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Electrical Stimulation May Ease Back Pain

Expert Cautions That Benefits, Risks of Spinal Cord Stimulation Must Be Weighed

Spinal Cord Stimulation for Chronic Pain continued...

Scores on the pain interference scale dropped from an average of 6.5 points before the procedure to 5 points at two weeks and six months.

Spinal cord stimulation seems to help regardless of which type of device was used, Nguyen says. Twenty-two of the devices were made by Medtronic, 27 by Boston Scientific, and two by ANS/St. Jude's.

They all work slightly differently, and each company claims its brand works best, she says.

"But those are typically company-sponsored studies. Our study, which has no industry funding, shows there is no difference," Nguyen says.

Spinal Cord Stimulation for Chronic Pain: Risks, Benefits

Still, there's a long way to go before anyone can claim spinal cord stimulation definitely works.

Because there was no comparison group of people getting a sham device, the researchers can't say for sure how much participants' pain might have improved.

T. Keller Matthews, MD, of the Texas A&M College of Medicine, tells WebMD he's not convinced the drop in pain scores was sufficient to offset the risks and costs of spinal cord stimulation.

"Do patients judge their improvement in pain sufficient for the risks of the procedure, which include discomfort, infection, and a need for constant monitoring?" he asks.

Initial implant costs range from $8,500 to $20,000.

The researchers say future studies of larger numbers of patients are needed to demonstrate the long-term therapeutic and cost-effectiveness of spinal cord stimulation.

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