11 Dec Shocking the Spinal Cord: The Route to Peripheral Neuropathy Pain Relief?
Throughout history, medicine has been full of weird and wonderful treatments. From leeches to drilling a hole in the head of the mad medicine has seen it all. Many of those whacky treatments have been proven wrong over the years. But now it’s emerging that shocking the spinal cord with electricity could relieve all manner of chronic pain conditions, including peripheral neuropathy. Chronic pain accounts for a significant proportion of healthcare in the United States every year, with some estimates saying that almost half of the population has a chronic pain condition. Typically these conditions don’t respond well to drugs like Ibuprofen. Patients rely on daily relief from opiates like Codeine, which due to their addictive properties isn’t a good long-term solution to pain relief. These patients are in desperate need of new treatment that can provide considerable pain relief over a long time. One option is spinal cord stimulation. Could spinal cord stimulation be the route to peripheral neuropathy pain relief?
What is peripheral neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy is a condition where the nerves in your periphery (aka the limbs and not the spinal cord or the brain which are known as the central nervous system) become damaged. This damage results in pain as the damaged nerves send pain signals to the brain. The brain interprets this as shooting pains in areas of the body like the legs where there is no injury!
What causes peripheral neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy is usually caused by Diabetes. However, a long list of conditions can cause it. These include:
- Low levels of vitamin B12
- Lymphoma and other cancers
- High levels of toxins like mercury or arsenic
How might Spinal Cord stimulation help?
Pain is transmitted in the nerves of your body by electrical signals. The nerves run from the periphery (where they are damaged in peripheral neuropathy) up into the spinal cord and to the brain. The spinal cord edits or alters these signals and isn’t simply a relay station. So if we can implant a device that edits these signals we can stop painful messages getting to the brain from the damaged nerves out in the periphery.
This is exactly what spinal cord stimulation does. A small device that stimulates the spinal cord electrically is implanted and edits those pain signals. It’s had good results for the treatment of peripheral neuropathy so far. In fact study by researchers at the Maastricht medical center in the Netherlands wrote in a study published this month that
“[Spinal cord stimulation] is successful in reducing chronic pain symptoms in the lower extremities of patients with [peripheral neuropathy] up to 5 years after the initiation of treatment”.
This incredible news will be music to the ears of the patients who have suffered from chronic and unrelenting pain. However, the procedure isn’t usually done by a family doctor and patients will usually have to go to specialist clinics to have the treatment performed.