Pain Management: Treatment Overview
When standard medicines and physical therapy fail to offer adequate pain relief, you may be a candidate for a surgical implant to help you control pain. There are two main types of implants to control pain:
- Intrathecal Drug Delivery. Also called infusion pain pumps or spinal drug delivery systems. The surgeon makes a pocket under the skin that's large enough to hold a medicine pump. The pump is usually about one inch thick and three inches wide. The surgeon also inserts a catheter, which carries pain medicine from the pump to the intrathecal space around the spinal cord. The implants deliver medicines directly to the spinal cord, where pain signals travel. For this reason, intrathecal drug delivery can provide significant pain control with a fraction of the dose that would be required with pills. In addition, the system can cause fewer side effects than oral medications because less medicine is required to control pain.
- Spinal Cord Stimulation Implants. In spinal cord stimulation, low-level electrical signals are transmitted to the spinal cord or to specific nerves to block pain signals from reaching the brain. In this procedure, a device that delivers the electrical signals is surgically implanted in the body. A remote control is used by the patient to turn the current off and on or to adjust the intensity of the signals. Most people describe the feelings from the simulator as being pleasant and tingling.
Two kinds of spinal cord stimulation systems are available. The unit that is more commonly used is fully implanted and has a pulse generator and a non-rechargeable battery. The other system includes an antenna, transmitter, and a receiver that relies upon radio frequency. The latter system's antenna and transmitter are carried outside the body, while the receiver is implanted inside the body.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation therapy, more commonly referred to as TENS, uses electrical stimulation to diminish pain. During the procedure, low-voltage electrical current is delivered through electrodes that are placed on the skin near the source of pain. The electricity from the electrodes stimulates the nerves in an affected area and sends signals to the brain that "scramble" normal pain signals.TENS is not painful and may be effective therapy to mask pain such as diabetic neuropathy. However, TENS for chronic low back pain is not effective and cannot be recommended, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) now says.
Bioelectric therapy relieves pain by blocking pain messages to the brain. Bioelectric therapy also prompts the body to produce chemicals called endorphins that decrease or eliminate painful sensations by blocking the message of pain from being delivered to the brain.
Bioelectric therapy can be used to treat many chronic and acute conditions causing pain, such as back pain, muscle pain, headaches and migraines, arthritis, TMJ disorder, diabetic neuropathy, and scleroderma.
Bioelectric therapy is effective in providing temporary pain control, but it should be used as part of a total pain management program. When used along with conventional pain-relieving medications, bioelectric treatment may allow pain sufferers to reduce their dose of some pain relievers by up to 50%.