Electricity’s Role In Chronic Pain Management

electrical neurostimulationElectricity and its role in treating chronic pain oftentimes gets a bad rap because some people automatically associate neurostimulation with shock therapy. Yes, electrical current is used in order to help quell your pain, but we’re not sending painful volts into your body like you sometimes see in Hollywood films. With opioids becoming a growing concern in many circles, more professionals and medical researchers are looking to see if electricity could be the next big thing in chronic pain management.

Nueromodulators and Chronic Pain

Neuromodulation or neurostimulation is not exactly a new approach to chronic pain management, as versions of these devices have been around for decades. Like any medical device, the first prototypes are a step in the right direction, but it takes a while for researchers to work out the kinks and really perfect the technology. Dr. Mark Malone, founder of Advanced Pain Care in Texas, believes we’re getting much closer to perfecting these neuromodulators.

“In the last 18 months or so, a new generation has come out including (Abbott’s) Burst and Dorsal Root Ganglion,” said Malone. “These two techniques are far more effective and it’s really an amazing revolution. For the first time ever, we’ve been able to say things like ‘cure chronic pain.'”

So how exactly does neuromodulation work? Essentially, it uses electrical impulses to trick the brain into believing the area is no longer sending pain signals.

“This is the application of electrical energy in the nervous system to quiet down pain impulses,” said Malone. “It’s more of a language. You’re speaking to the nervous system in the language of the nervous system and telling the brain the pain is no longer important.”

Neuromodulation is similar to the process that happens if you were to accidentally hit your thumb with a hammer. When you do this, you probably grab your thumb and rub it to help dull the pain. By rubbing your thumb, you’re providing the area with a new sensory signal and helping to block the pain signal. This process is known as tonic stimulation, and it’s an underlying principal of the electrical stimulation process. The small implantable device can drown out pain signals by stimulating other areas.

No Addictive Side Effects

Dr. Malone has been using a neuromodulator of his own for a little over six months. He had been on disability for more than a year and only working at his clinic on a part-time basis, but after seeing how successful it was for his patients, he decided to give it a shot for his pain. He’s been thrilled by the results, and electrical stimulation does not have the same potential drawbacks as opioids.

“It’s really an amazing gift that we suddenly have this treatment that’s so effective for even the worst pain patients and it’s completely drug free,” said Malone, noting that electricity isn’t addictive and that it produces no euphoric side effects.

The neuromodulator isn’t a perfect device, but it’s a big step in the right direction. It can’t stop certain types of pain, like widespread fibromyalgia, but it has been successful in patients with certain types of complex regional pain syndrome and failed back surgery syndrome. So if you’re still looking for answers to your chronic pain problem, ask a pain management specialist about your options with neuromodulators and electrical stimulation.

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Thomas Cohn, MD

Interventional pain doctor helping Minnesotans manage back, neck, foot, and other pain. Board-certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation with additional board-certification in pain management from the American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA), the American Board of Interventional Pain Physicians (ABIPP) and the American Board of Pain Medicine (ABPM).