussed medical management and the array of medication classes used to manage chronic pain. In the second part of this series, we explored the many interventional options available to treat and manage pain when medicine isn’t an option, or proven to be ineffective. In this third and final entry, we are going to expand into the newest therapies that are on the cutting edge of interventional pain management. A step beyond epidural injections and facet blocks, treatments like spinal cord stimulation and stem cell technologies take us to the most ground breaking pain management available. This level of pain management is typically reserved for patients that have tried medications and interventional treatments reviewed in sections 1 & 2, but have pain that persists.
Spinal Cord Stimulator:
A spinal cord stimulator (SCS), also known as a dorsal column stimulator, is a small device surgically placed under a patient’s skin and muscle to send a mild electric current to the spinal cord through small wires from a pulse generator to the nerve fibers of the spinal cord.
This helps reduce pain because the electrical current interrupts the pain signal from the patient’s spinal cord to their brain. Each stimulator may contain various stimulation programs individualized to the specific patient to provide the best possible treatment to fit the patient’s needs.
Patients usually undergo a “trial period” with the SCS as they will wear it for a few days prior to permanent placement of the device in order for the patient to determine if this option is suitable for them.
The stimulation feels like a mild tingling in the area where pain is usually felt and this helps better manage symptoms. This is often a good option for chronic leg or arm pain that has not been relieved with other therapies.
Stem Cell Treatments:
Stem cell treatments are new on the horizon of pain management strategies. Stem cells are normally found in bone marrow and other tissues and are often referred to as “healing cells” because they help rebuild damaged tissues by triggering the body’s natural healing process. They are often used in non-surgical treatment of various sports injuries, osteoarthritis, and with other various forms of chronic pain such as chronic neck and back pain, degenerative disc disease, sciatica, a variety of joint pain and ligament injuries, and even headaches.
Stem cell therapy occurs by taking stem cells from the patient’s body and putting them through a process of purification. Once purified, the cells are then injected back into the patient’s body where the damaged tissue is located.
Typically, the recovery period following these therapies is brief, with possible mild soreness and/or bruising lasting perhaps several days. However, the response is almost immediate, and is generally a “game changer” for most people who have been suffering from chronic pain for many years.
In closing, pain management is a highly dynamic medical specialty offering an array of treatment options for chronic pain sufferers to manage their pain and return to the lifestyle they had prior to pain. Whether through medication management or interventional therapies, there is a solution for everyone.
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