Open Accessibility Menu
Hide

ABC News Features Back Pain Treatment Option: Spinal Cord Stimulation

“Good Morning America” aired an interesting piece about Spinal Cord Stimulation on October 14, 2013.

The segment featured a patient whose life had been turned upside down because of chronic back pain. This relatively young woman had developed severe pain in her arm to the point that she could not care for her children and had lost her job. The story goes on to show how Spinal Cord Stimulation changed her life for the better and how that device could provide a window of hope for many chronic pain sufferers.

Spinal Cord Stimulation uses a device surgically implanted near a person’s spine to send electrical impulses to the spinal cord, interfering with the nerve impulses that cause pain.

Overall, the ABC News video was favorable and balanced. Yet at the same time, there is a mention of issues such as lack of effectiveness, huge cost, and experimental nature of the device. So the average person might come away somewhat confused as to how to digest this information.

Here are some additional facts:

Effectiveness

There are a number of pain conditions that can last a lifetime. And there is no cure for some cases just as there is no cure for diabetes or high blood pressure. However, chronic pain like a chronic illness such as diabetes can be managed.

This is a source of confusion for many when they try to assess efficacy of various treatments. In pain cases in which there is not cure, calling a treatment ineffective because it does not cure the problem is the same as calling insulin ineffective for diabetes since it does not cure diabetes.

The key point here is to treat and manage the pain so that a patient’s quality of life improves–walking longer distances, shopping for groceries, sitting in the movie theater for the entire show, etc. These are activities that we all take for granted, but for a chronic pain patient they could be impossibilities.

There is some misconception, as mentioned in the ABC News piece, that the device is not effective since many patients continue to take pain medications. This is a fallacy of defining what is considered success. As mentioned above, the goal is not curing but rather improving quality of lifeimproving function, and decreasing reliance on medications. If a patient is able to reduce his or her daily intake of pain medications by at least 50% and have a better quality of life and better functional status, this should be considered as a big success.

The ABC News piece also quotes one doctor stating that the benefits of Spinal Cord Stimulation can wear off after six months to a year. This is false. There are many patients who have these devices for many years. Scientific papers and follow-up studies also show that these devices remain effective.

Cost

Another issue is raised in the ABC News piece: Spinal Cord Stimulation is expensive. Yes, advanced technology can be expensive. However, given that spinal cord stimulation is a well-studied and proven technology, it is covered by all insurances.

Further, if this technology enables a patient to take less expensive medication on a daily basis for years to come or cuts down on the number of doctor and emergency room visits, then, in fact, it is quite cheap.

Experimental Device

The ABC News story mentions that Spinal Cord Stimulation has been around for decades and that the device is in demand as doctors are moving away from the use of painkillers.

But it is also stated that the device implanted in the featured patient was experimental.

Spinal Cord Stimulation by no means is an experimental treatment or something that was discovered just recently. In fact, the first case of implant was back in 1967! Worldwide, as many as 50,000 implants are done each year.

It is also important to note that all patients undergo a trial phase of the device to determine if the technology works for them prior to considering the implant. The trial lasts between five and seven days and, like test driving a car, allows each individual patient to determine if pain is reduced and function improved before considering the device for the long-term. The trial phase greatly improves outcomes and insures a more successful treatment for each patient.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, just as the ABC News piece states, Spinal Cord Stimulation is not a first-line treatment for pain. Almost always, conservative protocols are implemented first such as physical therapy, judicious use of medication, etc. When pain remains despite conservative treatment, then more complex and more advanced techniques are required to deal with the issue, and Spinal Cord Stimulation is an established and highly effective treatment for a variety of chronic painful conditions.

If you’re suffering from chronic pain and would like to see if spinal cord stimulation is the right treatment for you, please take a few moments to request an appointment with us. One of our board-certified doctors at National Spine & Pain Centers will accurately diagnose your pain and develop a customized plan to help restore your quality of life.