Chronic pain has become a controversial topic. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the treatments for chronic pain have become a controversial topic. This is because, for some time, many people were prescribed opioid medications to help them manage their chronic pain. The strength of these medications combined with the widespread prescription of them has played a huge role in what has now become our nation’s opioid abuse crisis. The situation has escalated so much that people experiencing chronic pain are sometimes less likely to seek treatment because they’re afraid of being prescribed opioids and getting addicted to them. Fortunately, modern medicine is responding to this with advanced methods of treating chronic pain that don’t involve medications. One of these methods is spinal cord stimulation, which helps manage debilitating pain.
Blount Memorial interventional pain management physician Dr. Brian Wetherington says the advancements made in interventional pain management can be life-changing. “Interventional pain management has been around a while, but has drastically changed in the last several years,” Wetherington said. “Thanks to new technology, the subspecialty has evolved into a diverse field addressing various types of pain that traditionally were difficult to treat. One of the newer interventional pain therapies is spinal cord stimulation, a type of neuromodulation that uses a programmable signal to address pain in the spinal cord. When deemed appropriate for long-term use, this approach involves implanting a small pulse generator under the skin that creates very small electrical signals, which change, or neuromodulate, the way chronic pain signals are transmitted to the spinal cord,” he explained. “By adjusting the strength and location of the electrical stimulation, and by regulating different levels of stimulation for various activities, patients are better able to manage their chronic pain,” he added.
Wetherington, who has extensive training in neuromodulation, says that before having a spinal cord stimulation device implanted, eligible patients can try the therapy without having a device implanted. “During the trial phase, the generator is worn on a belt and the current is delivered via leads inserted through the skin,” Wetherington said. “If the trial is successful, the device can be implanted under the skin without major surgery and usually does not require a hospital stay. Formerly, these stimulator devices would exchange the patient's pain with a buzzing sensation, otherwise known as paraesthesia. But now, new forms of technology have come to the market that give us the capability to address pain without the patient experiencing any new sensations at all. The data behind spinal cord stimulation is exciting. Being able to provide this option to patients in Blount County is rewarding due to the increased quality of life that it can provide,” he added.
Wetherington says a variety of patients can benefit from neuromodulation or another interventional pain management therapy. “Obviously, this can help people with chronic back and neck pain, particularly those looking for options other than medications or surgery, but it also can be useful to patients who have had back surgery in the past and still have pain, or for those who aren’t eligible for surgery at all,” he said. “It also can be helpful for patients who experience shooting pain that radiates into their arms or legs. Interventional pain management techniques also can provide relief for chronic or debilitating nerve, muscle or joint pain; pinched nerves; pain from bulging discs; and arthritis pain from the spine,” he added.
For more information or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Wetherington or Blount Memorial interventional pain management physicians Dr. Michael Bunch or Dr. Bruce Hairston, call East Tennessee Medical Group at 865-984-3864. Physician referral is required for appointment scheduling.