Device stimulates chronic pain relief

January 18, 2012 10:00:00 PM PST
Soothing chronic pain can be challenging. When approaches such as physical therapy and strong narcotics do not work out, another option may be an implanted device which stops pain signals before you feel them.

The addition of motion sensor technology may give patients an even better chance of getting back to a normal life.

On a recent afternoon, Stephanie Richardson cooked up some comfort food with her cousin and played around in the snow with her son, activities most of us would not think twice about.

For Richardson, they are simple acts she almost gave up on.

A long-ago knee injury, followed by many surgeries, left her in constant, excruciating pain.

"You recede from life, you recede from your friends," Richardson said.

From physical therapy to countless painkillers Richardson says she tried everything but got little relief.

Then she was offered an implanted device called a neurostimulator. It is about the size of a pacemaker and it has sensors running up the spine which send out gentle electrical currents to block pain signals.

"I can't fathom now not having it," Richardson said.

The devices have been around for years, but a newer system could make this treatment more natural.

It incorporates a type of motion sensor much like that used in video games and smart phones.

The neurostimulator adapts to the changing position of a patient so the pain relief is more consistent and there is less chance of a jolt.

Rush University Medical Center now has the new technology.

"The human body is very dynamic," said Dr. Sandeep Amin, a Rush anesthesiologist. "So what happens with a change of position, sitting, standing, lying down, is you get literally a power surge."

Throughout the day, a patient might have to reach for a remote and adjust the current turning it up or down. That can be annoying and disruptive.

"If stimulation can adjust to change in position, you are not going to have to tweak it frequently, so it almost becomes part of your body translates into better pain relief," Dr. Amin said.

Richardson recently had the new motion sensor programmed and activated.

"It's just night and day, literally," she said."Now your sensation stays the same regardless of where my body is going, which is just crazy.

"When I don't have to think about the thing that is controlling my pain, certainly that makes me more normal."

Neurostimulators are most often used to treat neuropathic pain, leg and back pain, but the therapy is not for everyone and like all surgeries can carry some risks.

Rush University Medical Center