Pain Management: Treatment Overview
Trigger Point Injections
Trigger point injection is a procedure used to treat painful areas of muscle that contain trigger points, or knots of muscle that form when muscles do not relax. During this procedure, a health care professional, using a small needle, injects a local anesthetic that sometimes includes a steroid into a trigger point (sterile salt water is sometimes injected). With the injection, the trigger point is made inactive and the pain is alleviated. Usually, a brief course of treatment will result in sustained relief.
Trigger point injection is used to treat muscle pain in the arms, legs, lower back, and neck. In addition, this approach has been used to treat fibromyalgia, tension headaches, and myofascial pain syndrome (chronic pain involving tissue that surrounds muscle) that does not respond to other treatment.
OnabotulinumtoxinA (Botox) is a toxin that blocks signals from the nerves to the muscles. It can also be injected to alleviate chronic migraine headaches. The procedure involves multiple injections around the head and neck every 12 weeks and may alleviate pain for up to three months.
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. This method being especially used for back and limb pain. 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. Some devices cause what’s described as a pleasant, tingling sensation while others do not.
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.