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.

Fibromyalgia – Not Just In Your Head

The problem with invisible illnesses like fibromyalgia or CRPS is that people who don’t understand the condition often think someone is faking the condition or making it up for attention. The fact of the matter is that these are real conditions that plague hundreds of thousands of individuals in the United States each and every day. Because symptoms come in waves and patients can have good days and bad days, outsiders think that symptom prevalence can arise or decrease at “convenient times.”

Let me tell you this – there is nothing “convenient” about these illnesses. Some of the strongest people I’ve seen carry around the weight of these invisible diseases every day. Nobody wants to be bothered by painful flare ups or joint discomfort. They want to be pain free, and oftentimes they’ve undergone countless different treatment options to no avail.

Understanding Fibromyalgia

In an effort to help more people understand these invisible illnesses, we’ve decided to share an infographic that helps to shine a light on one of the more common chronic conditions – Fibromyalgia. So take a couple of minutes and give the infographic a closer look, so the next time someone opens up about their pain, you’ll have a better understanding of what they might be going through.

The following infographic is from MBA-Healthcare-Management.com

fibromyalgia

Let’s Talk About Chronic Pain and Suicide

chronic pain suicideNew research presented at PAINWeek 2017 in Las Vegas suggested that individuals with chronic pain are twice as likely to attempt suicide than those without chronic pain.

For their study, researchers asked more than 1,500 chronic pain sufferers to fill out a questionnaire on their pain and their mental mindset. What they found was that individuals with chronic pain were twice as likely to attempt suicide than individuals without chronic pain, and that 32 percent of chronic pain sufferers reported “suicide ideation in some degree.”

According to researchers, chronic pain (as opposed to acute pain) may share some neural networks with mental health disorders like depression, which can contribute to self-harm tendencies.

“This shared neurobiology may explain why cognitive behavioral interventions can be effective in chronic pain patients,” said Dr. Joseph Pergolizzi, who suggested that patients with chronic pain should be evaluated for other helpful treatments, like cognitive behavioral therapy or mental health counseling. They recommended that mental health assessments during the diagnosis and treatment of chronic pain could be clinically important for reducing the risk of suicide or self-harm in this patient population.

Getting The Help You Need

As someone who is prone to chronic back pain from an injury I suffered back in college, I know how frustrating chronic pain management can be. It can take forever to find a solution that works, and there’s no guarantee that it will work the next day. You’re fighting an uphill battle, but it’s important that you try to stay positive. Remember that you can only control what you can control. You can’t always control your pain, but you can:

  • Get regular exercise
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Partake in physical therapy
  • Seek a second opinion
  • Get involved a chronic pain group
  • Try new treatment alternatives
  • Share your experiences with others online
  • Take time to focus on your mental and physical health

Pain may play a role in your life, but you should never feel like it is controlling your life. If you’ve found that it’s harder to get out of bed or you just haven’t been the same lately, reach out to a Pain Management specialist. We can take another look at your pain and figure out the best way to help you manage it. We can also set you up with wonderful programs to ensure that your mental health remains positive while you’re tackling your chronic pain issue.

Nobody knows exactly what you’re going through, but that doesn’t mean we’re not willing to learn or to help. Please, if you’re struggling with chronic pain or depression, make a call to our office or to a pain specialist in your area. We’ll do everything in our power to help reduce you pain levels and find something that works for you. We can’t promise solutions, but we can promise that we will try our hardest to find a treatment option that makes your day a little brighter. Contact us today.

Understanding Chronic Pain in Children

chronic pain childrenPreventing chronic pain is a daily battle for many adults, and the symptoms can be even tougher to control in children and teens. Interestingly, new research published in Health Psychology suggests that adolescent pain may be linked to previous experiences with pain, and if we can improve these initial experiences, children may be less likely to experience future pain.

It may sound complicated, but the research wanted to see if there was a link between a previous pain experience and how pain is felt and managed in the future. To do this, researchers examined children who had undergone a major surgery, as these experiences, even if they go as expected, may be traumatic to the child and are likely accompanied with some pain or discomfort.

“This is not to say that every child who has chronic pain had a surgery that led to it,” said study author Melanie Noel. “Rather, it’s that surgery is the only context where we can catch these kids before they develop chronic pain. We know that 15 to 20 per cent of children who undergo these major surgeries will develop chronic pain. So, if we can catch them early and begin to understand the factors leading to their chronic pain, maybe we can prevent it from happening in the first place.”

