Written for Back1 by Craig Gaffney
For some people suffering from localized back pain, physical therapy, prescription medication and surgery may not be enough. These patients experience chronic pain emanating from difficult to spot sources.
“Axial” pain generally is linked with physiological and mechanical problems, such as herniated discs, but doctors are often wary of mistaking the underlying cause. Because of this, and the variety of daily triggers that can worsen the discomfort, prescribed treatments can vary in effectiveness.
Prevent lower back pain by:
Maintaining proper posture while sitting and standing
Using pillows and a mattress that support your neck and back correctly
Keeping your body weight within ten pounds of your goal
Stretching and strengthening your abdomen and back muscles
Spinal cord stimulation, or SCS, is a therapy typically reserved for severe cases in which physical therapy and even surgery do not work. The process involves an ambulatory procedure (no required hospital stay) in which a small pulse generator is implanted into the abdomen. The generator proceeds to send gentle electric currents through wires until they reach an electrode that has been set against the spine. These currents can interfere with the functioning of certain nerves, creating a numbing sensation that blocks pain in the lower back.
Due to the many causes of axial pain, the success rate of this treatment barely breaks fifty percent. Doctors at the Poitiers School of Medicine in France are working to better the technology and results.
In a recent study using pulse generators with three electrode columns instead of the usual one, Dr. Rigoard and his staff tested spinal cord stimulation on eleven patients recovering from failed back surgery syndrome.
They discovered that they could optimize the electrical current by firing different combinations of nodes along the electrode columns. While the effective combinations were different for most of the patients, nine out of eleven experienced significant decreases in pain by the end of the trial.
Although a small study, Dr. Rigoard believes that it shows where the field must go in order to address previously untreatable lower back pain. The impact of this research could make spinal cord stimulation a relatively non-invasive alternative to surgery rather than a last resort. If that happens, expect a more cost-effective and less intimidating way to eliminate your pain.
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