Using Neuromodulation for Pain Management

by The Team at Northern Arizona Pain Institutes

Living with chronic pain affects not only your body but also your mind. It can make getting around and getting along equally difficult. 

But with innovation in health technology comes hope. Neuromodulation has been found to be more effective than traditional therapy at relieving chronic pain.

About Chronic Pain

According to the National Institutes of Health, dealing with chronic pain lasting more than six months is a way of life for more than 11% of Americans. Injuries and infections can cause pain and discomfort, but chronic pain happens when the nervous system does not function properly. A common cause of chronic pain is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). 

CRPS is nerve damage usually caused by an injury. Pain in the limbs may cause them to swell or change in color or temperature. Patients with confirmed nerve injuries are categorized as having CRPS-II (also known as causalgia), while patients without confirmed nerve injury are classified as having CRPS-I (previously called reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome or RSDS). 

These conditions may cause chronic pain with signs and symptoms such as: 

  • A burning or freezing feeling
  • Throbbing pain
  • Sharp pain
  • Pins and needles sensation
  • Numbness
  • Sensitivity to touch 
  • Loss of coordination
  • Muscle weakness or inability to move part of the body 

Treatment for Chronic Pain

Traditionally, doctors have prescribed medications to treat chronic pain, including opioids, which can lead to addiction and overdose. Treatment plans for chronic pain may also include physical therapy, psychological interventions, nerve blocks and surgery. 

When these treatments fail, people with chronic pain can turn to a different therapy. Dorsal column stimulation is an option that blocks pain signals from reaching the brain in the first place.

For this treatment, a surgeon places a small device in your body that sends electrical signals to your spinal cord (think of a pacemaker for the heart — dorsal column stimulators are very similar to that, but for the spine). Research has found that 40% to 50% of people who have CRPS achieve pain relief from dorsal column stimulation.