Painkillers and opioids are widely prescribed to treat chronic pain. It’s nothing new and the number of prescriptions in America was three times higher in 2015 than in 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As a response to the soaring numbers of individuals that suffer from addiction to prescription medication, one clinical trial is trying to alleviate the need for drugs such as fentanyl for back pain in particular.
A recent article on technologyreview.com chronicles the journey of Terri Bryant who injured the delicate, rubbery discs between her spinal bones in 2000. She is now involved in the clinical trial of a new technology called the Senza System.
The therapy involves spinal cord stimulation by sending pulses of a mild electric current to the nerve fibres in her spinal cord. To achieve such, the Senza System device was implanted under the skin at the base of her spine.
The technical name for the therapy is neuromodulation or neurostimulation, and scientists believe that it works by interrupting the pain signals that are carried from the nerves to the brain.
Although similar ideas have been around since the 1960s, technology has undergone a recent period of rapid innovation with a focus on finding a solution to beat addiction.
The race is now on for medical device manufacturers to develop smaller, more comfortable implants as well as external devices that don’t require surgery.
An additional use for the Senza System might be to help alleviate the pain of withdrawal for individuals who are already addicted to opioids.
Michael Leong, a pain specialist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, says the benefits of these devices is that when patients use them, they’re able to take fewer drugs or no painkillers at all. That’s appealing to both doctors and patients.
Patients can try out spinal cord stimulators for one or two weeks in their own homes before deciding to get one.
For more information on the wide range of technologies, both internal and external, that are being used to treat chronic pain, read the case studies here.