At the conclusion of the study, researchers found that a child’s memories of pain following major surgery actually influenced their recovery and was associated with an increased risk of the development of chronic pain down the road.

“We’ve discovered that the way children are remembering their pain is an underlying factor in the development of chronic pain,” Noel explained. “It’s not the pain they actually experience so much as the way they process those memories of the pain which is driving whether or not they’re improving, right around the time that pain can transition into chronic pain. At a certain point, these children should be feeling better but those who develop chronic pain are not.”

Managing Adolescent Chronic Pain

The study, which was conducted in Canada, suggests that anywhere from 15-40 percent of Canadian children experience chronic pain at some point during their childhood. Moreover, 60 percent of these children eventually develop chronic pain in adulthood, so it’s important to control chronic pain while kids are young to prevent it from becoming a problem when they’re older.

Researchers believe the findings can help point doctors and parents towards solutions. They believe that psychological and language-based interventions may be able to help kids better cope with post-surgical pain, which will help re-frame their memories of the pain and in turn decrease their likelihood of developing chronic pain in adulthood.

“We can teach kids how to reminisce and talk about their pain experiences in a way that emphasizes anything positive about it,” said Noel. “Maybe the child coped with something well, maybe there was a really friendly nurse. It’s getting them to talk about things that aren’t just focused on the awful after effects of the surgery. It’s a way of catching it, a talk-based intervention that can possibly re-frame the memories. This may actually alter the pain trajectory. It’s one thing we can do to make the recovery and future experiences of pain better.”

This is fascinating research, and I hope the findings are considered by pain professionals when helping children get to the bottom of their chronic pain.

Let’s Focus On The Pain Epidemic, Not The Opioid Epidemic

pain opioid epidemicA recent article in the Star-Tribune noted that every three weeks, the death toll from opioid overdoses matches the death toll from the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Not only is this a concerning number, but trends show that the death toll from opioid overdoses is continuing to skyrocket. The government and even President Trump have stated that the opioid epidemic is a problem that needs to be solved, but are they looking at the problem in the right way?

The opioid crisis is a huge issue, but it’s only a symptom of a larger problem, which is the pain epidemic in America. More people are turning to opioids in the United States because more of them are fighting a losing battle against pain. We need to be finding solutions to the pain problem, because the opioid crisis is a symptom of the problem of pain.

Stopping Pain

Think of it this way. Let’s say you’re in your house and you see smoke. You run to the kitchen and notice a fire behind the stove. You quickly fill up some water from the sink and douse the flames with water, stopping the fire in its tracks. It’s great that you stopped the fire, but you wouldn’t just go back into your living room without investigating what caused the fire to start in the first place. If you don’t fix the faulty wiring that caused the fire, you’re prone to another fire in the future.

In the above instance, throwing water on the fire is like trying to treat the opioid epidemic. It is a problem that needs to be addressed, but unless we also focus on the root problem, which is pain (or faulty wiring in this case), then the problem is only going to continue to be cyclical. Eliminating opioids may reduce the number of overdose deaths, but it will also hurt patients who use them responsibly to manage their pain, and severely cutting back on opioids will do NOTHING to solve the pain problem.

What We Need To Do

Enough about what’s wrong with the current system – here’s a definitive list of what we as a nation need to do in order to fix the opioid crisis and the pain problem in America.

  • We need to educate both patients and doctors about how opioids work in conjunction with a multi-faceted approach to pain management.
  • Opioids can play a role in pain care, but they can’t be the only treatment option. They can help manage pain, but they are not a long term solution to treat pain. Anybody who is only taking pain medications for their condition is at a high risk for dependency and has a low chance of ever recovering from their pain.
  • We need to open up insurance coverage to other non-traditional methods of pain management. Let’s get creative with pain management, because what works for some will not work for others.
  • We have to pound home the message that there is no magic pill for pain, but tangible solutions are within your reach.
  • Doctors need to do a better job of pushing people towards tangible solutions instead of quick fixes. Things like physical therapy, aqua therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, etc. over writing a quick prescription.
  • We need to invest research funding into pain treatments, whether it’s medical marijuana or new diagnostic tools, we need to spend money on solving the problem of pain. Invest in pain solutions like we’re investing in treating cancer or diabetes.

If we can check off all the items on this list, I’m confident we can find new ways to treat pain, and in turn combat the opioid crisis in America.