Healthbeat: Bluetooth DRG pain control

Researchers at UC San Diego are coming to the rescue of people with terrible pain in one part of their body. They're using a stimulator that goes directly on the dorsal root ganglion, a bundle of nerves that transmit pain signals to the brain.

Raul Silva had his leg amputated in San Diego after a motorcycle accident in Mexico.

"I lost my leg years ago, in 2000. Since then, I have phantom pain," Silva shared.

His leg is gone, but he felt cold, numbness, and terrible pain there. He worked to support his family for a while but had to stop. Then, his doctor told him about a new pain control system called dorsal root ganglion stimulation, or DRG.

Krishnan Chakravarthy, MD, PhD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine at UC San Diego Health and VA San Diego Healthcare said, "The dorsal root ganglion is an offshoot of your spinal cord that correlates to a very specific nerve that's coming from your spinal cord to your specific extremity or portion of your back.

Silva did a seven-day trial with a temporary device sending electrical pulses to block pain signals to the brain.

Dr. Chakravarthy said, "The analogy I give is if you have a six-lane highway or a bunch of cars that are driving, we're effectively setting a roadblock across the highway."

After 17 years of suffering, Silva reported his pain was gone.

"It was amazing because for instance, in the beginning, I feel like a real amputee person, no pain, no phantom pain, no cramping, nothing like that," said Silva.

Silva became UC San Diego Health's patient number one for the permanent DRG stimulator. The leads and battery are implanted, and he controls the intensity and location of the stimulation with this Bluetooth device. He says the system is giving him his life back.

In a randomized trial, 74 percent of patients reported meaningful pain relief, compared to 53 percent who got standard dorsal column spinal cord stimulation. The DRG stimulator is FDA approved. The system costs around $25,000 but can be as much as $40,000, which can be covered by insurance.

Contributors to this news report include: Wendy Chioji, Field Producer; Rusty Reed, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Hayley Hudson, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.